<![CDATA[The Rice Thresher]]> Thu, 11 Aug 2022 15:21:21 -0500 Thu, 11 Aug 2022 15:21:21 -0500 SNworks CEO 2022 The Rice Thresher <![CDATA[Garcia drafted by the Rays in the 14th round]]> Pitcher Roel Garcia became the latest Owl to turn pro on Tuesday when he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in round 14 of the MLB Draft. According to Garcia, he barely remembers the moment he heard his name called because he was so overwhelmed with joy.

"I did have a couple tears roll down my eyes," Garcia said. "I had no recollection of the exact moment [and how] I felt - it was because I blacked out. It was such a surreal moment for me."

Garcia, who just completed his sixth season with the Owls, was a key piece of the Rice pitching staff this past season. His 4.73 ERA across 16 appearances - both as a starter and in relief - was the third best on the team. According to Garcia, while a number of teams showed interest in him, many were wary of spending a draft pick on him because of his age. However, as the draft approached, it became clear that he had a real shot of being taken.

"I had been talking to a lot of teams and they were like, 'hey, you know, you're getting old,' [so] I was expecting to get signed as a free agent," Garcia said. "Then a couple of days later on draft day, I get a couple of calls [saying] 'you should probably be ready for day two or day three of the draft.' So I [thought] there's a good chance I could get drafted. But I was expecting late day three, rounds 15-20. [At] 3 [p.m.] in the day, I was not expecting a call, and here, some random number [calls] and I answered, [and the person on the line said], 'hey, this is Chris, a Rays' scout. Would you like to go with our next pick?'"

As the draft wore on, Garcia said, it began to look like he'd land not with the Rays, but with either the New York Mets or the San Francisco Giants. However, the Rays surprised him with their selection in round 14.

"The Rays, the Giants and the Mets were all very interested," Garcia said. "The Giants and the Mets [had called] on day three of the draft and said, 'be ready, we could take you within these next few picks.' And then out of nowhere, the Rays came in and got me."

Garcia began his Rice career in 2017 making nine appearances as a true freshman. He earned a spot in the starting rotation during the 2018 season, but an injury sidelined him for his entire junior year, and he only made one rehab appearance in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. While he struggled in his first full year back from injury, posting an ERA of 5.87, Garcia said that he was finally able to find his form this season, which put him back in the draft conversation.

"I had the thought when I got here that I hope to be out of here in three years. And I could've - I got drafted by the Blue Jays in 2019, and I turned it down to come back and get my degree [and] have a chance to make more money. Things weren't really going my way in year four, so then I had year five which was my official senior year and things didn't really work out. Now I had year six, and I was like, 'okay, this is my last chance, I'm going to try to do my best.'"

Garcia joins 13 other former Owls playing professional baseball, including three who are members of the Rays organization.

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Photo Courtesy Maria Lysaker - Rice Athletics

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<![CDATA[Michigan professor Amy Dittmar named Rice's next provost]]> Amy Dittmar, the senior vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan, has been selected as Rice's new provost, incoming president Reginald DesRoches announced Thursday. DesRoches, the current provost, will become Rice's president on July 1, and Dittmar will start August 1.

As Rice's provost, Dittmar will act as the chief academic officer, responsible for student performance, faculty hiring, research, teaching, academic policies and more.

Dittmar, whose education and academic experience has all been at large public institutions, said she felt Rice has an outsized role beyond campus, especially for a private school.

"What I love about Michigan and other [institutions] that I've been at is the impact it has on society. It's embedded in a public institution," she said. "It was important to me that any institution I went to, public or private, really also cared and thought of their mission, beyond just the education of the students, but also broader in society, in both the country and the world."

Academics

The University of Michigan is notably larger than Rice. Michigan has more than 50,000 students spread across 19 schools and colleges with 250 degree programs. Michigan also has a law school and a medical school. In her current role, Dittmar is a senior administrator responsible for academics and the university's budget.

At Rice, Dittmar said she appreciates what she called the school's breadth of academic strengths, especially as the student body continues to grow.

"I think it's more just making sure that breadth is both protected, but also enhanced," Dittmar said. "As Rice is entering a period where there is some growth both in the undergraduate [and graduate] populations … thinking about where that is, and how that's done in order to continue to have that excellence across the academy is going to be really important."

Dittmar declined to provide specific academic proposals before her term begins.

"I think that really understanding where the student body feels like there are places that may need to be enhanced would be important to me to hear," Dittmar said. "I don't want to come in with a preconceived idea of what has to happen as much as wanting to get that from the community, and then quickly make some changes if there's any that need to be made."

Mental health

Early in the pandemic, Dittmar led a University of Michigan task force on student mental health and wellbeing. As co-chair, Dittmar hosted discussions and gave presentations about the group's initiatives, including a stronger focus on the connection between a student's academic performance and their wellbeing.

In 2021, Michigan adopted the Okanagan Charter, a framework that suggests integrating a focus on health into every part of campus.

"That charter is my belief system about how you think about caring and living your life," Dittmar said. "It is my approach to think about the whole student, the whole institution, as you solve different challenges."

Noah Zimmerman, the student body president at the University of Michigan, applauded Dittmar's efforts.

"Throughout the past couple of years, Vice Provost Dittmar has worked with Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones to turn Michigan into a health-promoting campus," Zimmerman wrote in an email to the Thresher. "Vice Provost Dittmar and Dean Jones' leadership has proven solid in this regard, and student voices, especially those in student government and underrepresented communities, are always at the forefront."

Dittmar said students have experienced long waits at Michigan's counseling center, like at Rice, prompting her task force to explore big-picture solutions.

"What we found is that it was really bigger and broader than thinking about [whether we should] add more counselors," Dittmar said. "[We were] really thinking about the whole student in totality, thinking about the support of the student from everything from coaching and counseling services that might be more shorter term, to making sure that they can get in and be seen quickly."

Dittmar said she wants to meet with students at Rice before offering specific proposals. She said she plans to host town halls, meet with advocacy groups and interact with student government.

"My first priority is … getting out and hearing from the community, what the priorities are and what people care about, because I think that needs to shape what my vision will be," Dittmar said.

Zimmerman said that he has found Dittmar approachable and responsive.

"I believe that Vice Provost Dittmar has always been receptive to student needs," he wrote. "Students that I know that have worked with her (including myself) have enjoyed a productive and respectful relationship, always being treated as a colleague."

Diversity

Rice's approach to increasing student and faculty diversity is "authentic," Dittmar said. As provost, she will likely oversee the Office of Admissions and their diversity initiatives, she added.

"All universities are talking about [diversity], but I really felt like it came from a real place [at Rice]," Dittmar said.

Among her plans to enhance diversity, Dittmar listed fostering a welcoming environment, directing outreach and resources toward hiring faculty from underrepresented backgrounds and engaging with the residents of Houston, regarded as the most diverse city in the nation.

"These are probably low-hanging fruit that I'm sure many people at Rice have already thought about," Dittmar said. "I don't want to say I've come up with something that no one else has, but continuing to make it an important priority."

Dittmar said one of the aspects of Rice that she found most appealing is the commitment to undergraduate students.

"I've been really involved with different efforts to foster undergraduates, both education and overall wellbeing [at Michigan]," Dittmar said. "The deep commitment to students across the board, but particularly undergraduate education, was something that was really important to me when I talked to Rice."

[6/18/2022 at 1:22 p.m.] This article was updated to include quotes from Noah Zimmerman, the student body president at the University of Michigan.

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<![CDATA[Forbes takes silver at NCAAs]]> On Thursday, sophomore distance runner Grace Forbes proved to the rest of the country what her Conference USA opponents and Rice teammates have known for years - she's one of the fastest runners in the country. Competing at the NCAA championships in Eugene, Ore. for the second consecutive year, Forbes, took second place in the 10,000-meter, the best finish by an Owl at the NCAAs in over a decade. According to Forbes, who missed the indoor season and the first month of the outdoor season due to extreme fatigue later diagnosed as an autoimmune disorder, the result was a testament to the work she's put in to overcome an incredibly challenging year.

