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Performing in two languages: Ridberg (right) both signs and speaks in an NTD production of The Christmas That Almost Wasn't.

Back in 1995, while her classmates were traveling to Russia or Japan to improve their foreign language skills, Sara Ridberg '96 stayed closer to home to study a culture that many overlook.

Ridberg spent the spring semester at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the nation's only four-year liberal arts college for deaf people.

"That was my 'junior year abroad,'" Ridberg says. "That was my time of total immersion in another language and another culture."

The experience was a keystone of Ridberg's academic program at Rochester, where she designed a major in deaf culture and doubled it with a second major, in women's studies. The time at Gallaudet also was a stepping stone in Ridberg's ongoing interest in the deaf, in deaf culture, and in American Sign Language.

Now she has combined that interest with yet another long-standing passion, theater.

Since June 1998, Ridberg has been an actor with the National Theatre of the Deaf. Founded in 1967, NTD was created both as a venue for deaf actors to present dramatic works to deaf audiences and as a way to showcase the talents of the deaf to the hearing world.

Made up of signing actors who are deaf and voicing actors who are hearing, the company performs using two different languages at the same time: American Sign Language and spoken English.

As one of the speaking/hearing actors (there also is a male hearing actor), Ridberg signs her own role in each production and speaks all the female roles--with each character, of course, requiring a different voice, intonation, and delivery.

Couple that with the expressive range of sign language ("It makes language come to life like pop-up art," the NTD literature declares), and the position becomes an actor's dream.

"Sign language encourages actors to move their entire bodies in very creative ways," Ridberg says. "You can't really do that the same way with most spoken acting. Even within the specified limits of each sign, it's amazing how much of a picture you can create."

An example: In a recent production, the sentence "A question pops into my head" undergoes a transformation from a direct, spoken line to its presentation on stage. The actor places his palms together on top of his head, as if setting a crown there, and then pulls his hands back, as if tearing the skull open. The actor draws the sign for a question--an index finger tracing the familiar curve and dot--in the air above the "opened" head.

"It's like looking at a moving painting, a live piece of artwork," Ridberg says. "Actors in the NTD use sign language not only as a method of communication, but also to create a sense of mood. You don't always get that when actors are speaking lines, no matter how expressively they are acting.

"Storytelling becomes part gesture, part mime," she says. "Many deaf people when telling a story will do that, too. They not only tell the story, they become the characters they are talking about."

Ridberg credits her interest in deaf culture to her high school's mainstreaming program back in Rockville, Maryland. At as young as 13, she began signing to communicate with some of her classmates. At 14, she saw a production of the National Theatre of the Deaf--and was hooked.

"As my mother tells it, I came home saying, 'That's what I want to do,'" she says. "I was always interested in deaf culture and in acting, so, for me, the NTD is a merging of the two worlds."


Richard Davis '66 clearly remembers the Commencement speaker for his graduation: Richard M. Nixon.

The then former vice president was in private practice in New York, preparing a run at the White House in 1968. He gave, as Davis recalls, "a good speech."

Seven years later, Davis had graduated from Columbia law school, Nixon was in the White House, and their paths crossed again. An assistant special prosecutor in the Watergate inquiry of 1973, Davis was helping to prosecute Nixon.

"There certainly is some irony there," says Davis, now a partner with the New York law firm of Weil, Gotshal and Manges.

More than 25 years later, the irony continued as Davis testified in the nation's only other presidential impeachment inquiry during this century. In December of last year, Davis argued that impeachment was not an appropriate response to the lapses of President Clinton.

A former member of the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York, Davis was one of five former prosecutors called by the Clinton administration to testify before the House Judiciary Committee hearings on impeachment. While Clinton may have been evasive and argumentative in his testimony to special prosecutor Ken Starr's grand jury, few prosecutors would have tried to indict the president on perjury charges, Davis says.

"He plainly lied, because he lied to the American public," Davis says. "But did he perjure himself in front of the grand jury? The law is fairly clear that in order for it to be perjury the answer has to be literally false. You can't prosecute someone because they were evasive or because they weren't as forthcoming as you might have wanted.

