Celebrating Generosity & Possibility
A day of ceremony
On Friday, May 18, the Dartmouth community gathered to mark the naming of the Medical School for Audrey and Theodor Geisel.
"Today we celebrate the vision, service, generosity, creativity, and leadership of two of the most distinguished members of the Dartmouth family, Audrey and Ted Geisel," said Dean Wiley "Chip" Souba, M.D., Sc.D., M.B.A., in a speech at the event.
Audrey Geisel was not able to attend the ceremony, but it was streamed live to her at her home in La Jolla, Calif. She also wrote a letter to Jim Yong Kim, M.D., Ph.D., at the time the president of Dartmouth College. In her letter, read by Souba, she provided some insight into how Theodor Geisel might have reacted to the celebration of his accomplishments and philanthropy.
What's in a name?
In April 2012, Dartmouth announced that the Medical School would be named in honor of Audrey and Theodor Geisel.
"Neither of us ever imagined a tribute of the meaning and magnitude of this one," Audrey Geisel wrote. "If Ted were here with you today, he'd quickly assume the curmudgeon-like guise of one impervious to flattery, discomfited by accolades and honors. He'd harrumph his way through the ceremony, show no emotion whatsoever, but love every blessed minute."
Medical student David Fried ('14) also spoke at the event. "We are thrilled to go to a school that is now named for the Geisels, two people who spent so much of their lives in the service of others," he said. "I promise you that we Geisel medical students will work hard to be sure you're proud of us."
In addition to honoring the generosity of the Geisels, the day's festivities made clear the excitement about what that generosity will make possible, such as reducing medical student debt, improving research and education facilities and technology, and recruiting additional faculty who are leaders in their fields.
"There are so many things that we've only dreamed of in the past that now could become reality because of the future support," said Joseph O'Donnell, M.D. ('71).
The Geisels have supported what we all think of today as the three pillars of what we're trying to do here at Dartmouth: pedagogy, research, and service.
"It's something that is going to have a profound impact on our activities, both in education and research, for many, many years to come," said Duane Compton, Ph.D., a professor of biochemistry and the senior associate dean for research.
Medical student Victor Orellana ('14) added that "their support will actually give us the means to be able to see all of our goals that much closer to becoming reality."
In his speech at the naming ceremony, Souba both thanked the Geisel family and looked forward to the next stage in the long history of the Medical School. "Thanks to the Geisels, we will truly be able to create a future that is bigger than we are," he said, "a kind of future that this kind of generosity truly makes possible for each and every one of us."
A storybook visit
In June, Souba; Carol Folt, the president of Dartmouth; and Carrie Pelzel, Dartmouth's senior vice president for advancement, visited Audrey Geisel at her home. "The visit . . . could not have gone any better," Souba said. "I presented her with the official Geisel white coat and she wore it with pride the entire time!" Souba also presented Audrey Geisel with an original story inspired by the tales of Dr. Seuss. "The Geisels' support and love for Dartmouth continues to transform lives," Souba said. Reprinted below is a scene from the story, titled "Oh the Good We Will Do!" an original storybook about the Geisel experience, inspired by the tales of Dr. Seuss.
Thanks to the Geisels, we will truly be able to create a future that is bigger than we are, a kind of future that this kind of generosity truly makes possible for each and every one of us.
The meaning of a name
Theodor Seuss Geisel has occupied a legendary place in Dartmouth's history since his undergraduate days. His alter ego, "Dr. Seuss," is to Geisel's alma mater what J.K. Rowling is to Exeter University and Lewis Carroll was to Oxford. Since Dr. Seuss famously taught children how to undo the sources of social divisiveness—Yertle the Turtle's arrogance, the Sneetches' envy, Sam-I-Am's indigestion—it is especially fitting that the name of Dartmouth's officially cherished children's author has supplied the link overcoming the division between Dartmouth's "two cultures." In connecting Dartmouth's preeminence in arts and sciences education to the increasing renown of its professional schools, the Audrey and Theodor Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth inaugurated Dartmouth's vision for higher education in the 21st century.
Although the naming of the Medical School marked the greatest benefaction in Dartmouth's history, it was in fact Ted Geisel's second remarkable act of philanthropy. In 1969, to celebrate the bicentennial of Dartmouth's founding, Geisel endowed the Ted and Helen Geisel Third Century Professorship in the Humanities. The professorship was also designed to bridge an imagined gap separating the research produced in the graduate programs and professional schools from teaching in the undergraduate classroom. The 1969 Geisel professorship removed the perceived antagonism between the classroom teacher and the research scholar by underscoring how crucial this interdependent relationship was to the educated imagination of Dartmouth's students. In 2012, the Geisel name removed the invisible yet recalcitrant barrier separating Dartmouth's undergraduate and graduate sectors, and it will foster collaborative research ventures among Dartmouth's students and faculty in the Arts and Sciences, the Thayer School of Engineering, the Tuck School of Business, and the Geisel School of Medicine.
