Editor’s letter

Friday, May 11, 2018

Hi, friends:


Commencement season has begun. Over the next couple of weeks, thousands of visitors will be streaming through the Valley to attend college graduations. A select few of those visitors will be delivering addresses at those graduations, as the chosen commencement speakers. It’s a challenging assignment — trying to write a speech that is, one hopes, funny and inspirational (think: Amy Poehler at Harvard) and packed with wisdom. Will their words be remembered or forgotten? I don’t remember who spoke at my commencement — at Kenyon College in Ohio — or what was said. But I do know that, a few years after I graduated, David Foster Wallace spoke at Kenyon, in 2005, and his talk lives on as one of the greatest commencement speeches of all time. I’m not going to quote it here, but I suggest you find it and read it in its entirety online. It’s called “This is Water.”

Wallace, as you may know, went to Amherst College (class of ’85), which doesn’t have a traditional commencement speaker. Instead, the college president — Biddy Martin currently — delivers the commencement address each year and gives out honorary degrees. The honorees will deliver a series of talks that are free and open to the public on Saturday, May 19. Among the six speakers are are Morris Dees, co-founder and chief trial counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I recently read and loved her third novel, “Americanah.”

CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper will speak at the University of Massachusetts  Amherst later today. The addresses continue next week with human rights activist Loretta J. Ross at Hampshire College on Saturday, May 19 (Ross was a visiting associate professor at Hampshire this year); House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at Mount Holyoke College on Sunday, May 20; and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and two-time U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove at Smith College on Sunday, May 20.  

Oprah was Smith’s commencement speaker last year, sending the Valley into a tizzy. While she was here, she went to the Northampton fro-yo shop GoBerry and later name-dropped it in her speech … hard to beat that kind of promotion.

It made me wonder where this year’s speakers will be spending their time, so I asked a couple of colleagues about spots they’d recommend. For Jake Tapper, people mentioned tried-and-true Amherst establishments like Judie’s Restaurant, Johnny’s Tavern, and The Lord Jeffery Inn. “If he wants the true UMass experience,” said Dusty Christensen, who covers the college beat, “send him to the UMass dining hall!” Dusty also recommended the guy with the halal-meat cart in downtown Amherst, while another reporter (and a UMass grad), Sarah Robertson, suggested Mission Cantina, saying, “I recommend fish tacos with the works.” If Tapper stays until Saturday, I think he should check out the Amherst Farmers Market as well. As for the other speakers coming to the area, let me know if you have any recommendations for them. You can email me at bhauser@gazettenet.com.

Speaking of farmers markets, back by popular demand this week is “Style Stop” by Daisy von Furth, who found Anna Jacobs, an elegantly understated college student, quietly reading Eileen Myles poetry amid the bustle of the Tuesday Farmers Market downtown. (So Northampton.)

Also on the theme of growing, Steve Pfarrer wrote our cover story about Riverside Industries, which turns 50 this year.

There’s a lot to celebrate this week. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week to all the wonderful teachers in our Valley. And Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms. I think you’ll enjoy Naomi Shulman’s new essay … and may you enjoy some quality me/we time this Sunday. If brunch isn’t your thing, consider checking out Lilacland this weekend (it’s open Saturday and Sunday), at 24 Harkness Rd., in Pelham. The lilacs are beautiful and in bloom.

— Brooke Hauser