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Road Taken: Serving Me Well

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After I graduated from Middlebury, I waited tables. I found pleasure in learning long wine lists, working by candlelight, and timing 12-course tasting menus to the minute. I am persnickety by nature, which is excellent for high-stakes fine-dining restaurants where minutia like matching all the handles of the oyster forks at Table 34 takes on astounding importance. But serving was not what I imagined for myself post college. In the summer and fall of 2010, I interviewed for a few editorial assistant positions and almost got a job in management consulting. Eventually, by winter, I took what I thought was an editorial research position at a business-to-business journal, but it was actually telemarketing. Surprise! The job didn’t pay enough to cover my rent, student loan payments, and living expenses, so I quit in May and got a job serving. I worked first in Portland, Maine, and then in Washington, D.C., where I served at the most-booked restaurant in the country for three-and-a-half years.

Occasionally my friends and relatives expressed confusion about why someone—me—with a degree in international studies was scraping plates and cleaning out drip trays for a living. But here’s the thing—just as Professor Jay West taught me to love 19th-century German literature, angry patrons and drug-addled chefs taught me never to feel above anything. I toughened up and learned to take responsibility. I also learned salmon roe kohlrabi foam exists (but maybe shouldn’t); anything can be made into a velouté; and grad school is not always the answer—even though, late one night, smelling like truffle oil and sitting on a bus next to a vomiting sous chef, I thought it might be. I applied to MFA programs and got waitlisted.

When I graduated from college, part of me believed the world had a perfect, golden niche waiting to be filled with my skills and abilities. This is embarrassing and obviously not the case. In her opening address to Middlebury, incoming president Laurie Patton said students “increasingly must create their own worlds—their own forms of employment, their own ways of being in the world.” That’s a great sentiment, and I think it’s true.

Eventually I left serving, and after several months of scrambling/freelancing (and nights spent staring at CodeAcademy, wishing I might magically become a Javascript genius), I got an editing job I love. Working in an office is different than working in a restaurant: it makes small talk easier, and it’s nice to get a lunch break. But part of me misses the hustle and delicacy of restaurants—and the feeling of being in a club of people who choose to work in the shadows of everyone else’s lives. More than anything, I still believe my success as a person shouldn’t be measured by the job I have or don’t have.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because of all the talk about the relevancy of a liberal arts education—whether courses on European structuralism sufficiently prepare students to meet the demands of today’s job market. But the liberal arts are also about adaptability, persistence, intellectual generosity, restlessness, tradition, and grit.

Middlebury allowed me, even in moments of selfish, myopic despair, to step back and find perspective. And as for structuralism, I remember hearing my trendy restaurant’s spring menu—some elevation of local honey and stone-cooked peasant bread—and thinking of nothing but Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction.

Rachel Siviski ’10 still enjoys finding just the right wine to pair with dinner. She lives with friends in Vermont.

Weekly Web Updates – July 27, 2015

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I mentioned this at the last ITS Tech Partners meeting and promised to include a link to it in this week’s updates. tota11y is a bookmarklet that you can use to highlight accessibility issues on web pages.


Tweaks & Fixes

  • We have updated the Museum of Art site to use the Drupal Service Links module for the buttons that allow you to share news items on social media. The ShareThis module has been removed from all Drupal sites.
  • When you click the “Put on Reserve” link in MIDCAT, the form will automatically populate the Call Number field.

Pursuits: Happy Tails

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“Hello, girls,” said Ken Parker ’62, throwing open the blue trailer door. “Are you ready to go to work?”

The 75-year-old mostly retired Presbyterian minister had parked his Toyota truck—license plate: MINIDONK—at the curb before the Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center. The girls in question were two big-eared, doe-eyed miniature donkeys, Celeste and Fey. Their job this afternoon: to visit residents, mainly Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, at the Middlebury nursing home.

For more than 10 years, Parker has been trotting out—literally—his miniature donkeys as therapy animals. He and volunteers visit nursing homes and grieving children. They also run a program that allows children with developmental and emotional disabilities learn how to care for the animals. To his knowledge, Thera-Pets, his Peru, N.Y., nonprofit, was the first organization of its kind to use miniature donkeys as therapeutic animals in the U.S.

“They’re a wonderful, wonderful animal,” said Parker, brushing a bit of errant hay from dark, svelte Celeste’s coat. Sure, Parker acknowledged, therapy dogs are far more prevalent. “But give me a hundred dogs and a hundred donkeys, and the donkeys will take it every time.”

Parker and volunteer Candyce Trombley led the donkeys into a small courtyard where the residents, mostly women in their 80s and 90s, sat in wheelchairs and rockers. Parker launched into his primer on miniature donkeys, chatting with the residents and answering questions—but the real stars of the show were Celeste and Fey.

