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Academic Reflections by Rachel Salomon '14

President Spar,
Distinguished trustees,
My dear professors,
Family and friends-

Good afternoon, I’m Rocky Salomon and I’d like to share a story with you about a reading assignment that shaped my Barnard experience.

My First-Year English class was called “Legacy of the Mediterranean."

We were reading a poem by T.S. Elliot called  “Hysteria," and here's how it began:

“As she LAUGHED…I was aware of becoming INVOLVED in her laughter -- and being part of it -- until her teeth were only accidental STARS.

"I was drawn in by short gasps --- inhaled, at each momentary recovery -- LOST, FINALLY, in the dark caverns of her throat – BRUISED by the RIPPLE… of unseen muscles.”

The poem’s derisive and dismissive words hit me like a runaway locomotive.

Was Elliot really so threatened by the SOUND of a woman's laughter?

My hand shot up but immediately, it fell back down.

Hey---I was a just a first-year.

Who was I to challenge the sacred male literary canon?

Who was I to tell my class that this page of poetry was saturated with derogatory slander against women?

But Barnard, you have shown me that I have a strong voice.

You have taught me that I’m entitled to laugh.

WE -- as women – have the RIGHT to laugh.

And WHEN we do---

Our laugh is the laugh of irony.

After centuries of subjugation, we stand here -- in ceremonies like ours -- as free members of society.

Our laugh is the laugh of generations.

We've laughed in our fight to create life-affirming institutions like Barnard.

Our laugh is the laugh of the future.

We will never stop fighting for gender equality.

During my semester abroad in Cape Town, I laughed with courageous women who fought for social justice.

I have laughed with my fellow anthropology majors as we've struggled to find our moral compass.

With all due respect, Mr. Elliot, the woman you described is, and will forever be my role model.

She is larger –than- life, because she disturbed the rotational movement of the earth.

She is my Grandmother Shirley, class of ’47,
My Mother Joanne, class of ’80,
My older sister Mira, class of ‘12
And my fellow graduates, class of 2014.

Shakespeare said, “With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”

Four years later I ask myself, who is laughing now Mr. Elliot? 

Look at us laugh.

We are laughing because we are women who can never be silenced.

We will laugh in the face of adversity.
We will laugh our way to the head of the table.

Dear friends -- let us laugh from the gates of Broadway to wherever our futures may lead.

Congratulations class of 2014! Never stop laughing!