"I am so happy just to be here this year," Forbes said. "Three months ago I couldn't run ten miles a week … This really has been the hardest year of my life and I'm happy that I can show that hard work does pay off in the long run, even though it took a lot of time for it to pay off."

Early in the race, University of Washington junior Haley Herberg took a commanding lead on her competition. Forbes, who finished seventh at the NCAAs a year ago, settled into second place, leading the rest of the congested pack behind Herberg. According to Forbes, that hadn't been her plan going into the race, but she was able to adapt.

"I really wanted to not lead this race," Forbes said. "Unfortunately, I did lead the second pack, but I felt calm and relaxed so I wasn't too worried that the race was not going to plan."

As the race dragged on, Herberg's lead grew to 26 seconds, but the pack trailing her thinned. However, according to Forbes, she had a hunch that Herberg's lead wouldn't be sustainable.

"I was not too worried about Herberg's lead since the night before the same exact thing happened in the men's race; a man began with a 100-meter lead but slowly lost it as the race progressed," Forbes said. "I believed that same thing would happen in my race, and luckily I was right."

Forbes and University of Alabama junior Mercy Chelangat slowly gained on Herberg, until Chelangat burst ahead of both to take the lead with six laps remaining in the race. Forbes narrowed Chelangat's lead in the next two laps, but Chelangat pulled away over the final four laps to win by 11 seconds. Forbes finished with a time of 32:48.07, a season best and 12 seconds better than the third-place finisher, senior Jenna Magness of Michigan State.

The race was just the fourth 10,000-meter that Forbes has competed in all season. After returning to the track in April, Forbes won the event at the Penn Relays, C-USA championships and NCAA West Preliminaries. According to Forbes, competing was out of the question early in the year. However, she said that after receiving a diagnosis, she was able to work hard to get back on the track in just a few months.

"2022 started with two months where getting out of bed and gathering enough energy to get through classes was the hardest thing I was doing," Forbes said. "I had absolutely no energy at all, and sadly running was not a possibility for me at the time. I thought it was just my head, but in March I was officially diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis, [a chronic autoimmune disorder]. After making the right lifestyle changes I was able to begin running again in early April. Never would I have thought that I would make it to nationals this year, and I'm just proud that I did."

Four other Owls competed in Eugene as well. On Wednesday, senior thrower James McNaney placed 23rd in the javelin throw, and sophomore vaulter Alexander Slinkman placed 18th in the pole vault. The following day, sophomore thrower Tara Simpson-Sullivan took 14th place in the hammer throw with a distance of 65.86 meters and junior thrower Erna Gunnarsdottir took 15th in the shot put with a distance of 16.63 meters. Both received second-team all-America honors for their efforts.

The championships marked the end of the outdoor season for the Owls, who now have the offseason ahead before they begin preparations for the 2023 indoor season which starts next winter.

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Courtesy Jack Coil

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<![CDATA[NCAA T&F prelims see five Owls qualify for championships, Forbes take gold]]> Five Owls will be heading to next week's NCAA outdoor track and field championships, after qualifying at the NCAA West Preliminaries which ran May 25 through 28. Headlining the meet for Rice was sophomore distance runner Grace Forbes, who took first place in the 10,000 meters for the second consecutive year. Forbes will be joined in Eugene, Ore., by sophomore thrower Tara Simpson-Sullivan, junior thrower Erna Gunnarsdottir, senior thrower James McNaney and sophomore vaulter Alex Slinkman. Jon Warren, head coach of the men's track and field program, said that he was impressed not only by the five qualifiers, but by all 13 Owls who participated over the course of the week in Fayetteville, Ark.

"To qualify for the final round of the NCAA championships is an outstanding achievement," Warren said. "Heck, to make the West Preliminaries is quite an accomplishment as well."

Five of the seven participants from the Rice men's team competed on the meet's first day. McNaney, who made the NCAAs last season, qualified for Eugene by taking 12th place in the javelin throw, with a mark of 67.29 meters. Slinkman followed up his teammate by clearing 5.29 meters in the pole vault, tying him for 10th place. Freshman vaulter Grant Levesque also competed in the pole vault, but missed out on a spot in Eugene with a 29th-place finish. Junior thrower Nick Hicks placed 26th in the hammer throw, and sophomore thrower Elian Ahmar took 47th in the shot put. After the meet, Warren said that he is excited to see how his two qualifiers preform at the biggest meet of the season.

"James and Alex making it through is very exciting and I am greatly looking forward to seeing how they perform on [the] biggest of NCAA stages," Warren said.

Forbes, Gunnarsdottir and Simpson-Sullivan all competed on the second day of the meet. Forbes, who finished seventh in the 10,000 meter at last year's NCAA championships, won the event by just under 2.5 seconds with a time of 33:35.3. While no other Owls reached the podium, Simpson-Sullivan's 67.87 meter effort in the hammer throw earned her a fifth-place finish. Gunnarsdottir qualified for Eugene with a throw of 16.93 meters in the shot put, good for 12th place. The only other Owl to compete on Thursday was junior distance runner Alyssa Balandran, whose 800-meter time of 2:07.19 was the 23rd fastest in a field where 24 athletes qualified for nationals. However, because of the way the race's heats were divided, Balandran missed out on a spot at the championships by 0.02 seconds.

Friday saw sophomore thrower Samuel Woodley compete in the discus throw and sophomore jumper Ese Amata compete in the high jump, but neither managed to secure a spot at nationals. According to Warren, even the Owls who didn't qualify for the NCAA championships held their own against top competition, which is no easy feat.

"I was also very impressed by our other [preliminary] qualifiers," Warren said. "Like I mentioned, qualifying for this meet is a great cherry on top of some great seasons for these guys. They were all, if not conference champions, conference medalists and they represented Rice as expected."

On Saturday, freshman jumper Josie Taylor fell 0.05 meters short of qualifying in the high jump, and sophomore jumper Ginnie Okafor took 42nd in the triple jump. After the competition, Jim Bevan, head coach of the women's team, said that he was especially happy with his athletes' performances over the course of the week, since all of them will be returning next year having gained valuable experience competing against some of the best athletes in the country.

"We brought six athletes and they all finished higher than their seed," Bevan said. "I'm proud of Alyssa, Ginnie, Josie, Tara, Grace and Erna. We are returning all of them next year and nothing takes the place of experience. You cannot buy it, you have to earn it and they all will be back next year."

Forbes and Simpson-Sullivan will both head into the NCAA championships among the favorites for a spot on the podium in their respective events, as their season-bests both rank in the top-ten in the NCAA this year. The NCAA championships will take place June 8 through 11 and will be broadcast on ESPN3.

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Photo Courtesy Rice Athletics

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<![CDATA[Men's team takes third, women's takes fifth at C-USA T&F championships]]> The Conference USA outdoor track and field championships saw Rice's men's team place third with 121 points - their best conference championship performance since 2005 - and the women's team place fifth with 88 points. According to men's head coach Jon Warren, he was proud to see the work his team put in all season be on full display at the meet.

"This team accumulated the most points and the highest finish Rice has had in a while," Warren said. "I am impressed with not only the effort these guys put in over the four hot days we were in San Antonio, but also with the months of work it takes to prepare for such a task."

The men's team was driven by four first place finishes, improving on their fifth place finish from last year and increasing their point total by 47 points. According to Warren, sophomore Ese Amata's first place performance in the high jump was a particular stand-out.

"Amata, in a wonderful high jump competition that included two All-Americans, jumped both seven feet and seven-feet, 1.75 inches to win the conference crown in a jump off," Warren said. "His jump puts him tied for third all-time in Rice high jump history."

In addition to Amata's first place finish, sophomore Alexander Slinkman took home the Pole Vault crown with a throw of 5.23 meters and junior Nick Hicks' 63.87 meters throw won him his second consecutive C-USA hammer throw title. According to Warren, one of the joys of the meet was seeing senior James McNaney win his first C-USA title after placing second last year.

"McNaney had his second-best day ever to win the men's javelin," Warren said. "His throw was a joy to watch and clinch the victory."

The men's team also received significant boosts to their point total with four second place finishes from sophomore Elian Ahmar in the shot put, sophomore Sam Woodley in the discus throw and C-USA Freshman of the Meet Grant Levesque in the decathlon and the pole vault. According to Warren, nearly the entire team contributed to their high point total.

