Class of 2024.5 February Convocation
(music playing) (George Matthews, Jr. plays the Alma Mater on the carillon bells) Good evening. We pause to acknowledge that Middlebury College sits on land, which has served as a site of meeting and exchange among indigenous peoples since time immemorial.
The Western Abenaki are the traditional caretakers of these Vermont lands and waters, which they call Ndakinna or homeland. We remember their connection to this region and the hardships they continue to endure. Let us take a moment of silence to pay respect to the Abenaki elders and to the indigenous inhabitants of Turtle Island, past and present. We give thanks for the opportunity to share in the bounty of this place and to protect it. We are all one in the sacred web of life that connects people, animals, plants, air, water and earth. Now, let us invoke a sense of place and belonging in this Feb convocation.
My name is Mark Orten and I'm the Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life. And it's my pleasure to participate in this convocation to welcome you. Each of you, wherever you are, be fully present in this moment as we initiate this academic year...Feb style. And begin to introduce ourselves to you even as you are introducing yourselves to one another. May this be only the beginning of forging your own unique contributions and identities at Middlebury College.
Welcome. You are here. We are connected. Let us engage this time before us. And now a few words from our President, Laurie Patton. Welcome to you first year students. It's my pleasure on behalf of the faculty, staff, trustees and your fellow Midd students to extend a warm welcome to you, the class of 2024.5. It has been wonderful to meet some of you for the first time at the testing center. You have our gratitude and our hope that because of the way we will live together as we follow our Covid guidelines, we can remain open this semester. We had a great record last semester and we're hoping to continue it. I also want to welcome parents and families who may be watching this student convocation because this year we have not been able to host you in the same joyful way with the gathering at Mead Chapel the day you drop off your students, and to hear our updates and hopes for the year. It was wonderful to welcome you at the testing center parking lot, but it's never the same.
Students, this year we will not be passing the cane. Let me explain that tradition and share with you what we will be doing instead. Let me turn first to explain what the cane is. Gamaliel Painter was one of the townspeople who founded Middlebury College in 1800, and he served as a trustee of the college until his death in 1819. When he died, he left a bequest to Middlebury College, and that bequest secured the college's future. In a codicel to his will,
he also left his cane -- a walking stick with a deep blue ribbon and a steel tip. Gamaliel Painter's Cane has become the college's official mace, carried by the president at all academic ceremonial occasions and passed among newly matriculated students at the first year convocation. This is the moment when I usually take up the cane and have you pass it between you so that everyone can see, touch, and be part of Middlebury's history. But since we can't do that in virtual format, we're going to share another ritual instead, one that we hope will be as meaningful.
If you listen outside live right now, you can hear the carillon bells. The recorded version of those bells are also part of our ceremony today, and their sounds will be part of every day at Middlebury during our Covid semester. You'll probably hear them at noon, and I hear them even when you're not on campus. It's amazing. And I want to thank George, are wonderful carillonneur, for doing this incredible work and service to us during our pandemic time.
But for now, I'd like to turn to more welcomes, particularly Nicole Curvin, our Dean of Admissions, and Derek Doucet, our Dean of Students. They've been working tirelessly to get to here and keep you here this semester, and they have contributed and will contribute substantially to our work together in this difficult and yet transformative moment in our history. Hello, new friends. I'm Nicole Curvin, Dean of Admissions here at Middlebury College on behalf of the entire admissions staff at Emma Willard House and more importantly, the entire Middlebury community. I am honored to say welcome to Middlebury. Opening convocation is by far one of the best days of the year for our community, with your appearance as our new first year class as well as our new transfer students, As I think about your arrival and I realize the amazing culmination of our student recruitment work, I am incredibly hopeful.
It's nice to finally say you made it. There will be many new experiences over the next few days and years, and people will ask you lots of questions about the weather and whether you're Feb'y and how you're Febmester went. As a new Dean early in my tenure. I recognize many of the same emotions that you might feel about starting something new. It can be exciting and a little unsettling at times to think about what will come next and sometimes we may find ourselves wondering, how did I get here? There is a bit of a nagging tone around going to college today that suggests to you, our new students, "Well, aren't you lucky to be here?" I just don't regard the fact that you are here as a matter of luck at all.
