Rosenholtz: Why Mandi matters

This Saturday at 4 p.m., Yale women’s ice hockey will host the third-annual “White Out for Mandi” at Ingalls Rink.  It’s been almost two years since Mandi Schwartz lost her courageous battle to cancer.  And this year will be the fifth anniversary of when she was first diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Here’s why every student at Yale should pause for a moment and attend.

Mandi was Yale.

Former Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead once told me that the way he measured success at Yale was not necessarily by how much a student achieved while at Yale, or even the level of success he or she attained in later years, but by the distance that student was able to travel during their time here. How changed was that student, how much had that student grown and prospered?

Surely, very few students come here from the kind of upbringing that Mandi had, raised in the town of Wilcox, Sasketchewan with a population of 300. To this day, the town revolves around hockey. In Mandi’s time, there were two female hockey teams and 10 men’s teams. If you weren’t playing hockey, you were watching hockey. Every social event in Wilcox involved hockey. It’s what Mandi knew best and loved best, before coming to Yale.

When Mandi first came to Yale, she was scared. She really didn’t know whether she could handle the intellectual rigor and the academic demands that Yale would challenge her with. (Who does?) Yet, it was exactly because of this challenge that she decided to come to Yale. As it turned out, because Mandi was so resolute and driven and bright, she excelled in the classroom. But she also wanted to set an example for the other kids in Wilcox and throughout Saskatchewan. She was determined to show them that someone from a small town could be successful at a place like Yale. She carried this extra responsibility quietly — the way she did most everything — from day one.

Mandi was a very good hockey player. She worked hard at conditioning, she strove to become the best she could be and she really knew the game. From the minute she dressed for her first practice, we knew she had positively changed the culture of Yale women’s hockey. It was her smile, her absolute joy at working at and playing hockey that set the tone for our team. Yet Mandi was no superstar, and this is what made her so special. It was her unique ability to put others ahead of herself that will always be her hallmark. Although she was respected on the team for her skills and her dedication, she was absolutely adored on the team for her selflessness and her rare ability to lift up everyone around her. She helped her teammates, her classmates and her friends grow and prosper in the way Dean Brodhead would have wanted. In the end, it really wasn’t that Yale had changed Mandi, it was that this shy girl from the middle of Saskatchewan had changed Yale. This is why I urge you to walk over to Ingalls this Saturday afternoon. Take a minute to salute one of your own. To recognize the possibility that anyone of you can be Mandi—that you all possess the capacity to be that special.  Understand it and honor it. This is why Mandi matters now. This is why Mandi will matter always.

Harry Rosenholtz is a former assistant coach for the Yale women’s hockey team. He recruited Mandi Schwartz. 

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