"We had so many outstanding performances it is hard to know where to start," Warren said. "We had other events that had both big individual performances and large points from great team efforts."

The women's team took a step back at this year's meet as they scored 33.5 fewer points than they had a year ago, which led them to finish fifth following last year's second place finish. According to women's head coach Jim Bevan, despite the drop off from last year his team still exceeded expectations at the meet.

"[We had] lots of outstanding performances [with] four winners and two silvers," Bevan said. "We competed very hard, and we scored more than the pre-meet said we would."

The women's team took first place in four events, with sophomore Grace Forbes winning the 5000-meter and 10000-meter for the second consecutive year, junior Erna Gunnarsdottir winning her second shot put title and sophomore Tara Simpson-Sullivan breaking her own C-USA meet record in the hammer throw with a distance of 69.39 meters. According to Bevan, he is looking forward to building from this meet as his team retools for next year.

"We need to remember how intense conference meets are in preparation for next year as we will return most of our team," Bevan said. "[We] will get many back to 100 percent strength and bring some very highly recruited freshmen on board. We will miss the outstanding leadership of our seniors, but they have laid a great foundation for the team next year."

With the conference season finished, Rice will now send 13 representatives - six from the women's team and seven from the men's team - to the NCAA West Prelims in Fayetteville, Arkansas, which begin on May 25. Those who qualify will move on to the NCAA championships during the second week of June.

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Courtesy Conference USA

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<![CDATA[The Wellbeing Center should be transparent about its true confidentiality policies]]> Editor's Note: This is a guest opinion that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. All guest opinions are fact-checked and edited for clarity and conciseness by Thresher editors.

I would like to preface this piece with this understanding: This opinion in no way discourages students from seeking help for poor mental health. Students should not hesitate to reach out to any available professionals for routine mental health services or mental health emergencies.

Before you attend a counseling session at the Rice counseling center, you will be told that "the RCC maintains strict standards regarding privacy." You will find statements from the university that your mental health record will not be shared with anyone outside of extreme situations of imminent harm, and only then that your information will be shared with only the necessary officials. This sounds great, except that these assurances bear no teeth whatsoever - no enforcement agency ensures that Rice follows its public confidentiality promises, and there are no penalties for Rice if they break them. The Wellbeing and Counseling Centers should more directly communicate the limits of their confidentiality policies when compared to unaffiliated counseling centers, and students in sensitive situations should take the necessary precautions to protect their information.

I was not aware of this, and learned the hard way.

During a scheduled session with a therapist at the Rice Counseling Center in fall of 2021, I tentatively divulged a number of concerning trends that warranted a visit to the emergency room. I only shared this information because the wellbeing and counseling centers had led me to believe that my words were confidential - between only me and my healthcare professionals. My therapist directly assured me that even my emergency contact would not be privileged to my information, and I proceeded voluntarily with the hospital admission confident in their confidentiality promises.

I went to the hospital expecting to stay a few hours. I remained there for six days. On the third day, I received an unsettling call from my sister. Rice had not only spoken with my mother - who was my emergency contact - but they had told her everything I had said to my counselor, including false details that greatly exaggerated the severity of my situation. My mother was the last person I wanted someone else to tell the words I had said in the privacy of a counseling center, and I had prepared to inform my parents of my situation in my own time. At my most vulnerable moment, the Wellbeing Center had become the single largest obstacle to my mental well-being.

After six months of reading regulations, emailing Rice officials and speaking with the federal Student Privacy Policy Office, I have uncovered an unsettling reality: legally enforced confidentiality does not exist at universities, at least between most students and their parents. University counseling centers are governed by FERPA - the privacy standard for academic records - and are inherently less confidential than unaffiliated counseling centers, which are protected by HIPAA. The text of FERPA does seemingly offer special protections for mental health records, but the bizarre interpretation of the law taken by the Department of Education lumps treatment records together with education records, making psychological assessments subject to the same federal disclosure allowances as your grade in COMP 140.

Under FERPA, nothing prevents Rice from sharing the totality of your mental health record with your parents if they claim you as a tax dependent, or if Rice decides that full disclosure is necessary for your health and safety (even if it objectively is not). It does not matter what assurances you are given from a university - FERPA allows non-consensual disclosure.

While FERPA does broadly allow universities to disclose sensitive information, it never mandates that they do so. As a barrier between your sensitive records and unlimited release to your parents stands the Rice Counseling Center's confidentiality policies, which seemingly offer confidentiality protections comparable to those of HIPAA-protected counseling centers. Nothing in these publicly available policies allows the non-consensual disclosure of information to anyone other than mental health professionals, emergency or not. Assuming Rice adheres to its own policies, strong confidentiality exists.

Rice, as it happens, does not need to adhere to its policies - no one makes them. No outside agency holds universities accountable to their own confidentiality guidelines, leaving Rice as the sole legislator, executor, and judge of its health record policies. Such a system simply cannot guarantee strong confidentiality.

Officials from the Wellbeing Center and Dean's office have told me that the disclosure of my information was warranted because my situation constituted an emergency. This justification is as absurd as it is depressing. Rules and agreements do not cease to exist simply because someone labels the situation an 'emergency.' Mental health emergencies are the very instances when confidentiality is most important because it is when students are at their most vulnerable. If confidentiality exists in all cases except when it becomes inconvenient, then it never existed at all.

There are some steps you can take to try and avoid a full disclosure to your parents in cases where hospitalization is the best path forward. The Counseling Center is not out to hurt you, but you need to make your requests very clear.

First, you can ask to change your emergency contact before you leave for the hospital. If your emergency contact is someone other than your parent, Rice cannot legally share records with them without consent. You should also make it clear to your therapist that you do not want your parents to know the details of your record, and make sure that they pass this request on to the Wellbeing Center. Put the request in writing if you can. Finally, ask to review the paperwork filled out by your counselor to ensure that they provided an accurate account of your circumstances.

At the end of the day, a significant portion of the problem lies with the U.S. Student Privacy Policy Office, who, in my opinion, egregiously misinterprets FERPA in a way that erases privacy protections written into the law. While the Wellbeing Center cannot change the way federal agencies interpret law, they can improve their own policies. The Wellbeing and Counseling Centers should be forthright with students about the lack of full confidentiality enjoyed by other, unaffiliated centers.

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<![CDATA[Commencement returns to the stadium for Class of 2022]]> The 109th Convocation ceremony was held in person this past Friday night, with no restrictions on attendance. Hundreds of class of 2022 Rice undergraduates passed under the Sallyport before meeting at Rice football stadium for the ceremony.

Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman welcomed the graduating class to the convocation proceedings.

"Tonight is simultaneously a celebration of your growth as leaders, collaborators, and informed and engaged citizens of the world," Gorman said. "You have all done so well. We are proud to call you Rice Owls and are excited to cheer you on tonight with your family and friends as you conclude your undergraduate experience with us."

The elected student convocation speaker, Krithika Shamanna, addressed the audience of Rice Stadium with a story about searching for her dedications and passions while at Rice.

"What was I dedicated to? I came to Rice hoping to find out in classrooms, or walks in Hermann Park, or volunteering off-campus," Shammanna, a Jones College graduate, said. "I hoped for a single eureka moment that would be understanding dedication. Although that single moment never came, I've learned more about dedication over the years than I could have ever imagined four years ago."

Shamanna said that, to her, the Rice student body is defined by compassion for one another and the surrounding community.

"Nothing defines the Rice community more than the idea of showing up for each other. Showing up to recognize policy shortcomings and demanding justice for survivors. Showing up to recognize our mental and physical uniqueness and creating more educational spaces. We showed up and we will continue to show up."

In his last graduation as Rice President, David Leebron began by celebrating the class of 2022's in-person graduation, despite spending most of their college experience in an ongoing pandemic.

"Two years ago, we celebrated the class of 2020 in a completely online ceremony… This year, we had to move online at the beginning of both semesters and recently we have had to address a new surge," Leebron said. "It's truly wonderful that we can be together [in person] on this occasion to celebrate your amazing accomplishments."

