More on Maddow’s Smith Commencement Speech: What I Didn’t Get to Include

I’m still pretty ecstatic about having interviewed Rachel Maddow just minutes before she delivered

Rachel Maddow at Smith Commencement 2010 (photo: Jim Gipe/

this year’s Commencement speech at Smith College to the class of 2010 on May 16.  As a Smith alum from 1997, I was thrilled to cover the event for the Women’s Media Center in New York, which was co-founded by fellow Smith alum Gloria Steinem ’56.  Here’s the piece I wrote for them last week, which includes an exclusive quote from Maddow on feminism.

But there were some moments that I didn’t get to talk about in my WMC post, namely the covert lesbian joke that Maddow made to a knowing crowd, the lively live tweets from swooning alumnae; and photos of Maddow that will knock you out.

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Year in Review: My Rachel Maddow Interview 2009

Rachel Maddow shares a laugh during my interview of her at my school.

“Activism is soothing to the mind.”

These exciting and inspiring words from Rachel Maddow were heard by a group of our high school students Thursday, April 23, 2009.  Maddow’s incisive political commentary and analysis on her MSNBC program The Rachel Maddow Show has won her the admiration of progressive news viewers, pundits, academics, and activists, including our very own high school students and faculty.

Gathered in our library’s intimate and sun-filled study space, Maddow and fifty students and teachers talked about her career as well as her views on current political events and issues. Of course, I’ll never forget our shared moment of singing and seat dancing to the Schoolhouse Rock jingle “I’m Just a Bill” for the gleeful benefit of students who hadn’t grown up in the 70’s.

Citing her own trajectory as a political science major at Stanford and then as an Oxford Rhodes Scholar writing her dissertation on HIV/AIDS, Maddow encouraged students to major in liberal arts fields such as literature, philosophy, history, and political science rather than communications or journalism.  As a die-hard English teacher, I was particularly thrilled when Maddow urged students to “write, write, write.”

Responding to a female student’s question, “What advice would you give to young women interested in journalism?”  Maddow gave this outstanding answer:  “Get really good at arguing, make solid arguments and use really good evidence, not conjecture.”

Rachel Maddow on activism: "The fight in your life will find you."

To all students seeking a life in activism, Maddow said, “The fight in your life will find you.”

At the end of my interview, I presented Maddow with the children’s book And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, citing that on a recent episode of Maddow’s show, Maddow and Kent Jones had just marked the third anniversary of the book on the banned books list.  And Tango Makes Three sits proudly on the read-aloud lists of our lower school colleagues at my k-12 school. The look on Maddow’s face when I opened the book to show her our students’ signatures was priceless (see photo slideshow below).  I also presented Maddow with a signed copy of Staceyann Chin’s new memoir The Other Side of Paradise.

The energy and excitement of the event was made all the more amazing when students and faculty reached out to me with thanks for organizing Maddow’s visit.  One student’s email said it all: “Meeting Rachel Maddow made my whole year, I’m now inspired to be an activist and journalist.”

Open to all students in the high school, the event attracted those who have taken my colleagues’ courses on constitutional law, journalism, banned books, the global war on terror, economics, human rights, and my courses on feminism and LGBT literature and film.

A photo slideshow of the event can be found here.  Photojournalist Angel Chevrestt took the photos.