“You’re very beautiful,” one woman cooed. “Yes, you are. You’re a very good girl.” Another woman pressed her forehead to the donkey’s face and stroked Celeste’s long, tapered ears.

“People say, ‘Kiss my ass,’” quipped Parker after a resident planted a kiss on a donkey’s nose. “I do all the time.”

Ministering to the sick, disabled, and grieving comes naturally to Parker, who went to Princeton Theological Seminary following his graduation from Middlebury. (He also received a DMin from Sewanee.) Parker headed the Presbyterian Church in Peru, for more than three decades. When he retired in 2003, he briefly considered “playing golf and reading books,” but he jokes now that retirement “didn’t take.” In addition to his work with Thera-Pets, Parker spends Sunday mornings preaching to two tiny congregations.

“Once he retired, he couldn’t give up helping people,” said his wife, Helle Thomsen Parker ’62. His work with Thera-Pets is just “an extension of ministering.”

“He probably has one of the kindest souls, the gentlest souls, I have ever known,” said Trombley, who has known Parker since he moved to Peru more than 40 years ago. “There’s no pretense. What you see is what you get.”

The Parkers still live in Peru on a farm they named Butternut Ridge. He started keeping donkeys around when he retired, following a mission trip to Jamaica, where he fell in love with the animals. Today his menagerie includes 10 donkeys, as well as a smattering of cows, alpacas, chickens and other fowl, and occasionally pigs.

A few days after visiting Helen Porter, Parker was back in the North Country—and swapping his Sunday morning vestments for a Thera-Pets polo shirt for an afternoon with developmentally disabled children. By mid-afternoon, about a dozen kids had convened at the farm of a neighbor, another Thera-Pets volunteer, down the road from Parker’s home. Normally they would meet at Parker’s farm, but today they were taking a special walk.

They played games, sat quietly as Parker told a story, then raced to pair up with their donkeys. The gaggle of kids, parents, and volunteers led the donkeys on a walk through a state park, which culminated at a playground.

“It’s the best thing for both of my boys,” said mother Mary Prial, holding a donkey’s lead as her two boys, seven-year-olds Luke and Sebastian, tore off for the playground. Sebastian is a typical kid, but Luke is hearing impaired and developmentally delayed and was terrified of animals before he began working with Parker’s donkeys. Prial really likes that in the Thera-Pets program there aren’t any distinctions drawn between the two kids.

“Here they’re not different,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier. I love seeing both of my boys having a good time.”

Kathryn Flagg ’08 is a freelance writer living in Shoreham, Vermont.

Fulbright Webinars for Applicants

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Upcoming Fulbright Webinars *Newly added* *Thursday, July 30: Study/Research (including Arts) General Q&A* Tuesday, August 4: Fulbright-Clinton Fellowship, Introduction & Application Overview *Thursday, August 6: English Teaching Assistant General Q&A* Thursday, August 13: Polishing & Finalizing Your Application For a full list of upcoming webinars, please visit the Information Sessions section on the Fulbright website. Past webinars are […]

HR Update: This Week’s Employment Snapshot

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There are currently 3 faculty positions, 58 external job postings (regular, on-call and temporary), and 5 internal job postings on the Middlebury employment opportunities web sites.

Employment Quick Links:

Faculty Employment Opportunities:

Staff Employment Opportunities: go/staff-jobs (on campus), (off campus)

Please note – to view only internal staff postings, please use the internal posting search filter that was highlighted in this MiddPoints article.

On-call/Temporary Staff Employment Opportunities: go/staff-jobs-sh (on campus), (off campus)

Grille Closing Aug. 17th-Sept. 7th

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Please note that the Grille will be closing for some maintenance issues on August 17th and will reopen September 7th, 2015. During this time, Midd Express Market will be open for snacks and Grab & Go options. Weather permitting, we are hoping to do some Pop Up Barbeques on the deck outside.

Beat the Peak and help us lower campus-wide electricity usage!

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This summer the Office of Sustainability Integration is launching an effort to avoid “peak demand”, which occurs when our campus’ electrical use exceeds our highest previous use for the past 12 months.  This occurs on the hottest days of the summer when air conditioners, fans, cooling equipment, etc. are in use. Exceeding our peak raises our electricity rates for the entire year, forces the utility company to buy more power from dirtier sources and could result in brown- or black-outs.

We will be monitoring the risk of exceeding our limit each day and posting this sign around campus:

Poster 1-01On days when we are in the red zone, we ask that everyone on campus makes an effort to conserve energy by pulling down the blinds in their rooms, turning off the AC when leaving, turning off appliances and unplugging chargers when not in use.

You can also visit go/beatthepeak for more information.

Thanks for helping out!