Leebron said that he will miss interacting with students as part of his role as university president.

"It has been one of the true privileges of my job to see your extraordinary talent and passion and compassion, to see your drive to make a real contribution to our world, and to see your commitment to making Rice better," Leebron said. "I will miss many things in the years ahead, but none more than my interactions with you. I look forward to hearing about your growth and achievement in the years ahead."

To conclude the ceremony, Leebron announced numerous awards given to recognize outstanding Rice students and faculty. The Student Association Mentor Recognition Award, which recognizes a faculty or staff member for their extraordinary service, was awarded posthumously to Kelley Lash, the former director of student media.

"Kelley Lash was the director of student media at Rice for many years and passed away unexpectedly just a few months ago," Leebron said. "All who knew Kelly know what a loss it is that she is gone, and I am really pleased to see her good work and kind spirit recognized by our students."

The commencement ceremony was held the following morning. Sonia Nazario, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist, delivered this year's commencement address to the graduating class. Nazario spoke about her career in journalism and what it has taught her about seeking truth.

"In my twenties, I focused on my career to the exclusion of nearly everything else," Nazario said. "At twenty one, I was the youngest person hired by the Wall Street Journal, and I toiled in three cities in five years. I stayed out of activism as my journalism profession demanded, and it took me decades and a winding, difficult road to see the joy of fighting for something beyond myself."

Later on, Nazario said her experience utilizing direct action by mixing journalism with activism taught her the importance and benefits of helping others.

"My honest assessments have led me to press for prescriptions on the immigration issue that anger both the left and the right," Nazario said. "But direct action is what brings me joy, and the older you get, you'll understand that joy is what we're aiming for… helping others helps you lower your blood pressure and risk of early death, it decreases depression and even makes your brain release endorphins."

Nazario congratulated the class's ability to balance academics with college culture.

"Kudos to the graduates not only who learned how to ride bikes while chugging beer and streaked naked with some strategically placed shaving cream, but also worked hard and pulled all-nighters to obtain what my husband's longtime boss, a Rice grad, proudly proclaims to be the best damn education anywhere," Nazario said.

Nazario ended her commencement speech by calling upon the graduating class to discover their passions and utilize direct action to make change throughout the world.

"As you leave here today, that awesome diploma in hand, I hope you ask yourself: what would you like to see change? What gets your blood boiling?" Nazario said. "How can the skills and critical thinking you gain at Rice help you figure this out?"

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Photo courtesy Rice University Facebook

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<![CDATA[Women's tennis bounced by reigning champion ODU in C-USA semis]]> After winning their first two matches of the Conference USA tournament, the No. 57 Rice women's tennis team was knocked out in the semifinals by Old Dominion University, the top-seeded team in the conference and No. 33 nationally, losing 4-0. According to head coach Elizabeth Schmidt, while it was disappointing not to win it all, she said she knows her team will come back with a championship-driven mindset next year.

"Disappointing that we were not able to win the tournament, but credit to ODU [as] they played a solid match across the board from start to finish," Schmidt said. "I know our returners will be hungry and ready to work to bring the title back to Rice next year."

The Owls came into the postseason tournament as the No. 4 seed, which led them to be matched up with the No. 13seed, the University of Texas, San Antonio, in the opening round. The Owls made quick work of the Roadrunners as they cruised to a 4-0 victory.

The Owls jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, taking the doubles point from the Roadrunners before freshman Allison Zipoli, senior Anastasia Smirnova and freshman Saara Orav claimed the first three singles points to give the Owls their 4-0 victory.

Rice's quarterfinals match featured No. 69 and No. 5 seed Florida Atlantic University, a team that battled the Owls down to the wire in late January.

However, this time, the Owls were in cruise control as they won the doubles point and then took three straight singles points as senior Anna Bowtell, junior Maria Budin and Zipoli all won their respective matches 2-0. According to Schmidt, knowing the difficulty of their opponent based on their past match, she was pleased with how her team competed.

"I thought we played a solid team match in the quarterfinals against FAU," Schmidt said. "We had gone 4-3 with them earlier in the season, so knew we would be in for a battle, and I thought our team as a whole competed really well in that match."

This win earned the Owls a spot in the semifinals where they faced the top-seeded Monarchs. ODU broke the Owls six-match streak of winning the doubles point as the Monarchs to open the match. Following the doubles point, the Owls then dropped the first three singles points, giving the Monarchs a 4-0 victory to move on to the championship. According to Schmidt, she and her staff are already thinking about what can be done to improve her team for next season.

"We have already started to reflect on what went well and what needs to improve as we head into next season," Schmidt said. "We feel we were capable of going further in the postseason than we did this year, and our staff will be working tirelessly to build on the lessons of this year as we continue to grow and improve."

The Owls finished their season with a 15-8 record, which included going 4-1 against conference opponents.

While this concludes the season for many of the Owls, Schmidt said there is a good chance that the doubles pairing of senior Diae El Jardi and Budin, who are currently ranked No. 16 in doubles, will continue with their doubles season in the NCAA postseason. According to Schmidt, this would be an opportunity for the doubles pairing to represent their team and university on the national stage.

"I think there is a high chance [El Jardi] and [Budin] will make the NCAA doubles tournament, and that means a ton," Schmidt said. "Not only does it mean a lot for them personally, but it means a lot for our university and our program to have Rice represented in the National tournament. A lot of hard work and growth has gone into them achieving the ranking that has put them in a position to represent Rice at NCAAs, and we are excited for them to continue their postseason journey and compete for a national title."

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Courtesy Conference USA

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<![CDATA[04-20-2022 Crossword: "Bear with Us"]]> ]]> <![CDATA[ 04-20-2022 Crossword Solutions]]> <![CDATA['I've always loved football until [he] came …' players say Bloomgren has lost the locker room]]> Editor's note: The Thresher spoke to members of the Rice football team who played under Mike Bloomgren from his first season at Rice in 2018 through the most recent season in 2021. Players were given the option of remaining anonymous by the Thresher in the interest of preventing retaliation. Anonymous players were given false names, which have been marked with an asterisk on first reference.

Late in the 2019 college football season, with his team yet to win a game, Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren called a team meeting. According to Cooper*, many of his teammates were taken aback by what their coach had to say.

"One of our seasons, we were [winless], and we had a team meeting - everyone remembers this - and he told us how he doesn't need this job, has a smoking hot wife, has [multiple] houses and doesn't need any of this," said Cooper, one of several players the Thresher spoke to for this article, three of whom only agreed to be quoted on the condition of anonymity.

According to Peyton*, who confirmed the content of the speech, that meeting was when he started to doubt his head coach.

"That's when everything changed," Peyton said. "That's when we were like 'this guy is just not a good guy and we don't want to play football for him.'"

Cooper said that outbursts like this were not uncommon, and that Bloomgren has had a contentious relationship with his team throughout his tenure.

"I'd say 80 [or] 85 percent [of the players] really don't like him, 15 percent [are] on the fence," Cooper said. "I guess he's oblivious to it."

Peyton said he believes that somewhere from 15 to 25 percent of the team still support their coach while the rest of the players have mostly soured on Bloomgren.

In a statement provided to the Thresher, Bloomgren reiterated his dedication to the members of the Rice football team.

"I am proud of the tremendous young men in our football program, and I fully stand behind our commitment to their well-being," the statement said.

Former players have expressed that they see a disconnect between what Bloomgren says and how he interacts with his locker room.

"I don't think he believes or means what he says most of the time, if it's a positive thing," said Eli*, who categorized Bloomgren as difficult to talk to and someone who struggles to connect with his players. "You talk to most of the kids on the team and they'll say they've never had a normal interaction with him."

Bloomgren often touts the strong culture that he is building at Rice. Eli said that Bloomgren, who received accolades for his recruiting skills as an assistant at Stanford University, sells this vision to potential players, but over time they begin to realize that it's all an act.

"In the recruiting process he's super smiley and friendly, and then the more you interact with him you're like 'there's something really off with this guy,'" Eli said. "When he doesn't follow through on the things he promises, you start to see through the facade that he has."

According to Cooper, most players begin to develop animosity toward Bloomgren in their first couple of months playing for him.