Donald Pease is the Ted and Helen Geisel Third Century Professor in the Humanities and a professor of English at Dartmouth College. He is the author of, among other books, a biography of Theodor Geisel, which was published in 2010.
Geisel characterized his contributions as gratitude for Dartmouth's having met his personal need for restorative communal bonds at a precarious moment in his life. When Ted Geisel took the train from Springfield, Mass., to Hanover, N.H., in 1921, he was by his own reckoning in search of community. World War I had devastated Springfield's extended German-American family and Prohibition destroyed the Geisel family brewery. From Convocation Day in September 1921 until his death in September 1991, the intimate bonds of fellowship Ted Geisel cultivated with Dartmouth classmates supplied the emotional resources of security, support, and acknowledgement from which World War I and Prohibition had disconnected him. The members of Ted Geisel's Class of 1925 were singular in their loyalty to the College as well as to one another. Geisel's Dartmouth classmates would become lifelong friends, a reliable audience for his art, honorary siblings, and the role models against whose achievements he took the measure of his own ambitions.
In connecting Dartmouth's preeminence in arts and sciences education to the increasing renown of its professional schools, the Audrey and Theodor Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth inaugurated Dartmouth's vision for higher education in the 21st century.
The reciprocal loyalty between Geisel and his alma mater is a matter of College pride and historical record. In May 1955, John Sloan Dickey—then the president of Dartmouth—invited Ted back to New Hampshire to celebrate the 30th reunion of the Class of 1925 and to receive an honorary doctorate in the company of Robert Frost. The citation for his doctorate of letters reads in part, "As author and artist you single-handedly have stood as St. George between a generation of exhausted parents and the demon-dragon of unexhausted children on a rainy day." Rather than attaching the new honorific to Theodor Geisel, Ted remarked that he might now be required to sign his works "Dr. Dr. Seuss."
In 1975 Audrey joined Ted at his 50th class reunion, which featured the "Dr. Seuss exhibition" Edward Connery Lathem, the dean of the libraries, had put together. The celebration filled 17 exhibit cases at Baker Library and traced Ted's career from his experiences in his high school's mandolin club to The Lorax. A writer for the Jack-O-Lantern, a Dartmouth humor magazine that Ted wrote for in his college years, described it as "the Seusstine Chapel." In 2007, Baker library opened the Dr. Seuss room. This self-described "imaginative place to study" was designed by Ted's stepdaughter Lark to let students "learn firsthand that it's possible to think and laugh at the same time."
2012 is something of a banner year in the annals of Ted Geisel's "Dr. Seuss." It marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of his first children's book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Ted Geisel's first cartoon appeared in the Jack O'Lantern 90 years ago. It's been four score and seven years since he first signed the name "Seuss" to one of his cartoons in that same magazine. And 2012 marks the 45th year of his relationship with Audrey, whose depth and profundity was celebrated earlier this year in the film production of The Lorax.
Theodor Seuss Geisel may have personified the link bridging the divide separating Dartmouth's undergraduate and graduate schools, but, as her response to its inauguration indicates, it was Audrey Dimond Geisel who assumed personal responsibility for making Dartmouth's medical school the recipient of the Geisel family's generosity: "Given my background as a nurse, this moving gesture on the part of Dartmouth joins Ted's great love of his alma mater and my passion of caring for others through the practice of medicine."
Audrey, whose mother was a vocational nurse at the Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital, received a degree in nursing at the University of Indiana. Audrey never had to hang up her whites during her marriage to Ted. In addition to playing nurse, she was Ted's trusted critic, business advisor, lover, best friend, and muse.
Audrey entered Ted's life during a period that was almost as traumatic as his childhood in Springfield. They met after his first wife, Helen Palmer Geisel, was diagnosed with a debilitating nervous disorder. Helen died in 1967, and after Ted and Audrey married in 1968, Audrey helped Ted work though Helen's death by persuading him to create his children's books out of pastels—plum, lime green, peach—rather than primary colors. She also inspired Ted to write for adults as well as children, and to dedicate his books to the betterment of humanity.