If anything, WE'RE the lucky ones. Since you chose us, your presence here and the process you went through to arrive at Middlebury isn't a matter of chance or luck what so ever. You worked incredibly hard for this opportunity and we worked incredibly hard in selecting what we thought would be the best possible entering class for this community. You'll start to notice that your fellow classmates are a talented, dynamic group. You were selected from nine thousand one hundred and seventy three applicants. There are a hundred and twenty five first years and seven transfers for the largest entering class in February ever. Given the pandemic,
ten of you will join our community remotely. You hail from all over the world, including Wisconsin and Germany and Georgia and the Philippines. You're poets and artists and athletes and editors and leaders and community volunteers. There are remarkable individual stories in this class. It was amazing to look back at your applications and consider the depth of those talents. I'm struck not just by that vast list that made you shine, but of the shared qualities that you will now bring to us. At Middlebury, we heard about your generosity and resilience and ambition.
We know that you have succeeded, but we also heard about your failures. You asked for help and recognized when you needed to apologize. You initiated change and engaged across difference. You have taken a risk and a less traveled path to join us in February.
I admire this impact that you've already had. But I also hope that we can focus on the ways in which these more than a hundred and thirty divergent stories and lived experiences have joined together here at Middlebury. These will be the building blocks for our future together. You will orient to life at Middlebury and I can't wait for you to continue to learn about your classmates during the next four years. Your lives have been touched and influenced by the political, educational, economic and racial divisions that exist around you. We know the time before you joined us was also shaped dramatically by your experiences during a global pandemic.
You may have felt that many aspects of your life were on a pause as you work to remain safe and healthy. It's now time to step into life as a Middlebury College student. And my hope is that you will remain creative and flexible while also feeling empowered to engage in the conversations that need to happen to keep us moving forward.
We can think of all of the ways your entering class leave their mark at Middlebury. There is no doubt in my mind that every one of you presented something unique and something worthwhile which caught our attention. So now I am honored to help mark an important transition in your life, whereby on behalf of the Middlebury Office of Admissions, I symbolically hand off the Class of 2024.5 to President Laurie Patton,
entrusting faculty and staff of Middlebury College with the care and support for your energetic ideas, dazzling minds, and caring spirits over the next four years. You're in really good hands. Welcome. Hello and welcome, new students. My name is Derek Doucet, and I serve as your Dean of Students. President Patton, it is my distinct pleasure and honor to present to you the Middlebury Class of 2024.5 and our incoming new transfer exchange students. And if you'll indulge me for a moment, I'd like to speak about and to this remarkable group.
Making it to this point, through the challenges of high school and the grueling admissions process is always a significant accomplishment. But for this group of new students, this is particularly true. You have excelled both inside and outside the classroom to get to this point. You've been leaders in your home communities, you've made good decisions, and taken real responsibility in stride.
This is always the case with Middlebury students, of course, but you are just a bit different. For you, life took an unexpected turn. First years you had to finish your high school experiences remotely. Your Febmesters were impacted in ways nobody could have predicted. Transferring exchange
students, you've experienced college semesters like none other in memory. All of you were navigating the move to Middlebury while a hundred year pandemic drags on. A pandemic that has impacted all of us in some communities far more than others. These experiences are uniquely yours and part of you, I'm grateful that despite these additional challenges, you're here with us now and warmly welcome you. The challenges are not over, however. Now that you're here, we're going to ask a lot of you.