"I realized it midway through [my] first season [with him]," Cooper said. "Usually it's around that same time [in the season] with freshmen … We just start losing and everyone starts hating it and realizing how much Bloomgren is factoring into how much they hate it."

According to Peyton, the team's frustration with their coach is so rampant that it comes up constantly.

"Any conversation [about] Rice football turns into a conversation about how much Mike Bloomgren sucks," Peyton said.

Through four seasons, Bloomgren's record sits at 11-31. However, according to Cooper, Bloomgren has been quick to deflect blame during the team's struggles. At one meeting, Cooper said he recalls Bloomgren blaming the team's record on some of their top players.

"One time, before a game against [Louisiana Tech University], he decided to go around the room and tell at least four of our key players how bad they were," Cooper said. "How is that supposed to motivate us?"

According to Cooper, the problems run beyond just Bloomgren's inability to connect with his players; he hasn't been able to craft a game plan that suits his team either.

"I don't think we utilize our talent to the best of our ability," Cooper said. "He likes west coast [concepts with a] power run offense. Personally, I don't think that will work at Rice because we can't recruit the linemen to run a power run offense. I feel like every coach needs to adapt to their team and Bloomgren does not do that. He sticks to his philosophy and it doesn't work here. I think if he realized that, we could be really good, but he's just too stubborn."

Eli said he believes Bloomgren's stubbornness is reflective of the fact that he does not listen to criticism.

"He's a smart guy … he's able to make decisions competently, he just makes the wrong ones," Eli said. "He hasn't had anyone in his ear telling him 'no this isn't the right thing to do.' He's very authoritarian, where it's either my way or the highway."

According to Cooper, there have been a number of times where the team was left questioning Bloomgren's play call.

"[In overtime against Middle Tennessee State University in 2020] we had the ball [needing a touchdown] to win the game," Cooper said. "We ran 'Toss Power King,' which is a toss run play, to the right. Got stuffed. He decided to run it to the left. Got stuffed again. And then he decided to [position] the ball [for the ensuing field goal] on third down. That's not winning football. When he [positioned] the ball, we were like 'come on, why? Why are we doing this?' [That] does happen a lot."

According to a statement from Rice Athletics, playing time and play calling are the sole prerogative of a team's coach.

"Who a coach elects to play in a game and what players are called are at the sole discretion of our coaches and while it is our hope that all Rice student-athletes have a positive experience, we recognize that there will always be some student-athletes across all sports who elect to continue their education and athletic careers at another institution and we wish them well," the statement said.

Peyton said that each time Bloomgren called a play that the team felt had no chance of succeeding, they lost their motivation to play for him.

"He would just demoralize the team by running the ball on third and ten," Peyton said. "We had no interest in even being any part of it because it just never felt like it was worth it. We never felt like we had the chance to win because of him."

According to redshirt sophomore defensive linemen Izeya Floyd, Bloomgren is not the root of the team's problems.

"As far as our shortcomings on the field, I feel [Bloomgren] gets overly blamed for our shortcomings as a football team," Floyd said. "I think there are plenty of opportunities for us, as a team, including the staff, players and everyone else in the building, to improve."

According to Eli, Bloomgren's insistence on a physical style of play affects more than just the Owls offense, which has averaged under 20 points per game during his tenure.

"He has this philosophy for short yardage [and] goalline, for third and fourth down plays where … you try to get in the lowest position possible and fire out," Eli said. "Once you're on top of them, you want to roll around on them and put them in the ground. It's the perfect way to get your players injured, because we run it [at practice] full speed, during the season, and it takes a big toll on players bodies."

Eli said that he believes practicing such physical drills in the middle of the season caused injury problems in the starting lineup.

"We had a bunch of starters go down with shoulder injuries, neck injuries [and] concussions," Eli said. "It's a very brutal thing that we do, and we do it full speed in practice. It's basically knocking out a bunch of your starting players just because you have this obsession with this one style of football."

According to Peyton, it seemed at times like Bloomgren didn't put much care into keeping his players safe.

"I can't remember a time when there wasn't someone out with a concussion," Peyton said. "He wasn't big on the safety of the game."

After this past season, 14 Owls opted to leave the program and enter the transfer portal. According to Cooper, it seemed to him that for many of these players, the decision to transfer was a direct result of their feelings towards their head coach and the direction of the team.

"As you can see in the transfer portal, there's a lot of activity," Cooper said. "One hundred percent [that's because of Bloomgren]."

According to Bloomgren's statement, while some players do choose to transfer, others find Rice to be fulfilling both athletically and academically.

"Every student who joins our program has the opportunity to challenge himself, both on and off the field, and has the opportunity to re-evaluate his decision at any time," the statement said. "If a student-athlete decides to transfer, it's disappointing, but I know that there are many others who believe that Rice exceeds their expectations, both on the field and in the classroom."

Despite their feelings towards their coach, Eli said that any animosity in the locker room does not bleed into players' relationships with each other.

"Our team is very close," Eli said. "There's a lot of great people on the team who want to be great for each other. We work out hard and practice hard for each other, because everyone gets along really well, but it's not for the vision of the program or for Bloomgren. I don't think anyone actually buys what Bloomgren is saying."

Even with their struggles, Bloomgren is set to return for his fifth season. According to Eli, after the Owls' upset win over the University of Alabama at Birmingham earlier this year, the team wasn't as happy as they otherwise might have been - because they knew it would buy Bloomgren one more year.

"The inkling of hope [the UAB game] gave his chances to keep his job, I don't think that sat well with a lot of people," Eli said.

According to Cooper, the athletic department has been made aware of the team's complaints with their coach, but is unwilling to absorb the cost of firing him.

"After [each] season, [the athletic department gives] us a survey to fill out and a lot of people tell the truth in it," Cooper said. "Nothing really happens from it. It's a five-year contract. If they fired him after last season, they'd still have to pay him another year, so what's the point."

According to the statement from Rice Athletics, the department fully investigates all concerns brought forward by student-athletes and takes appropriate action, when warranted.

"We are confident that any issues brought forward regarding the Rice football program have been fully examined and addressed," the statement said.

Both Cooper and Eli said that Bloomgren is not oblivious to the fact that there are issues with the team, but they don't see eye-to-eye on where the blame lies.

"I think he realizes that there's something wrong, but I don't think that he thinks it's him," Eli said. "I think he places the blame on [the] players."

According to Cooper, players' outlooks on Bloomgren might change if he made more of an effort to understand them.

"I think he's deceived," Cooper said. "He actually thinks players like him. But we don't really like him - just because he doesn't connect to us. Maybe if he connected to us on a deeper level than he is instead of saying we suck all the time, then maybe we would like him."

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<![CDATA[Men's tennis tops Concordia on makeshift Senior Day]]> The Rice men's tennis team closed their regular season out on Monday with a 6-1 victory over Concordia University Texas on the Owls' Senior Day. The Owls were supposed to host the University of the Incarnate Word on Sunday, which would have served as their final match; however, that match was canceled and the Owls quickly added a game against the Tornados instead.

According to head coach Efe Ustundag, he searched all over Texas to find a team on short notice to allow the Owls to play one final match at home for their Senior Day.

"When I first gave them the news about not being able to play Incarnate Word, I could really sense and see disappointment," Ustundag said. "I really wanted to make it work, and I reached out to every team in the state it felt like, D1, D2 and D3, and obviously Easter weekend didn't help, especially on such short notice. I'm really thankful for the guys over at Concordia to say okay, we'll make it work and drive here on the same day, play us, and then drive back."

The Owls were eventually able to find an opponent in Concordia, a D3 school in Austin, Texas. According to Ustundag, finding an opponent accomplished the only thing that his team wanted, to play one last time on their home court.

"When [Concordia] agreed to play, and we finally set a time and a date, the sheer joy from the guys ... they all wanted to play," Ustundag said. "I gave them an option, should we do something not tennis-related even if Concordia can play, and everybody said 'no, we want to play one last time.'"

After failing to win the doubles point in their match against No. 27 Southern Methodist University on Saturday, the Owls took it against the Tornadoes as all three doubles pairs won their respective matches. The Owls then took five of the six singles matches, with senior Karol Paluch earning the decisive fourth point 2-0 to give the Owls the victory.