Global Media Coverage
News of the naming of the Medical School was covered far and wide, by outlets that included the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Businessweek, Forbes, National Public Radio, the Huffington Post, Entertainment Weekly, the Boston Herald, the Boston Globe, the New York Daily News, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Las Vegas Sun, the Guardian (U.K.), the Portland Press Herald, and WPTZ. More than 200 other outlets carried the Associated Press story on the naming, titled "One Doc Two Doc." The Chronicle of Higher Education was more creative with its article, "Oh, the Lives That You'll Save."
Ted enjoyed pointing out the quasi-clinical origins of their romance. Audrey had never heard of Dr. Seuss until she moved to La Jolla. When a fellow nurse introduced "a tall, distinguished-looking man in khaki slacks and a blue jacket" to Audrey as "our own Dr. Seuss" at a party for the Scripps Clinic faculty, Audrey inquired mischievously, "Oh, do you have a particular specialty? Right nostril? Left nostril?"
Dr. Seuss's response to Audrey's query was multidimensional. Shortly after that party, Ted began attributing the origins of his notorious Seussian rhymes to a diagnosis from his newfound ear, nose, and throat specialist:
As everyone present undoubtedly knows...
Due to a prenatal defect in my nose...
(Which seems to get worse the longer it grows)
I am completely incapable of speaking in prose.
He also named Audrey the dedicatee of a series of children's books beginning with Fox in Socks (to "Audrey Dimond of the Mt. Soledad Lingual Laboratories"). To attest to the newfound vitality she aroused in the sexagenarian, Ted entitled his 1969 children's books I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today! And Other Stories.
In 1984, when his editors tried to change the name of The Butter Battle Book to "The Yooks and The Zooks," it was Audrey who called his editors at Random House and had the title changed back to the original (after which Ed Koch is said to have quipped "it was a far, far Butter thing Audrey had done" for mankind).
When Ted reached 65, medical doctors vied with Audrey and Dartmouth classmates as the dedicatees of his children's books. During his decade-long battle with glaucoma, Ted dedicated I Can Read with My Eyes Shut! to his ophthalmologist, "David Worthen E.G. (the Eye Guy)."
Although he had no official medical training, Dr. Seuss did write one pseudomedical "children's book for adults," entitled You're Only Old Once! A Book for Obsolete Children. In following "you" through a truly perverse physical check-up with the experts at the "Golden Years Clinic," Dr. Seuss sends up everything from an eyesight and solvency test to the proprieties of pilling and billing. "You must see Dr. Pollen, our Allergy Whiz, who knows every sniffle and itch that there is. . . . He will check your reactions to thumbtacks and glue, catcher's mitts, leaf mould, and cardigans too. Nasturtiums and marble cake, white and blue chalks, anthracite coal and the feathers of hawks."
You're Only Old Once is Geisel's lamentation about the humiliation of aging and the corruption of the health-care system. He considered his book a protest against medical procedures that were both unnecessary and overpriced. Upon reading Ted's satire of the medical profession, Audrey at first marveled, "This from a man who does not know how to fix a toilet by jiggling the handle." Then she convinced Ted to delete the passages about health matters that not even Dr. Seuss could make funny.
Ted Geisel invented Dr. Seuss to find a voice and imagine words to cope with a world that distressed and sometimes terrified him. After complaining of a social life consisting entirely of doctors, Ted wrote You're Only Old Once in a fit of magical thinking. "If I can only stay out of the hospital," he told his personal physician, "I might live forever . . . and I can't go back to doctors after what I did to them in this book."
Ted dedicated the book, "with affection and in affliction," to the surviving members of the Dartmouth Class of 1925. The Book of the Month club advertised it "for ages 95 and down." It sold more than one million copies the first year of publication. Imagine what would have happened—or where we'd be—if he'd written a book about lawyers.
When news of his death reached Dartmouth 21 years ago, students and faculty began a spontaneous 24-hour vigil reading Dr. Seuss books around the clock outside College Hall as homage to the alumnus who had created a whole world. In its eulogy, Time magazine commemorated Ted Geisel as one of the last doctors to make house calls—"over 200 million of them in more than 20 languages."
No matter whether we hail from the arts and sciences or Dartmouth's professional schools, all of us are Dr. Seuss babies. The bonds that renew our relationship to our work and to each other are animated at the juncture Audrey Geisel described as connecting "Ted's great love of his alma mater" and her "passion of caring for others" and communicated in the Onceler's injunction at the conclusion to The Lorax:
Unless someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
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