We're going to ask you to put the collective interests of the community above those of the individual. We're going to ask you to hold one another and us accountable for maintaining a healthy community. We're going to ask you to study and learn in new ways. The good news is that I know you're up for the challenge. You wouldn't have made it this far otherwise. And I have more good news. We're not going to ask these things of you without help. All of us, faculty, staff and peers are here to support you in these critical tasks. Among the most important sources of support are your Student Life Deans. Each of you has been assigned to one of these remarkable educators and will
maintain your relationship with them for the entirety of your Middlebury journey. They will be available to help you through the hard times, celebrate with you in the good times, or simply listen and offer advice when you need a trusted ear. They're your first points of contact for questions and support. And so I offer you this advice:
Don't wait to get to know them. Reach out to them now, introduce yourselves. There's no group of colleagues on this campus who care more deeply for you or for whom I have more respect. The Dean-Student relationship can enhance your Middlebury experience immeasurably, and it is with great pleasure then that I invite Deans Van Mistri, Barnicle, Sellers, and Longman to introduce themselves. Hello, my name is Emily Van Mistri. I am happy to be one of the people to welcome you to Middlebury College during this
important event of convocation and this unprecedented but still exciting spring '21 term. I'm one of the four Student Life Deans. We work closely with students over their time at Midd and helping you navigate your academic and personal growth as you follow your curiosity and learn from life's challenges too. As your Deans, we're on that journey with you, I am an alum personally and a February start student. So I'm always excited to welcome a new group of students midyear, remembering fondly my own journey as a student years ago. It's always a momentous occasion whether you are joining us here in person or remotely as a new student or a transfer or exchange student.
I know you've made hard choices in the last year and have gone through a lot to get here. I hope you will find the Middlebury College community an oasis of resources and care. Enjoy the snow. Please take care of yourselves as you settle in, and have fun.
I look forward to meeting you as time goes on. Welcome. Welcome class of 2024.5, exchange and transfer students, so good to have you here and starting on your new adventure of finally starting college. My name's Scott Barnicle. I'm one of the four Student LIfe Deans, and some of you are assigned to me and I greatly look forward to meeting you, hopefully in person in the next few weeks. I did want to take just a moment to say I know you're starting college under unusual circumstances. That's not new. And you'll be told that over and over. And you've lived it for the last 10 months.
But I do think one thing needs to be emphasized is the strength of the community at Middlebury. And you're now part of that community, even though it's only a few days. But I think that that strength of connection and collective and people looking out for one another and knowing how to have fun and offer levity, but also offer an ear when needed, is such a deep, deep part of Middlebury well before a pandemic hit.
And I think it's more important now than ever. And it's wonderful to have you all and each one of you to be a part of that community. And I hope you find it to be a supportive and exciting piece of your next four years. Thank you. Hello, my name is Jen Sellers, and I find such joy in my work as your Student Life. Dean. One of the most exciting parts of this work for me is this time right here when I get to see the college through your eyes.
I love learning about where you've come from, what you're nervous or apprehensive about, and what opportunities you're most excited to explore here at Middlebury. I want to hear about all of these things and to see firsthand how they become the foundation for your future successes. Welcome to Middlebury. Hi, my name is Matt Longman.
I'm one of the Student Life Deans at Middlebury. And I want to wish you a very warm welcome. It's an honor to be a part of this convocation ceremony. I appreciate that for each of you there's a unique story pertaining to what's brought you here to be a part of this community now, especially at this moment in time.
I look forward to having the opportunity to come to know you. And I'm wishing you all the best for a wonderful experience at Middlebury College. Hello, I'm Sujata Moortii, the Dean of the Faculty. Welcome to Middlebury. In any given year, this event is an exhilarating one. But given the pandemic, my job in introducing you to our faculty is multiplied manifold.
We are thrilled to have you join us while you are at Middlebury. We, the faculty, will teach you, advise you, mentor you and learn with you. We, the faculty will be guides and fellow travelers on the intellectual journeys you have commenced.
Around the early 1900s, we gave up the practice of introducing students to Middlebury faculty one by one. Instead, I'll use the next few minutes to paint an outline of our faculty, the people who will accompany you as you learn the skills and knowledge that are central to a liberal arts education. Through immersive and collaborative practices, our faculty will teach you how to become global ethical citizens. We will teach you how to be lifelong learners.
And we hope you will embrace the process of intellectual discovery and self discovery as a vital part of your education here. There are more than 250 individual faculty teaching this year and another few dozen who are on sabbatical engaging their lives as scholars and researchers. Like you, Middlebury faculty hail from all over the world and from across the United States. A few faculty like you are brand new to the community.