According to Ustundag, while there were concerns that Paluch, Adam Oscislawski, Sumit Sarkar and AJ Valenty, each in their final season with the team, would not have a Senior Day, he was pleased that they were able to get one in the end.

"I'm very happy that they got it," Ustundag said. "We had people out here to celebrate them, parents were here, so it was a special day."

Following their final match before the conference tournament, the Owls finished their regular season with a 12-12 record, including going 1-3 against conference opponents. According to Ustundag, it is likely that Rice will match up against No. 47 University of North Carolina at Charlotte, a team that beat the Owls 5-2 last month, in the first round of the Conference USA Championship in Norfolk, Virginia, this Friday.

"It's very likely that we play Charlotte in the first round," Ustundag said. "We get a full day of training tomorrow, we'll have a half a day here on Wednesday before we take off, so it's kind of back to your usual pre-weekend match scenario. So short week, but definitely a fun and exciting week and hoping to make sure we have our best bodies available to go."

The Owls will look to go further in the postseason than they did last year when they bowed out in the first round to Old Dominion University. According to Ustundag, the tournament will serve as a final send-off for C-USA before the conference realigns with different teams in the upcoming years.

"It's the last time we'll have the conference the way it is because Old Dominion and [the University of Southern Mississippi] are leaving at the end of this year," Ustundag said. "So [it's] kind of one last hurrah for Conference USA in the form that we know it, and it's going to be a really good championship."

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<![CDATA[Baseball loses two to UTSA, resurrects on Easter Sunday]]> After dropping the first two games of their weekend series against the University of Texas, San Antonio, the Rice baseball team erupted for 16 runs in the finale on Sunday to end the series on a high note. Rice fell 9-2 on Friday and 15-4 on Saturday before winning Easter Sunday's series finale 16-7. After this weekend's series against the Roadrunners, the Owls' overall record sits at 11-26 with a Conference USA record of 4-11. According to sophomore infielder Pierce Gallo, the team's response to the two tough losses showed a lot of character.

"It shows our grit, it shows our toughness," Gallo said. "We got punched in the mouth but we got right back up and threw a bigger punch ourselves. We didn't let the pressure get to us."

In the first game of the series, UTSA got out to an early lead by scoring four runs in the second inning, including a three-run home run by Jonathan Tapia. The Roadrunners added a solo home run the next inning to extend their lead to five.

In the fifth inning, sophomore outfielder Guy Garibay Jr. doubled home two runs for the Owls, to make the score 5-2. Later, down 7-2 in the eighth inning, Rice threatened to make it a game by loading the bases with two outs, putting the tying run on deck, but the Roadrunners got out of the jam, before adding two more runs to seal the 9-2 win.

On Saturday afternoon, UTSA scored in bunches to comfortably beat the Owls. The Roadrunners started the scoring in the second inning as Ian Bailey led off with a double and was later brought in with a sacrifice fly by Chase Keng. The next inning, the Owls took advantage of some defensive miscues by UTSA to strike back. With one out, freshman catcher Manny Garza singled, sophomore infielder Jack Reidel walked, and Gallo singled to load the bases. Then Garibay drove in Garza on a fielder's choice but a throwing error by UTSA scored another run for the Owls. Freshman infielder Aaron Smigelski followed with a grounder that got under the first baseman's glove to score Garibay making the score 3-1.

But UTSA answered immediately with six runs in the fourth inning to take back the lead. The Roadrunners added one in the sixth, two in the seventh and scored five times in the eighth to put the game out of reach, winning 15-4.

The Owls started off the series finale by taking advantage of three UTSA errors in the first inning to get out to an early 3-0 lead. After UTSA scored a pair of runs to cut the lead to one in the second, the Owls answered with a pair of runs of their own in the third to make their lead 5-2. The Roadrunners forced an early exit for sophomore starting pitcher Thomas Burbank, but junior pitcher Brandon Deskins came in with the tying run at the plate and stopped the rally. Deskins kept UTSA off the scoreboard through the seventh inning to pick up the win. The Roadrunners picked up four runs in the eighth off of sophomore pitcher Matthew Linskey - who had yet to give up a run all year going into the game - to cut the lead to 9-7. But the Owls answered right back with seven runs in the bottom of the inning to take control of the game.

According to head coach Jose Cruz Jr., this was an important win to close out the series, despite losing the first two games.

"It was a very big win for us," Cruz said. "We needed to win, we needed to beat a very formidable opponent and UTSA is that."

Cruz said he was very pleased about the strong outing from Deskins, who helped seal the Owls' win.

"Deskins came in and gave a great performance," Cruz said. "In my opinion probably the best of the year. He was very dominant today."

Gallo ended Sunday with four hits and four RBIs. According to Gallo, Sunday's win showed their improved culture and was important for building the team's confidence.

"It was our goal to come out today and take one and gain some momentum going into next week," Gallo said. "I thought we played really well. Our bats came alive, pitching was great, and we stayed together the whole game so that was really important and I'm happy with the direction we're going. "

One of the biggest moments of the game was the way the Owls responded to UTSA's four run eighth inning by scoring seven runs to seal the game. According to Cruz, this was an important step for his team.

"When they scored those runs in the eighth [inning], for us to be able to come back and answer that was really really good," Cruz said. "It was one of the times this year that I can remember that we needed to put pressure on them and we did and we ended up scoring a bunch of runs and taking control of the game."

The Owls travel to Hattiesburg, MS this weekend for a series with the first place University of Southern Mississippi. Game one of the series starts Friday, April 22 at 6 p.m.

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<![CDATA[Weekly Scenes and Screens, April 20]]> SPOCO

Spontaneous Combustion, Rice's improv group, will present their senior show April 22 at 7 p.m. in Herring Hall 100.

COMICON

Traders Village Houston Comicon is April 23 and 24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. The event features autograph opportunities, workshops, vendors and music. The event is free with $5 parking.

HOUSTON LATIN FEST

Houston Latin Fest 2022 is Sunday, April 24 from 1 to 10 p.m. in Midtown Park. The event is a family-oriented cultural festival and features top performers in Latin music. Tickets are available for pre-sale online for $10.

A CAPPELLA

Join a cappella group Rice Nocturnal for their senior show at 6 p.m. in the RMC Chapel. The Low Keys will have their spring concert and senior farewell Sunday, April 24 at 8 p.m., also in the RMC Chapel.

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<![CDATA[Summer Book Recommendations]]> With summer right around the corner, many students' brains will finally have space for things other than organic chemistry or the latest coding problem that needs to be solved. Take this time to read for enjoyment again. The following are a series of summer recommendations perfect for time on a plane, by the pool or just on your couch. All incorporate travel in one way or another, and each has its own adventure that will leave you yearning for more.

1. "Summer at Tiffany" by Marjorie Hart

This memoir, set in New York City in 1945, tells the story of Majorie Jacobson and her best friend Marty Garrett, who work at Tiffany & Co. over the summer and are the first women to work the sales floor. They wear lavish dresses and gush to their other page friends about the glitz and the glamor within one of New York's most famous institutions. This book offers nostalgia for times past in the best way, with the girls having fun adventures in the city, while also being a timely piece that shows the ending of the Second World War from the perspective of two women just starting out in the world. Definitely a great lighthearted book to lounge by the pool with, and one that will have you wishing to explore the ins and outs of a city undergoing a turning point in history.

2. "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" by Maria Semple

This comedic story is narrated entirely through emails, invoices and school memos to tell the story of Bernadette, her daughter Bee and her husband Elgin, who together solve the mystery of why Bernadette disappeared. The concurrent themes of families coming to terms with who they are and a daughter's unconditional love for her mother are explored. The hilarious characters each have distinct motivations, inspiring comedy and drama that takes characters on an adventure all the way down to Antarctica. Bernadette is a character who, despite her flaws, everyone can find themselves rooting for and is sure to keep readers on their toes.

