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The Foreign Student

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A journalist embarks on a voyage into the unknown.

I started studying French two years ago. I was 36, and it had dawned on me that there was something embarrassing about the fact that I was monolingual. Perhaps this was about class, as I had gone from my working-class Baltimore roots to the literary world of New York. Perhaps it was about New York itself, where in a 30-minute subway ride you can easily hear five different people speaking five different languages. Perhaps it was my wife, who’d fallen in love with Paris and demanded that I visit, sure that I would fall in love, too. Or perhaps it was just me, feeling a little too settled and looking for something radical to shake up the routine. I had no idea how radical the experience would actually be.

The thing about studying a foreign language is that it really is a foreign language, which is to say that it’s a dizzying array of words to be memorized, rules for how those words should be assembled, and customs for when those assembled words should be deployed. And those customs sometimes bend back on themselves—the polite form of a personal pronoun can be both self-deprecating and threatening. You have to recognize the context. This is the reason why I speak of the process of “studying” French and not the impossibility of “learning” it. I am a native English speaker and a writer. A large part of the joy of my vocation comes from understanding that it’s impossible to “learn” the English language, if only because the language refuses to sit still. I acknowledge that the French tend to be more conservative in this regard, but the point still stands due to the sheer size of the language.

What I quickly learned was that saying I am going to “study” French was like saying I am going to sail to China. The language is so vast that one can, all at once, feel both great progress being made and a great distance still to go. Sailing from California to Hawaii is far and difficult to achieve; getting to China is farther—and harder—still.

I faced this dynamic several times this summer while studying French at Middlebury. The College’s 11 Language Schools are the gold standard for those seeking to go beyond their mother tongues.
Middlebury insists that you not speak your native language for the entirety of your stay, communicating solely in the language that you are studying. For me this meant seven weeks of all French; no English.

The effect of this was to turn every single encounter, large or small, into a mental Pilates class. This is true, not simply because of the difficulty of the language, but because of what that difficulty does to the ego. The kind of students attracted to the language tended to be people who were educated and smart. And yet to learn French, most of us were reduced to the mental equivalent of three-year-olds. The result was a constant mental exercise, not simply in recalling the language, but embracing the fact that whatever we might say would almost certainly be wrong. The onslaught was forceful and unremitting—the most basic requests became an exercise in one’s capacity to endure humiliation.

And I think this was Middlebury’s greatest reward, and also the greatest reward in studying another language. Many of us were from worlds where we were constantly complimented on our intelligence. But acquiring a foreign language—at least as an adult—requires you to part with all of those compliments and the assumptions you make about yourself. That is the place where true learning can occur, in that uncomfortable spot where your “smartness” cannot save you. I came to Middlebury to continue to study French. But what quickly became clear was that I was, in fact, studying how to study.

A Planet Without Apes

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Peter Walsh ’82 believes that wild gorillas and chimpanzees face ecological extinction unless we radically rethink conventional conservation strategies.

A deadly virus sweeps uncontrolled across Africa, leaving thousands dead. The scenario is now bleakly familiar, but this particular Ebola outbreak—in 2006—wasn’t nightly on our television screens, nor did it galvanize the international community. Why?  Because its victims weren’t humans, but gorillas.

The virus didn’t quite wipe out the western gorilla populations found in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and both the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo. But diseases and poaching have left these animals in catastrophic decline, and the World Wildlife Fund has classed them as “critically endangered.”  The question becomes: how to save them?  Perhaps, says one expert, vaccinations are the answer.

The opinion isn’t popular, since conservationists have traditionally favored a more hands-off approach. However, Peter Walsh, lecturer in primate quantitative ecology at the University of Cambridge, is challenging the orthodoxy. “Some people in the primatology community hate me,” he says. “My criticisms are fairly blunt. But being popular is not my objective in life.”

Walsh knows about unconventionality. After graduating from Middlebury with a BA in history in 1982, he spent several years “bumming around.”  He drifted to California, cutting lawns and working as a busboy and in a shoe store. He took community college classes in basic math and science and realized his aptitude in these disciplines. And after seeing a job posting for a field assistant on a project studying prairie dogs in South Dakota, he applied, got the job, and was hooked. Now he advocates using rigorous scientific reasoning to gain insights into animal populations.

His work has led him to some of the world’s most distinguished universities—he received his PhD at Yale, was a group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, and currently lectures at Cambridge—and to the depths of the African jungle.

Today, Walsh is sitting in his Cambridge office, readying himself for his next trip to the Republic of Congo. “Ten hours in a 4×4 just to get to the site,” he says. Huge photographs of gorillas decorate his walls. On his office bookcase, he has a pygmy crossbow, complete with a quiver of black-tipped arrows.

Walsh was among the first to identify the threat Ebola poses to the gorilla population (and, by extension, the threat it poses to the humans who live near the animals and hunt them for meat).
Nature published his groundbreaking study, in which he identified Ebola as killing 5,000 gorillas. Now, eight years later, a new epidemic is causing havoc across West Africa.