At one point, all of us have experienced the heady and nerve wracking feeling of being a newcomer. Because of this experience, we can help you navigate the process of settling in college. We can help you in this process just as much as we can help you cultivate intellectual and scholarly skills. You will soon discover that the faculty at Middlebury occupy at least two distinct roles. We are teachers and we are scholars and artists. These roles are not distinct.
Instead, what we teach and what we study or research flow into each other. Our work as teachers informs our work as scholars. Some of you will become a part of the symbiotic relationship between our roles as teachers and scholars.
Some of you will work with faculty as research assistants in the archive, in the lab or in the studio. You will become a part of our scholarly and creative endeavors. Still, you will know us best in our roles as teachers. Feminist scholar Adrienne Rich enjoined students to claim an education. Our accomplished and dedicated faculty will teach you the love of learning. But it is you who must claim this education. Our faculty will offer you a wide range of courses and teach you in diverse ways --
some of us use the Socratic method, others flip the classroom, still others see the classroom as hubs of innovation. Whatever our pedagogy we share a commitment to an immersive classroom experience. One that is above all inclusive and grounded in the principles of equity. We will teach you to follow your intellectual and creative passions; we will urge you to step outside your academic comfort zone; and we will help you discover new passions. I urge you to read the College's mission statement. Those are the principles which guide our faculty inside and outside the classroom.
But you will learn this and more from our faculty about our faculty from direct experience. Let me spell out briefly the other part of our faculty, the part that often remains hidden to our students. We are scholars. We are part of an intellectual community that is dedicated to understanding the world we inhabit,
to charting new pathways to a better, more just tomorrow, to discovering new knowledge. Regardless of our field and our areas of expertise, our faculty are each committed to cultivating a better world. We embark on our quest for knowledge in all of the different languages we teach here at the college. We conducted research here in Vermont and all over the world and beyond. We study galaxies and the everyday. We study the past and imagined futures. We write books, articles, produce art and films.
We create music. We write for our peers and for you. We also engage the world at large. As scholars, we are committed to a lifetime of learning. And so we are delighted to accompany you on your intellectual journey, on this first step towards leading consequential and creative lives. Whatever I've said here is an incomplete description of the breadth and depth of this indescribably committed, creative community of scholars.
We are passionate about education and knowledge production. We are here to share with you in your intellectual adventures. Get to know us individually, and join us in the joys of discovery, small and large. We hope, too, that you will revel in the transformative power of education.
Learn to transgress and to steward our resources. We, the faculty, will be your partners in your effort to seek an education that prepares you to engage the world, and to understand some of the world's most challenging problems. We will encourage, support, and share your efforts to find and develop your intellectual passions. We are ready to welcome you to our community in person and online.
Capturing a key feature of the moment, writer Arundhati Roy characterizes the pandemic as a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We have the opportunity to imagine another world. Our faculty are ready to seize it, and I hope you are too. Welcome to Middlebury. Hello again. Upon your entry to Middlebury College, we wanted to find a way to have a sense of connection and belonging when we can't be together in person for such a thing as this convocation.
So we came up with the idea of a mug. It's something like this, and you should have received it by now.. if you haven't, look for it. But if you have a handy, feel free to grab it as I reflect on the meaning of this. This is a gift. It's our gift to you. Nothing fancy or elaborate. But it's a gift nonetheless. A gift is a prestation, that is to say, it comes with all the freight of social expectations that happen in the giving and receiving of anything. Like that of teaching and learning, which goes both ways between students and faculty or staff, or college. Learning is a gifted exchange that happens the way we do it here between and among full real people,
and not merely as a dispensation or acquisition of information as in so many other contexts. And there's more. Consider the mug itself for just a second. We do this sometimes at the Staff Center for Spiritual and Religious Life in what we call a slow tea ceremony. It's a kind of contemplative practice. But it's the experience of drinking the tea with a full consideration of the vessel, which we rarely do. With the vessel between the kettle and the mouth..it's essential. That experience can't happen without the cup. The cup is critical. And it's essential to the experience.