3. "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" by E.L. Konigsburg

This book, a bit older and meant for a bit of a younger audience (recommended reading is for ages 8-12) is also a fun, lighthearted, easy to read book perfect for a picnic or lazy day. It follows Claudia, who runs away with her brother to New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. They solve a mystery within the museum, while managing to live in a functioning museum successfully. This tale is sure to make you laugh and root for the two young protagonists as they fight their way through the Big Apple. This story also includes a mixture of letters and various files thrown into the normal narration, allowing for a more immersive and fun reading experience.

4. "People We Meet on Vacation" by Emily Henry

Did you really think you would make it through this list without at least one sappy, cute, funny romance novel? Think again babes. This rom-com is about two best friends turned lovers. A slow burn, as well as a good vacation read, given the title, this is perfect for anyone who wants to get lost in a romance book and enjoy amazing humor and good writing. I can't promise that it won't be like every other romance slow burn friends-to-lovers book out there, but I can promise it'll be a good time.

5. "Last Summer at the Golden Hotel" by Elyssa Friedland

This book is set in the Catskills of New York, a place that anyone familiar with "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" or "Dirty Dancing" will recognize. It centers around the Goldman and Weingold families and their yearly reunion running the beautiful "Golden Hotel" together. Secrets, family drama and financial scandal have been thrust into the light after a tempting offer was given to the families, and they must work to save their hotel before it is lost. This novel has drama, luxury and nostalgia for vacationing in the beautiful upstate New York Catskills, another perfect book to get lost in.

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<![CDATA[Review:'The Northman' sees Robert Eggers take his work to a larger stage]]> Rating: ★★★★½

Robert Eggers is a filmmaker whose work has been defined by its small scale and intensive focus on characters. His prior films, "The Witch" and "The Lighthouse," both feature a small cast and embrace environmental horror as terrifying events slowly pull the main ensemble apart. His reputation for his smaller scale and focus is partly why "The Northman" was so interesting upon its announcement - "The Northman" blows up Egger's storytelling onto a massive scale. The locations, number of characters, and time period all dwarf his prior films. For the most part, Eggers steps up to the plate, succeeding in his ambition. "The Northman" will be available to watch in theaters April 22.

"The Northman" is a historical epic that loosely adapts the story of Shakespeare's "Hamlet," set among Norse Vikings. While inspired by Shakespeare's work, the film is far from a beat-for-beat recreation of the play and merely uses the basic plot structure to create an entirely new story.

It follows Alexander Skarsgård as Prince Amleth, the most analogus character to Hamlet in the story, who, as a child, sees his father murdered by his uncle and his mother kidnapped. After barely escaping, we then see a fully grown Amleth who is reminded by a seer, played by Björk, of his oath to avenge his father. This version of Amleth is a very different take on the Hamlet archetype, epitomizing stoicism and a strong sense of duty.

Of course, "The Northman" also features the return of Anya Taylor Joy, who worked with Eggers on "The Witch." Joy's character, Olga, embodies a resolve and fighting nature that complements Amleth's stoicism. Both she and Skarsgård give great performances that showcase a wide range of emotionality and development.

As with his prior films, Eggers poured himself into creating a period-accurate world, or at least one that is as close as possible, world. By working with "Viking historians, archeologists and linguists," Eggers carefully constructed the film to make sure that the Vikings and their blunt dialect matched historical accounts from that time. While many filmmakers might not delve into this level of detail, Eggers' dedication to accuracy in the characters' language and surroundings enhances the film's atmosphere. The movie also embraces strong symbolism throughout and uses Norse mythology to inform characters' fighting practices and actions to add further depth to the world.

"The Northman" also sees a newfound necessity for fight choreography, a need that is addressed well with a number of compelling fight scenes that make use of Norse weaponry and diverse backdrops.

Although different from the more intensive, small-scale character studies that Eggers is known for, "The Northman" is still worth the watch and expands his eye for detail to a larger, more spectacular world.

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<![CDATA[Review: Jack White's 'Fear of the Dawn' pushes rock forward with experimentation]]> Rating: ★★★★½

Top Track: "Fear Of The Dawn"

Last year, Jack White promised fans not one, but two albums to be released in 2022 within months of each other. Throughout the pandemic, White created a wealth of music that went in "all different directions: some incredibly heavy; almost like speed metal; some sounded so gentle." Instead of packaging them as one unit, a bulky double album as seen from artists like Drake and Kanye West recently, White decided to break them into two separate works: a heavier, rock-focused record and a folk album.

Jack White has been part of so many groups over the years, from The White Stripes to The Raconteurs, that it's impossible to avoid comparing his solo career with his prior music. That being said, "Fear of the Dawn" is an album that sounds nothing like a project that could have come from one of White's bands but is instead a result of his own creative exploration.

"Fear of the Dawn" takes the experimentalism of "Boarding House Reach," White's previous solo album, and fuses it more closely with his traditional rock sound. The album features a varied track list, with songs that are reminiscent of his White Stripes work juxtaposed against White's discovery of sampling throughout the album.

The biggest indicator of White's experimentation, and one of the more divisive singles among music publications, is the second single from the album, "Hi-De-Ho." The song was created from a sample of jazz musician Cab Calloway's 1943 track "Hi De Ho Man." After layering more instrumentals onto the sample, specifically bass and drums, White sent the track to rapper Q-Tip, formerly of A Tribe Called Quest. The sample and instrumentation create a driving and energetic background for Q-Tip's effortless verse. The inclusion of a more hip-hop oriented track on his album proves White's irreverence for the typical restrictions of rock and makes for an interesting and varied listen.

Earlier in the album, White embraces a heavier, more rock-focused sound on the title track. The bruising guitar riff that forms the basis of the song sounds like something that could have come out of the sessions for Black Sabbath's "Paranoid." The distorted riff pushes the track forwards and is layered with soloing between the verses. "Fear of the Dawn" is concise - only three verses and no chorus - but brings an undeniable energy to the album.

"Into the Twilight" is another example of how Jack White used sampling on "Fear of the Dawn" to enhance his sound and stretch it in new directions. As with "Hi-De-Ho," White gives the bass room to breathe that leads to an almost danceable groove. The various samples and instrumentation create a kaleidoscope of sound that engulfs listeners into White's reinvention of rock. In addition to the Manhattan Transfer samples that make up the base of the song, White samples Beat writer William S. Burroughs, saying, "When you cut into the present, the future leaks out" - a connection to past artists who broke accepted conventions to make something new. The quote further relates to White breaking down what has been accepted as rock music to make room for future developments.

"Fear of the Dawn" ends with "Shedding My Velvet," a classic-sounding track, especially amidst the experimental landscape of the rest of the album. A slower track about opening up, "Shedding My Velvet" is a fitting end and cool-down to the album that still keeps the energy and sound that makes White's album so interesting.

The first of Jack White's 2022 album releases embraces the weirder sides of White's creativity to create an experimental work that plays with the rules of rock music and improves with every listen.

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<![CDATA[Review: Lizzy McAlpine's artistry shines in "five seconds flat"]]> Rating: ★★★★½

Top Track: "orange show speedway"

Lizzy McAlpine has created a masterpiece. Her second full-length project, "five seconds flat," is a concept album complemented by a short film, with each song laid out in chronological order. Accompanied by collaborators Jacob Collier, FINNEAS and Ben Kessler, McAlpine's unflinchingly honest writing creates a safe space for listeners within layers of thoughtful production. The project is an intentional departure from her debut, which she says embodied a more innocent and naive version of herself - someone she's outgrown. Instead, "five seconds flat" is a vivid representation of McAlpine's most formative experiences in love and loss, offering fans a more mature and nuanced perspective as she navigates their aftermath.

McAlpine begins the album by detailing her metaphorical death at the hands of her ex on "doomsday," relinquishing control over her life and heart as she sarcastically acknowledges, "I don't get a choice in the matter / Why would I? It's only the death of me." Chaos builds in the second chorus as the big day is carried out by drums, presumably the ones hired by McAlpine ("I'll book the marching band to play as you speak"). The end of her life with her ex is cautiously optimistic despite its weight: "I feel more free than I have in years / Six feet in the ground."

