“I know what you’re doing is difficult. You’re expecting immediate results from your efforts, but that is not the way life works. You can only plant seeds and when you reap benefits, it is because of the seeds that others have planted.”

 – A. Philip Randolph, on the advice of his father

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Dear Mom,

I am not going to count all the ways that I am in your debt, for it is a score that can never be settled. Of the gifts that you’ve given me, I am the most grateful for having a unique style, in both writing and design. Literature and fashion might seem like a strange pairing, but I feel as though my sartorial expressions have enabled my literary voice to emerge.

Wearable Art by Ashley Rabin

When I talk about style, I am referring to the broad strokes. We have the same eye, which seeks out the most striking elements and then juxtaposes what was once dispersed. Of your style, the words elegance, modesty, fullness, layers, comfort, reptile skins, and stackable jewelry come immediately to mind. Your taste for adornment is distinct, and I have fallen prey to its influence.

dressed up hands

As a designer, I aim to create what I love and will be coveted by others. To accomplish this, there are a variety of factors to consider: Does the line represent the sensibility of the brand? Is it appealing to the eye? Does it flatter the form? Does it inspire an emotional response? Does it stand together as a whole? The solutions are cultivated in the design process, from the selection of fabrics, color palette, silhouette, and trim details. But the unifying thread also can be more figurative, derived from a singular theme, mood, or sense of proportion. The goal is for the eye to move seamlessly from one look to another, just as the reader links together words on a page. Language might be comprised of symbols that are inert, but the right stream of letters can conjure up vivid imagery. Execution and content are equally important as vocabulary can either aid or detract from one’s intended effect. To create something of value requires balance, knowing when to be subtle and when to be overt, to imply or describe in ornate detail. And my work is done when all traces of effort disappear, as changing a word or seam can disrupt even the most fluid rhythm.

My mother worked for most of her adult years, only taking a break while my brother and I were young. She was (and still is) a constant presence, always available to us, but through it all, she maintained her independent and creative spirit.

Mom Typewriter

When I was younger, I had vague ideas about wanting to be a writer, as I was allowed to roam freely through your creative space. It wasn’t a skill I sought out. During my five years at Lawrenceville, I refused to take your class, but fate is not without a sense of humor. My speech might be punctuated with such appalling fillers as “like” and “um,” but the blank page captures a clarity of mind that is fleeting. You call it “writing your way into understanding.”

“Assignments which may have at first seemed arbitrary, were in fact shockingly relevant. The more I sat in Mrs. Rabin’s class, the more I learned to draw universal lessons from even the most unexpected places. It seemed almost magical how everything Mrs. Rabin taught us had a subtle way of lending further insight into what we had previously read. Mrs. Rabin did not use our class time to teach us about literature; instead, she used literature to teach us about life.”

 – Taylor Laub ’11

Montreal copy
the road to Montreal…

Whether we are driving to Montreal, exploring the Hudson Valley, or debating around the dinner table, your classroom is wherever you happen to sit. You have taught me that great literature is life, and that we are all characters worth examining. The best writing comes from self-awareness, and the moment when personalities intersect, whether they complement or spar with each other. I paint visuals with words, tempering an aggressive imagination with useful invention. In the process, stunning wisdom can be revealed from what seems like enduring nonsense, a meditation of sorts. I have also acquired more confidence, the one thing I did not imagine.

“Mrs. Rabin gave me possibly one of the best pieces of advice: ‘Every relationship is different and despite its positive and negative complexities, will always teach you something valuable about yourself.’ She has this unique ability to make her students see an idea from a variety of different angles, taking the time to probe, read between the lines, discuss, and inspire creative thinking. She chose stories that had relevant lessons and allowed us to explore them in our own individual ways. Through her influence, I have become more open-minded, accepting, self-reflective, and at times have actually referred to her as my ‘emotional guru!”