The college experience has begun already to steep as tea in a pot and you will be, over these next four years, A vessel in which all that aromatic, savory, sensational, medicinal, enjoyable tea will be enjoyed. The vessel is important. It's necessary. Even essential. But it's important to remember that the tea is the thing. The experience of teaching and learning that which happens in and through and because of the mug is what we consider most valuable.
So enjoy your mug, drink from it often. And when you do, think of the learning and the teaching that goes on in and out and through and among all of us here at college, and we wish this for you. Upon the invitation to teach and learn here at college, reflect on that which we now have in common: the mug... and present your mug. Welcome, Febs. Welcome to the place of what Tony Morrison calls Dreaming Awake. What does dreaming awake mean? It means that you all have dreamt Middlebury.
And you have done so powerfully. You were so effective in your dreaming about Midd that you have landed here in this space. And you were so awake and alert in your dreaming that you did everything right to get here. You have entered into another space and it happens to be the place about which you dreamt. And I hope it looks and feels the same way you dreamt it. And here's another thing: we admitted to you because we wanted you to come here to dream other dreams.
Dreaming awake means keeping yourself awake. Keeping yourself aware of all the opportunity that is around you and keeping yourself healthy at the same time as you pursue those dreams. From this February on, those are our dreams for you.
Aware of all the opportunity that is around you and keeping yourself healthy is an entirely different statement than it was when I first welcomed the Class of 2019 five years ago. The Covid pandemic means that you are thinking and acting differently than any other generation before or after you. In fact, you are a generation within a generation. You think about health differently. You think about communities differently. You think about families differently. So in that spirit, let me turn now to the deep challenges of the year and the excitement of your first semester at Midd. I like to describe Middlebury values in five words: integrity, rigor, connectedness, curiosity and openness. In this year of Covid 19, we are going to be asking you to live those values more intensely than ever before.
And at times it's going to feel like we're asking you to be 70 when you're only 18. But we wouldn't have you here if we didn't think you were completely up to the task. Let me begin with integrity. At Middlebury, we ask you to be true to who you are, to be wholehearted in your studies and life. A great example of integrity or wholeheartedness is the Middlebury language schools, where we have a language pledge.
We take the immersion experience so seriously that if you speak English more than twice, you were asked to leave campus. This year integrity means something different at the College too. First and foremost, it means keeping the health pledge and taking the health pledge with the same amount of seriousness as the language pledge. Written in consultation with students, the health pledge ask you to abide by all the protocols we have put in place to keep this campus as healthy as possible. There are many, but the basic four are simple. Wear a mask at all times, wash your hands frequently, stay home if you're experiencing symptoms, and stay six feet.. or one panther apart.
I can't put this strongly enough. The possibility of our staying in session all semester and the very life and health of this community and this town depends on your following that pledge, never letting your guard down and being true to your intention to pursue an education during a global pandemic. That's integrity. We followed those rules last semester and we were successful. And I'm very proud of our community. Let me turn now to rigor. Rigor at Midd usually means academic rigor, artistic, athletic rigor, and you will experience those things everywhere, even if much of your learning is online this semester. Your professors are wonderful faculty that you've just met will challenge you in exhilarating ways.
Rigor could also sometimes mean difficulty or austerity. And this semester, perhaps even further than the semester, will still be filled with those things because of the pandemic. You'll want to hug a friend, then you won't be able to. You'll want to gather in larger groups. And you know that the health guidelines from Vermont make that impossible. People will ask you not to, and that will be frustrating and you'll be tired of the snakey airport-like lines in the dining hall.
But rigor also means holding ourselves to the highest standards. By this, I don't mean perfectionism, but its opposite. Being unafraid to do the difficult thing. Being inspired, in fact, to do the difficult thing and maybe to get it wrong some time. Rigor is knowing that there is deep wisdom in the effort itself. It's the kind of effort we need from you this semester to stay open and to stay vibrant. Let me turn now to connectedness.