"You also don't prosecute perjury cases where it is essentially one person's word against another's," he says.

Although a veteran of both impeachment inquiries, Davis cautions against comparisons.

"While what happened in Watergate is not the only test for impeachment, that was very different from Clinton's circumstances. In Watergate, you had something that was clearly high crimes and misdemeanors," he says, referring to attempts to cover up a burglary at the Democratic national headquarters.

"You also had the comfort," he says, of not having to weigh questions of credibility. "At the end of the day in 1974, you had Richard Nixon on tape talking about obstruction of justice and about hush money.

"Everybody--senators, congressmen, the American people--was comfortable that there was no issue of guilt in Watergate.

"In Clinton's case, you plainly had questions and you didn't have that same level of comfort," he says.

Davis's role as an expert on perjury prosecutions is just one part of a legal career that focuses on public policy. After spending his first dozen years in public service as an assistant U.S. Attorney, Watergate prosecutor, and later as an assistant secretary in the U.S. Treasury Department, Davis now devotes much of his time to public issues and pro bono legal work.

He currently chairs the Randall's Island Sports Foundation, a nonprofit organization trying to renovate the 480-acre parcel of land tucked under the Triborough Bridge in New York City.

Established as a park in the 1930s, the island has largely been forgotten by most New Yorkers, or is known to them only as the site of a psychiatric hospital and several homeless shelters.

"There is a lot of underutilized potential on the island," Davis says. "The goal is to re-create those areas as a vibrant park and center of recreation."

Since 1996, Davis also has chaired a mayor-appointed commission overseeing police anti-corruption efforts.

In recognition of his public service, Davis was selected this spring as the first recipient of the Curtis Berger Award from The Bridge, Inc., a mental health, housing, and rehabilitation agency in New York City. The award, named after the agency's longtime board member and Columbia University law professor Curtis Berger, was created to honor people who exemplify both personal character and commitment to public service.

Davis first joined Weil, Gotshal and Manges in 1976, leaving in 1977 for the Treasury Department. Since he returned in 1981, he has continued to remain deeply involved in nonprofit work.

"I've always tried to marry the notion of being in private practice while doing public service," he says.


You might say Gene Scheer '81E, '82E (Mas) got his start as a professional entertainer when he used to show 16 mm. films on the wall in one of the lounges of the old Eastman dorm in Cutler Union.

He was an undergraduate RA, and it was one way of keeping the troops happy. "Watching Casablanca on the wall with 40 of your college classmates is bound to become a fond college memory," he declares.

Once out of school, and trained as an opera singer, he embarked on a more conventional professional course--performing opera.

Scheer spent close to 10 years on the operatic stages of Europe, taking leading acting and singing roles at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, the Deutsches Theater in Munich, and as George Tabori's assistant at the Schauspielhaus in Cologne. He has frequently been cast in whimsical character roles such as the flirtatious Ko-Ko in The Mikado. And most recently he took a commanding lead, so to speak, as Captain Corcoran in another Gilbert and Sullivan comic favorite, H.M.S. Pinafore.

But for quite a while, Scheer also has been moving in yet another direction--writing material for other singers.

"I still love to perform and hope to do so throughout my life," he says. "But writing songs is something that does feel right as rain. It is the thing I enjoy doing most.

"If I could move toward a work schedule in which I was writing for 80 percent of the year and performing 20 percent, I think that would be wonderful."

And what he loves most, he does well, judging by the reception:

Scheer's "American Anthem" was performed for President and Mrs. Clinton in Washington last July by mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, who also featured his song "Christmas Once More" on her PBS Christmas special.

Star soprano Renée Fleming '83E (Mas) performed a Scheer song, "Another New Voice Teacher," at Carnegie Hall in January and has included the piece in her international recital tour.

Baritone Nathan Gunn's debut solo disc (where've you heard this title before?)--American Anthem--was released in February and includes three other Scheer compositions. In March, Gunn will head to London's Wigmore Recital Hall to perform in the world premier of a cycle of Scheer songs, Voices from World War II, based on soldiers' memories.