– Alyshia Mangalji ’05

“I met Mrs. Rabin when I was 15 years old. So many years later she remains the same incredible woman I met as a student-brilliant, kind, perceptive, warm. She taught me to identify and celebrate my power in ways that constantly inform my adulthood. In matters of advice, she always tells the truth and it is delivered with a kindness and humor that is seldom replicated. In a culture filled with shiny homogeneity and fast fashion, Mrs. Rabin blesses the world with grace, soul, and singular stylishness.”

– Ryann Galloway ’05

The Lawrence

So even though you have retired from Lawrenceville, you will never cease to influence those around you with your thoughtful words. Mother Owl. The fact that you’ve acquired so many surrogate children, shows that you are the exception to the abused saying “those who can’t do, teach.” You once shared the advice that A. Philip Randolph told you, that he received from his father…

“I know what you’re doing is difficult. You’re expecting immediate results from your efforts, but that is not the way life works. You can only plant seeds and when you reap benefits, it is because of the seeds that others have planted.”

The Legacy of Mrs

Now I know that lasting change cannot exist in a vacuum. It needs a foundation to support it, and a future filled with aspirational goals. So dearest Mom, thank you for all the seeds that you’ve planted, especially my own!

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“Mrs. Rabin was my literature and journalism teacher while at Lawrenceville, then I fell out of touch with her as I embarked upon my medical and engineering career.  This spun out five or so years later and through a series of turns I stumbled into writing, first as a way to deal with life and then increasingly as a creative outlet, eventually supplanting music — which I had played professionally as a jazz and R&B saxophonist and arranger.  I decided to get back in touch with her while visiting New Jersey.  Later, I shared my draft work with her and we started working together.  It was beautiful timing, and echoes the words of Paulo Coelho, that when you find your passion, the whole world conspires to help you.  Also, ever since reading Talent is Overrated, I had been looking for a writing coach who could provide frequent, high-fidelity feedback. I truly enjoy working with Mrs. Rabin again.  She has been providing tactical feedback on drafts of my short stories, steered me to books and stories that point me in new directions or reveal new approaches taken by master writers like Ralph Ellison or James Joyce, provided suggestions and encouragement as a sounding board for my ideas before they reach the page, and introduced me to related art works like movies and documentaries.”
– Andrew McKee, MD ’97
portrait by Darren Wong '11
portrait by Darren Wong ’11

Prize Papers


“I use the phrase Literary Arts because it encompasses history, religion, philosophy, psychology, politics, anthropology, economics, science, and the arts. It is a construct larger than any single discipline.”

“I use the term mentor instead of tutor, because tutor implies teaching to a specific end, to a purpose that is pre-ordained. Mentoring leads to an opening up of the self as one journeys into what is there but not yet known on a conscious level. It leads to discovery. One must interact and have a relationship with all that exists so that learning can continue. If it begins and ends with you, you’ve gone nowhere.”

“On a practical level, the Literary Arts involves abstract thinking, problem solving, and access to enduring universal concepts. One develops the expertise to examine, interpret, and innovate. You are forced to exercise the muscles of actuality to unite perception and reality, to navigate the ever changing landscape of existence, and to promote sustained attention.”

“The Literary Arts also helps one to see how everything is connected. Each individual has a unique point of entre, journey, and discovery, leading to self-knowledge, tolerance, and interest in the journey of others. Hence, a genuine respect and love for mankind, even when one disagrees.”

Mortimer Adler, philosopher, educator, and writer, who helped to create the Great Books Program, said that his first love was the teaching of adults.  ‘I believe that learning in adult life is the most important learning there is… And that it is a shame that it stops in one’s twenties… The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live.’  – Mortimer Adler”

“I echo his words when I say that one must become a vessel, a continuous repository of knowledge, that can be used to recreate the magic of existence. To continue to learn is what separates Man from the other species.”


6 thoughts on “Sandra Rabin: The Mentor Is In

  1. Mrs. Rabin is the best teacher and one of the best mentors that I have. It still amazes me how I can apply the life lessons that I learned from her in my every day life. Great article! I want to thank you for compiling so much of your mother’s wisdom in one place.


  2. No teacher or professor has had more impact on my intellectual or personal development than Sandra Rabin! I owe to her a great deal more than I could ever intimate in this comment box. She is truly an amazing person!


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