Conectedness is sometimes called social capital, the ability to form bonds that are valued over a long period of time. Social capital is Middlebury's specialty. Let me share with you a fact that has inspired me through this summer. We surveyed our students before they came back and their number one concern was not taking care of themselves, but taking care of each other, and they showed that all last semester. This community was students' top focus, and that gave all of us courage when we got those survey results. That fact alone kept us going as we planned and planned and changed and pivoted and planned again. In our student video, which shares many student voices, one student talks about how they're interested in protecting the community in order to protect our essential work. That means the custodial and dining staff, student life staff and all the others that I visited in the dining halls and dorms and classrooms as they prepared for your arrival.
They're all part of our community. Our interdependence at Middlebury is more visible and urgent than ever. You literally hold the health of others in your hands. The Middlebury value of curiosity, too, is a deep one. You are coming to a community of people who are relentless seekers. Middlebury people want to know answers and what is even more important to ask better questions. Those are your student peers, the ones who use their STEM Innovation fellowships this past summer to create educational videos about Covid. And there's one that begins with a shared care curiosity.
It says, Do you have millions of questions of what the fall is going to look like? And the student narratives then go on to answer those questions. In other words, your fellow students use their own curiosity to help you imagine your life here. And then the final Middlebury value, openness, the willingness to change, never has this value of has been more important than it is today.
New realities, serious ones confront us every day. We need to be open to those shifts more powerfully than ever before. Open to a new way of doing Feb orientation. And I was delighted when last fall, when I was making the rounds on campus, a first year student told me that he thought this new kind of orientation was even good for introverts, where people had more time in their rooms to gather their thoughts and more opportunities for smaller group conversations. We are living Middlebury openness in the present in these very moments.
So those values, integrity, rigor, connectedness, curiosity, openness are the stuff of Middlebury. We're going to be continuing to build an open campus this winter too: fire pits, skating rinks, and open pavilions and a number of other really wonderful places on campus for you to be outdoors and enjoy the open air life even in the winter. But you don't only come to us during Covid time, you come to us in winter time, and that's a non-trivial fact. Beginning college in winter is an opportunity like no other. The writer, Katherine May, puts it beautifully. She says, "Our knowledge of winter is a fragment of childhood, almost innate.
All of the careful preparations that animals make to endure the cold foodless months, hibernation and migration, deciduous trees dropping leaves... it's no accident. The changes that take place in winter are a kind of alchemy and enchantment performed by ordinary creatures to survive. Door mice laying on fat to hibernate. Swallows navigating to South Africa. Trees blazing out the final weeks of the autumn. It's all very well to survive the abundant months of spring and summer.
But in winter we witness the full glory of nature's flourishing in lean times." Winter is a time when nature does without. Or, to put it even more succinctly, as May does, finds the resources within to do without the resources of those other seasons, those seasons of plenty. And while this spring, we will grow those resources back, at this moment of winter in Feb when you arrive, we are asked to think differently about those resources. We're asked to use them more wisely...to conserve. And that, too, is part of the wisdom of Covid. Katherine May says,
"Plants and animals don't fight the winter, they don't pretend it's not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them. Wintering is a time of withdrawing from the world. Maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of efficiency and vanishing from sight. But that is where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible." So I would say to you, Febs, in your coming to us in winter, you are at the center of the life cycle at Middlebury... it's crucible.
You renew us, you make us more vibrant. You come to us while it is cold. But the light is increasing every day. You come to us when things are a little bit more shut down, but you bring us more opportunities to be creative. Every day you bring us more opportunities to transform. And you remind us of our future. I think you will perform, as Katherine May puts it, "extraordinary acts of metamorphosis." And the time to get started is now. We can't wait to see what you will become. Welcome to Middlebury.
(Singing of the Alma Mater) When we close our screens today, we are stepping into something new. We are moving toward the unknown, toward the unpracticed skill, and toward the not yet discovered passion, toward the untested strength, and toward the not yet found friend. Before we move into all of it, I invite you once again to savor this moment.
Please share with me in this ancient Hebrew prayer recited in the Jewish tradition when we are about to do something new. (reciting Hebrew prayer) Blessed is the power which brings newness to the world. For giving us, life, sustaining us and bringing us to this moment. May we meet the newness with Joy. Amen. (George Matthews, Jr. plays Gamaliel Painter's Cane on the carillon bells)