"It's amazing watching people like Renée, Nathan, and Denyce take a song you have written and make it funnier or more moving than you ever hoped," he says. "I think the thing that strikes me when I listen to them perform is a sense of gratitude--and, to be honest, surprise--when they take the tune and the words to places I did not even imagine. It's just great fun."

From recording studios to concert halls, with performances by a score of symphonies, Sheer's works are getting international attention and praise. All from a spin-off career that came about because of--well--a bit of boredom.

"I have to say I've done a lot of performing in productions that can be generously called challenging," he says. "I suppose starting to write was in large measure due to being bored on some of those gigs.

"It's been great fun to work on new things, to weave things out of my imagination and then to work with talented people and watch as they weave their own imaginations and experiences into the songs."


So, you think the British national beverage is ale, or maybe, er, tea?

Think again.

The Brits, says wine expert Patrick Farrell '77, '82M (MD), are really into wine. People underestimate Britain's long history in wine, he says.

"The French may be good at making wine, but the British are very good at trading it--they're the world's preeminent wine traders."

And that, he says, is how it came to pass that what may be one of the world's most exclusive clubs--The Institute of Masters of Wine--was instituted in 1953 by the British wine trade. Since that time, just 224 people have survived the institute's rigid screening program and have been granted the title Master of Wine as certified wine experts.

The 224th (and only the 18th American) to be inducted into this select group is Farrell, who also is one of the few inductees who does not make his living from wine.

A board-certified internist and ophthalmologist, he does, however, have some scientific background in the vintner's art. He took "a lot of microbiology and biochemistry courses" as an undergraduate, he says, and got interested in the science of fermentation--at one time even toying with the idea of going into the field.

Although his subsequent career path took him elsewhere professionally, it did, as it happened, take him at various times into wine country. By 1988, when he was on a fellowship at the University of Southern California, he was enthusiastically pursuing his amateur interest in the field, checking out the different wineries and acquiring a discriminating palate by taking part in the tastings.

It was a doctor friend from one of the wine-tasting groups who prompted Farrell to take his enthusiasm to another level: the Society of Wine Educators. The society offers certification in wine education, which Farrell obtained in 1994. That success led him to enter the far more challenging Masters of Wine program the following year.

Sitting for the exam in which the program culminates, he says, was "worse than finals week at the University. It's much worse, in fact--it's like doing seven finals in three and a half days." Fewer than 15 percent of the candidates survive the marathon sessions of responding to essay questions (on such vinous concerns as "growing, maturing, marketing, and financing"), coupled with "blind" tasting tests (identifying such fine points as geographical origin, variety of grape, wine-making process, and level of quality).

One thing he was happy to have learned from the ordeal, Farrell reports, was the realization that he is personally "quite tenacious in trying to see things through to fruition."

He also says that he has met "a wonderful array of people in the wine industry. They're about as bright as people in the medical profession. They are financially less secure, but are much happier. They're interesting to be around."

Now that he is a certified Master with a capital M, Farrell plans to share his expertise.

He has already been a judge at a few industry events and has been invited to judge an event in the U.K. in the spring. He also has begun preliminary work on a book that will cover the topic of "wine and food pairing."

As a physician, he also plans to involve himself in issues of wine and health. Epidemiological studies, he says, have borne out the "French paradox" that a while back gained exposure from an episode of 60 Minutes. Basically, he explains, the paradox is the phenomenon of French people who indulge in a high-fat diet also enjoying a low incidence of coronary artery disease. Their happy escape, it is believed, may be laid to moderate consumption of wine, particularly red wine.

Farrell explains that red wine seems to be associated with a lower incidence not only of coronary artery disease, but also stroke, dementia, and some malignancies. Plus, he throws in for good measure, red-wine consumption means that "there's just happier people around."

So what's his own favorite wine?