McAlpine shifts from rich crescendos to a pared-down production in "ceilings." Warm guitar and her layered, breathy vocals achingly narrate a sweet yet short-lived love that wasn't quite right, or maybe never entirely as real as it felt. In "what a shame," she sits in synth-driven infatuation, coyly saying, "What a shame it would be if you left her now," only to realize in the next track, "What a shame that I put up with you." These are some of the best songs on the project, and McAlpine's carefully light vocals - which she used even more of in her debut - often perfectly match her feelings and the delicate subject matter. However, I wish that she would take advantage of the intensity in her chest voice more often than in the brief bursts of emotion in "firearm" and "hate to be lame."

The album's last two songs see McAlpine reflecting on loss and the person she's become after it changed her. She mourns her late father in "chemtrails," experiencing a grief that surpasses physical place and time, which parallels "Headstones and Land Mines," also the thirteenth track on its respective album. In "orange show speedway," one of my favorite songs she's created, she reveals the reason for all the pain she's endured in the name of love (and the album's): "I think it all kinda feels like an Orange Show Speedway / When you're racing head-first towards something that'll kill you in five seconds flat / When I'm racing head-first towards everything that I want back." Despite the pain she's endured, the love that she fleetingly experienced was worthwhile. By the end of the track, McAlpine finds inevitable heartbreak - but, as we all must, she pieces together a fresh start from the wreckage.

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<![CDATA[BakerShake presents 'Twelfth Night' in celebration of their semi-centennial]]> Houston's longest- running Shakespeare tradition, BakerShake's performance of "Twelfth Night" marks the 50th performance of the Bard's work on stage at Baker College commons. Performances will be April 21 through 23 at 7:30 p.m. and April 24 at 1 p.m. in Baker commons.

Assistant Director Bria Weisz said the production is staying true to Shakespeare's text and script, but set in the 1990's to give them space for the stories they want to tell.

"'Twelfth Night' is a really interesting show in terms of what it says about gender and sexuality. There's a lot of cross dressing and love triangles and etcetera," Weisz said. "We decided to have the show take place in the '90s just because that's a really interesting time for the gay rights movement and things going on in that regard. And it's been interesting to take the story and adapt it to a new setting. We've [been able] got to have some really great conversations around the text."

According to Morgan Gage, who plays Viola, the show's protagonist, aside from a few cuts for brevity, they have kept all of Shakespeare's words, just with some reinterpreted meanings.

"It's really interesting how this play embraces the fluidity of both gender and sexuality in a really unique but also entertaining way," Gage, a McMurtry College junior, said. "We've taken the time to block moments at the end of the script that were not originally written into the play to kind of give some resolution … because Olivia is in love with Viola thinking that she is a man. And in the end, we get to have a moment, which I think was really meaningful for all of us to add."

Veering slightly from BakerShake's traditional process of selecting a play and director from pitches during "Bard's Night" in the fall, Bree Bridger said she came on to the production as a director before "Twelfth Night" was selected to be this year's play.

"We had a 'Bard's Night' where students came together and we talked about what plays sounded right," Bridger, Baker associate, said. "We knew we wanted to do a comedy because we all need a laugh right now. So 'Hamlet,' 'Romeo and Juliet,' those were kind of put to the side. And [for] me personally as a director, 'Twelfth Night' is one of my favorite Shakespeare works … So I proposed that one and people liked the idea of it."

Gage said she was nervous coming to auditions, which felt high-stakes because of how strongly she identified with Viola's character.

"When I was 15, I read 'Twelfth Night' as part of a elective literature class in high school and I thought to myself, if there's any Shakespeare show I want to do it is 'Twelfth Night', and if there's any role that I want to play it is Viola," Gage said. "Being able to play this part has been really exciting and it means a lot to me just because it's such an interesting role, one that I've wanted for a while."

Gage said the production's longer rehearsal process gave the cast the opportunity to become better acquainted with the script and their own characters.

"A lot of our early rehearsals were honestly just sitting down at the table and looking at the text, because Shakespeare's words are so rich in meaning," Gage said. "There's so much there whether you're looking at the fact that it's written at times in verse, or metaphors or frankly very inappropriate jokes that you don't necessarily understand at the first read. Bree would stop us at the end of each scene that we read through and ask 'Okay, what are you saying here?'"

Besides the students, alumni and associates stay involved in the production, according to Bridger. Greg Marshall (Baker '86) said while he never had the chance to be anything besides an audience member as an undergraduate, he has since helped with promoting the show in the years following his return to campus as a Baker associate in 1992. Over these years, he said BakerShake has remained the same in the ways that matter most.

"It is still and always was a student initiated, student-led production. And it always should be," Marshall said. "A lot of alumni now are available who are happy to help when called upon and yet I think they all are very respectful of the fact that this needs to be a student-managed and student-initiated production."

Among BakerShake alumni are names like Jim Parsons and Candace Bushnell, visiting actors from Royal Shakespeare Company in London. This year, though, Gage said the cast and crew are all Rice affiliated, the majority being students.

"It's also just very interesting to be working on a production this long with people who know our audience, like we know that we're putting the show on for ourselves and for the gratification of putting on a story that we're proud of, but also for an audience that we know and love and that like we call home," Gage said.

Editor's note: Morgan Gage is the Thresher's Arts & Entertainment Editor.

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<![CDATA[Houston activities to try this summer]]> Although it may be hard to believe as we slog through final exams, summer is almost upon us. For those sticking around in Houston, whether it's for research, an internship or to hang out with friends, there are many opportunities to explore beyond the hedges. While Houston's humidity is not exactly a tourist attraction, these events are one way to begin filling your summer calendar.

Juneteenth

Commemorating the freedom of enslaved people in Texas, the last state in the Confederacy with institutionalized slavery, Juneteenth celebrates African-American culture, including music such as blues and Creole. Featuring Grammy Award-winning blues singer Bobby Rush, Houston's Juneteenth celebration will take place at the Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park on Sunday, June 19. Sway along to the soulful music and immerse yourself in Houston's vibrant diversity. All tickets are free and will be available beginning Sunday, June 12.

Pride Houston

The 44th Houston Pride Celebration will take place at the Houston City Hall Saturday, June 25. The festival will run from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., with concerts, booths, exhibitions and more to celebrate the LGBTQ community. The festival will be followed by a parade from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Tickets range from $3 to $200 and can be found on Pride Houston's website.

"Seeing Is Not Believing" at the Museum of Fine Arts

Leandro Erlich is a conceptual artist whose exhibition "Seeing Is Not Believing" showcases optical illusions through immersive, room-size installations. Erlich's creative work will be returning to the MFAH for the first time since 1999, when he was a resident in the Glassell School of Art's Core Program. The exhibit will run from Sunday, June 26 to Monday, Sept. 5 in the Caroline Wiess Law Building at the MFAH.

"Notorious RBG" at the Holocaust Museum Houston

"Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg" is based on its namesake and the New York Times bestselling book about the late Supreme Court justice. The exhibition explores the United States judicial system and the cultural revolution that Ginsburg brought to it. The exhibition is running March 11 through July 31, and reservations are required to attend.

Flea by Night at Discovery Green

This open air market is set in the park's green spaces in the heart of downtown. Local vendors and artisans, small businesses and the Houston community come together to shop locally, and the event can often feature vintage, repurposed and handmade goods. The market will take place multiple times throughout the summer: May 21, June 18, July 16 and Aug. 20.

Catch a play at a Houston theater

When the sweltering heat gets too much, rush indoors to watch one of these productions by the several theaters across H-Town. Escape the heat by watching "Frozen," presented by Memorial Hermann Broadway. The show runs June 30 to July 17 at the Hobby Center. For those looking for something a bit more intense, catch Alley Theater's production of "Clue" for some twisted humor. The play runs from July 22 to Aug. 28. For those seeking actual dark humor, don't miss out on "Is God Is" at Rec Room Arts, which presents a modern myth about twin sisters exacting righteous revenge, running July 14 to Aug. 6.

Go to a good ol' concert

Houston is going to see a lot of artists dropping by this summer: Machine Gun Kelly June 10, the Backstreet Boys June 14, 5 Seconds of Summer June 26 and Maverick City Music July 8, to name a few. Even those not in Houston can potentially find their favorite artists in concert, or enjoy live music in Houston at these smaller-scale venues.

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