The Bicentennial Medals presented at Convocation, by and large, recognized an imposing array of alumni whose impassioned work and distinguished careers are outstanding models for the class of 2009. Five of the six medalists had in common a tireless commitment toward improving the lives of others through art, international commerce, law and philanthropy.
Unfortunately, it was Mayda Del Valle ’00, the 2001 National Poetry Slam winner, who was chosen to speak. Perhaps she was chosen because she is a celebrated entertainer. My question is: celebrated by whom? To the greatest degree, by herself. The speech consisted of a 25-minute improvisation that included barely-intelligible performances of two of her pieces, one written at Williams. She started out with a confessional high-school-esque prelude, about how she sleeplessly attempted to write a speech and how instead she had decided to “wing it,” perhaps believing her self-perceived entertaining personality would do the trick. She discussed her college application process and struggles at Williams, encouraging us to “know ourselves” and “follow our dreams.”
Del Valle’s career success, unlike that of the others on the stage, relied completely upon self-centeredness and self-promotion. Keeping with this theme, she lacked the humility to recognize her fellow recipients in her speech, all of whom were better educated and had spent many more years than she had building their careers. Most importantly, all of them had been working to directly improve the lives of large portions of society, and, as a result, society as a whole. Del Valle, on the other hand, practices a self-absorbed art, a form of entertainment that appeals to a few, in which she is recognized for “knowing herself” and speaking of her struggles. A proud Latina, she often referenced the struggles of her ancestors. Eugene Latham ’55, through his organization, helped to provide care for 25,000 orphans in Latin America (people without ancestors). Instead of pondering the struggles of Del Valle’s relatives, I found myself wondering what the other medalists might have had to say to the class of 2009.
Fiona Worcester ’09