He responds that the wine that suits him best generally, "when I'm happy or when I'm sad," hails from the Burgundy region in France. If he were asked to be more specific, he says, he would characterize the ultimate vintage this way: "Wonderful, old, delicious, expensive, and"--one does have to be practical--"free."


When the green revolution came to Mexico in the early 1950s, the rural people living in the Yaqui Valley found themselves engaged in a philosophical split over the use of modern farming techniques.

While one group along the floor of the valley embraced the use of pesticides and other new technological aids, a more tradition-minded segment in the foothills chose to continue with the agricultural and ranching methods they had always used.

It was this philosophical division that has made it possible for anthropologist Elizabeth (Buzzy) Arnold Guillette '60, '61N, '63W (Mas) to conduct the first-ever comprehensive study of the effects on children of sustained exposure to pesticides.

Guillette, a research scientist at the University of Arizona, has long studied the ways in which people recover, or don't, from natural disasters. "So the whole question of environmental contamination, and its impact as a potential disaster to human health, has always been on my mind," she says.

Previous investigations had been criticized as encompassing too many variables among the children studied, she says. So Guillette set out to locate a study group that would be as homogeneous as possible. She found it in the Yaqui Valley.

The children there share a genetic and cultural background, eat the same foods, drink the same water. The only difference is
the difference Guillette wanted to explore: the effects of long-term exposure to agricultural chemicals.

In the study, published last year in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, Guillette looked at two groups of 4- and 5-year-olds. Thirty-three of them live in the valley itself, a farming area where pesticides are applied up to 45 times a season between planting and harvesting. Seventeen others, the control group, live in the foothills, where their only exposure to pesticides is the annual DDT spraying conducted through the entire Yaqui Valley area to combat malaria.

To the casual eye, Guillette found few differences between the two groups. They looked pretty much the same.

But testing revealed significant differences: The valley children displayed markedly less stamina and poorer hand-eye coordination and short-term memory than their foothills cousins. When asked to draw a human figure, children from the low-pesticide areas produced recognizable stick people; their peers from high-pesticide areas could manage only unconnected squiggles.

Guillette describes her research experience as "rewarding, depressing, and challenging."

It was rewarding, she says, because "the mothers were enthusiastic about participating. They know their children are being affected. They were saying, in effect, 'We're glad you're here. Someone cares about our kids.'

"But it was also a depressing experience," she continues. "I saw the deficits in the children's ability to perform everyday play activities the way they should."

About the challenge: "When you're dealing with a culture very different from mainstream American culture, it requires continual adaptation," she says.

Even how you structure the tests requires some extra thought, she notes.

In the States, for instance, if you want to test a kid's balance, you simply ask him or her to stand on one foot. Among the Yaqui people, however, it is a well-known principle that this can be dangerous: You could fall over and hurt yourself. So she had the children walk a plank, which seemed to be a benign enough activity from all points of view.

Overall, she says, her research "made me aware of the severity of what's happening to children who are heavily exposed to environmental contaminants. We need to clean up the environment on a worldwide scale. And do it quickly."

Guillette explains that it appears many organic pollutants, such as those she studied in Mexico, disrupt the endocrine system, which controls both the development of the body and how it functions, and is implicated in disease. These "endocrine disruptors" are absorbed through the skin and with foods and, once absorbed, are concentrated in fatty tissue not easily eliminated by the human body.

Guillette plans to keep on with her research in the Yaqui Valley, returning every two years. During her followup last summer, she found the children in the valley continuing to exhibit behavioral deficits along with a greater incidence of illness than their foothills peers.

While Guillette says that her research doesn't prove that the pesticides caused the differences she found in the Yaqui Valley children, experts agree that the results warrant further investigation--both in Mexico and in this country to see if pesticides are having a similar effect here.

In the meantime, she urges people no matter where they live to practice safeguards to avoid pesticide contamination --particularly via a thorough washing of one's person and clothing after exposure. "Cleanliness," she affirms, "is the best defense."


Joseph Andrews '63M (MD) cheerfully confesses to being an eclectic. ("An eclectic," he says, "but not a dabbler.")

