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Emotional Ties

Gales of laughter filled the air for the Middlebury graduates at Reunion 2012, June 8-10.

Whether it was the comfort of seeing old friends, the thrill of being back on campus again, or admiration for all that Middlebury has become today, the weekend stirred the emotions and the joys of its roughly 1,800 participants.

The campus takes on a different bearing during Reunion, one that helps alumni feel connected to their College again. The only undergraduates in sight are wearing navy-blue “Reunion Weekend Staff” t-shirts, so it’s easy for alumni to imagine themselves back on campus tromping to class again. With temperatures in the high 70s and sunlight streaming across the hills, graduates enjoyed a full slate of activities planned by the Office of Alumni and Parent Programs.

Friday morning the 50th reunion class was back together, with more than 120 members on hand. The septuagenarians spent time with President Ronald D. Liebowitz and his wife Jessica; heard a panel discussion; attended a memorial service; posed for their class photo; and many were heading up to the links for a round of golf—and it wasn’t even past noon yet!

Viewing the portraits in the Old Chapel Boardroom

During the afternoon Richard Saunders, director of the College Museum and distinguished college professor, presented an illustrated lecture about the presidential portraits hanging in the Old Chapel Boardroom.

As the alumni leaned back in the roomy chairs used by the College’s trustees, they learned about the portraits on the boardroom wall, from the oil painting of Jeremiah Atwater, the first president, which was commissioned years after his death, to John M. McCardell’s official portrait, which Saunders had a direct hand in arranging. An art historian, Saunders was masterful at providing context for Middlebury’s array of presidential portraits.

Sabra Field '57 (r.) chats with Meredith Wade '82.

The artist Sabra Field ’57 attracted a crowd to her presentation about the mural on the east exterior wall of Wright Theatre. Championed by Kate Lupo ’10 and commissioned by the committee on art in public places, the three-story mural illustrates the effects that spiraling, tiling, branching, and scaling have on nature, the artist said.

Alumni Achievement Awards on Saturday morning were presented to Army Colonel Mark Odom ’87, conservationist Denise Schlener ’77, and NFL kicker Stephen Hauschka ’07. There was also a 5K fun run, golf scramble, alumni of color reception, and tours of the Solar Decathlon house, dubbed “Self Reliance House,” which is now situated permanently on Porter Field Road.

The Solar Decathlon house

Alumni streamed through the house marveling at its interior design, concise use of space, energy efficiency, and solar-powered everything. Many were heard to comment, “I could live here,” and some wanted to know how the students who inhabit the house are chosen. There also was much discussion about Middlebury’s next entry in the Solar Decathlon, called “InSite,” planned for 2013.

Glenn M. Andres, the Christian A. Johnson professor of art and architecture, led a walking tour of campus with special attention given to newer structures like Davis Family Library and Axinn Center at Starr Library. But first Andres convened the tour outside Old Chapel (completed in 1836) and used the opportunity to present a brief history of the College and point out the critical role American colleges and universities play in preserving historic buildings.

Alison McGhee '82 read her new poetry.

In the Axinn Center more than 75 alumni attended an event held by the New England Review, the College’s quarterly literary publication. Alumni and faculty writers gave readings of their recent works, and the audience of loyal NER supporters was attentive and enthusiastic.

The Class of 1972, celebrating its 40th reunion, dedicated a maple tree planted along Storrs Walk between Davis Library and Old Chapel. Bruce Brennan ’72 said the sapling will probably outlive members of the class, yet it will always symbolize how the alumni (i.e., the branches) are all connected to the College (i.e., the tree trunk.) The class held a brief memorial service beside its maple tree.

The alumni and their families received respite from the whirlwind of activity (and the unyielding sunshine) at the traditional ice cream social held under the trees in front of Voter Hall. Grads of all ages devoured their “Hoodsies” (ice cream) with a wooden spoon, and kids, kids, kids frolicked in the shade: playing tag, standing on chairs, squirting water, cradling lacrosse sticks, wearing floppy hats, and leaning up against mom and dad. Like most events at Reunion, time stood still with not a single smart phone or tablet in sight!

Members of the 25th reunion class

The ice cream social is prelude to Saturday’s Reunion Parade and procession into Mead Chapel. The Class of 1947 was last in line, but its members were relieved when the 50th reunion class fell in behind them in the Middlebury tradition. One alumna looked over her shoulder, smiled, and said,  “They look younger than we do, but I sure am glad we’re not at the very end!”

On Saturday evening jazz musician Philip Hamilton ’82 performed in the concert hall. For the late crowd, members of The Grift (including Clint Bierman ’97, Jeff Vallone ’97.5, and Peter Day ’01) performed outdoors.

A different kind of music—songbirds singing—resonated on Sunday morning as the alumni packed their rolling suitcases and made ready for the journey home.

Meanwhile the Reunion Choir rehearsed in Mead Chapel with Emory Fanning, professor emeritus of music and College organist, in preparation for the Sunday Morning Christian Worship. As he played the Gress-Miles organ and conducted his impromptu 30-member choir, Fanning exclaimed: “This is the best time of my life when you, the members of the Reunion Choir, are here performing with me.”

Emory Fanning (l.) with choir members (l. to r.) Renee Shellhaas '97, Jennie Meyer '91, and Diana Fanning '71