"Right now," he relates, "I am doing four different things: practicing medicine [internal and pulmonary medicine, combined with teaching at Tufts], running a tour-guide service [in Concord, Massachusetts, where he now lives], selling photography [unexplained], and writing."

It's the writing that has perhaps most engaged his attention at the moment. A journalist, author, and self-confessed "history buff," Andrews is writing and researching a book on the story of Jewish settlers in Colonial and Revolutionary America.

His interest in the subject is not surprising, considering that the Andrews family tree has sturdy roots among that little-known group.

His earliest documented ancestors to arrive on these shores, he says, were members of the Franks family, who came over in the 1690s from Hanover, in Germany, via England. Among the first Jewish settlers in New York City, they helped found New York's Shearith Israel, the first Jewish congregation in North America and still in existence today.

Decades later, during the Revolutionary War, Andrews's great-great-great grandfather, Haym Salomon, helped finance American troops.

"He left Poland in the 1770s, came to New York, and joined a patriotic cause against the British," Andrews recounts. "When at one point the British took over the city, most Americans left but he stayed and was jailed by the British. He was sentenced to hang, but the story goes that he was able to argue his way to freedom by talking
to the Hessian guards (German was one of his six languages).

"He later fled to Philadelphia, where he became a broker and negotiated money for the American government from France, Spain, and Holland. He also drew from his own pocket. He died in 1785 at age 45, broke and in debt."

Andrews is descended from Salomon through his daughter Sarah, who married an earlier Joseph Andrews, a teacher who was a native of France.

Another ancestor, Isaac Franks, was a colonel in the Continental Army. Yet another Andrews forebear, Benjamin Nones, in 1800 published a stirring attack on anti-Semitism that is still quoted today.

Andrews is a bit of a rare specimen, he admits, in that he can trace his American lineage back more than 10 generations. The majority of American Jews are descended from immigrants who came through Ellis Island in the late 19th century.

Andrews is planning to share his family lore, along with the stories of other early Jewish settlers, in the book he has titled Moses and Miriam in America: Jews' Fight for Survival and Human Rights in Colonial and Revolutionary America.

"That story is an unknown legacy," the author says, one that he plans to trace from the arrival of the first Jews through their post-Revolutionary struggle for political equality.

From the 23 refugees aboard the St. Catherine ("the Jewish Mayflower") who landed in Nieuw Amsterdam in 1654, the number of Jews in this country grew to 2,500 in 1790 (about one-tenth of 1 percent of the U.S. population at the time), he relates.

Although they were allowed to become naturalized citizens of Colonial America beginning in 1739, some Jews experienced difficulty attaining that privilege, Andrews says. And while the U.S. Constitution extended civil rights and religious privileges equally to all citizens, many state constitutions still discriminated. Until 1826 Maryland, for example, stipulated that only Christians could hold public office or commissions.

It was his father, Andrews says, who encouraged his interest in this kind of lore related to family and Jewish history.

An only child who was orphaned at the age of 12, Andrews père, perhaps unsurprisingly, acutely appreciated his ancestry. Collecting books, rounding up family documents, making notes, he traced out genealogies and shared this rich legacy with his own four children.

"Growing up, my sisters and I used to write our grade school essays about this history, especially about Haym Salomon," Andrews recalls.

In the course of further researching the history of early Jews in America, he found a fair amount written by and for historians, but a dearth of popular literature about early Jewry.

At the same time, as his own interest in the subject became known, he says, he "started getting speaking invitations from all kinds of Jewish groups who had no knowledge of this early history. They assumed that the Jewish story in this country starts just three generations back.

"That's when I decided to write the book. At first I was shy talking about my own family history--I didn't want to be looked on as a historical snob. But I wanted to get a message of tolerance across, and I also wanted to show that it wasn't just a bunch of WASPs who fought the Revolution. It was also fought by Spaniards and Poles and blacks and women. . . ."

Contributed by Scott Hauser, Julie Welch, Helene Snihur, and Jan Waxman

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