At the time of this writing, the virus has killed 3,800 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria—with another 8,000 confirmed or highly likely cases. Walsh believes we need bold thinking to save both humans and gorillas. It’s time, he says, to concentrate on what’s effective right here, right now.

He says the hands-off, “Garden of Eden”-style approach to saving gorillas hasn’t worked. “They are in precipitous decline. But primatologists say we can’t disrupt the balance of nature, that vaccines are the agents of the devil. That the gorillas would be so stressed out by the process of daring that their immune systems would be suppressed, or they’d freak out and kill people.

“Well, I can tell you one result of our captive gorilla study: they did not freak out. To get that study off the ground, I wrote to hundreds of people explaining that vaccination was not dangerous. I had to make rigorous scientific arguments to counter irrational, hysterical, emotional ones.”

This first-ever trial of a measles vaccine in habituated gorillas took Walsh years to set up. Funded by Paul Allen, cofounder of Microsoft, the study is being prepared for publication.

He also recently coauthored a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that examines the first Ebola vaccine trial on captive chimpanzees held at the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana. The study found the vaccine safe. But the National Institutes of Health, which runs the primate center, has decided to shut the center down, saying that chimpanzee research is now “largely unnecessary.”

Walsh, though, remains undaunted. He’s now looking to the private sector, which shares his willingness to take risks. Currently, he’s working with German philanthropist Sabine Plattner and prominent conservationist Magdalena Bermejo on a new project that uses telemetry to track western gorilla populations, which move far more quickly and further than their mountain gorilla cousins.

Now it takes up to five years to find a group of lowland gorillas and acclimate them to tolerating visitors. But if these populations, situated in the Republic of Congo, can be efficiently tracked and vaccinated against communicable human diseases, they can be habituated to tourists much more rapidly. Responsible tourism—run by businesses but advised by conservationists—will help locals find live gorillas more valuable than dead ones. And it’s this kind of project, Walsh says, that will save these animals.

But he believes the conservation establishment needs to wake up if gorillas are to survive beyond the 21st century. “Conservation has this learned-helplessness thing,” he says. “This is the way it’s always been. You’re not going to be able to change things. You can’t do that. I understand Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs now—and their thinking that if you want to do something, you should just go ahead and do it, shut your ears, and be willing to fail. Eventually, you’ll succeed.”

Animal Tales

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Here are a few things to know about Antonia Losano and her relationship with animals. She loves dogs, cats, and otters. She’s terrified of horses and mice. She thinks bats are creepy. She says that the fox couple that lives near her house are adorable, but admits to mixed feelings when one morning she saw the two trotting through her yard with a freshly killed rabbit dangling from one of the fox’s jaws. ¶ And she loves to tell you that animals are “everywhere, not just outside.” They are a part of our language (“he’s a fox,” “what a cute chick”); they’re part of our social identity (the geopolitical “Russian Bear”); and above all they are a part of our literature. Losano, an associate professor of English and American literatures, teaches a course called Animals in Literature, and here she offers a few of her favorite animal literary references. (With an assist from her husband, Dan Brayton, also an associate professor of English and American literatures, who gives us his take on the Whale in Moby-Dick.)

rabbit1The white rabbit from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass
“ ‘Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting!’ ”
He’s so very un-rabbit like. We think of rabbits as fuzzy and cozy and cuddly, and he’s absolutely not. The White Rabbit signals to us that not all is normal in Alice’s brain.

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard the ducks from Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings
“When they reached the pond and swam across to the little island, there was Mr. Mallard waiting for them, just as he had promised.”
I study romance and courtship plots, and I’m continually struck by how often literature, especially children’s literature, relies on birds—ducks, turtledoves—to serve as stand-ins for monogamous love. There seems to be a desperate desire to say: “Look at those ducks, Mr. and Mrs. Mallard, raising their children. Aren’t they an iconic heterosexual couple, married with children, devoted to each other and family?” It’s as if we need these examples—pictures of marital bliss—to say “it’s normal to mate for life.”

Mr. Fox, the fox from Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox
“ ‘I therefore invite you all,’ Mr. Fox went on, ‘to stay here with me for ever.’ ”
Traditionally, we think of foxes as sly and clever, a depiction that dates back to the Middle Ages with the fable Chanticleer and the Fox. (Chaucer memorably captured this same tale in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale.  Barbara Cooney has also used it in her 20th-century children’s book, Chanticleer and the Fox.) But Dahl’s fox is a bit different. Dahl managed to preserve all of the fox’s slyness while also making him lovable. Dahl’s fox, at his core, is a patriarch who cares for his family and friends; his slyness is in service to the greater good.

Napoleon the pig from George Orwell’s Animal Farm
“ ‘Four legs good, two legs better! All Animals Are Equal. But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others.’ ”
The word “pig” has undeniably negative connotations, and Napoleon is a particularly piggish, a pig. Yet he is a pig who, by the novel’s end, is indistinguishable from humans. For a while, you can fool yourself that he’s just a pig, but the moral of Orwell’s allegory is that there’s something inherently destructive in the human search for power. We may be tempted to say that power is “dehumanizing,” but Orwell suggests otherwise.

bearThe bear from William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale
“Exit, pursued by a bear.”
What’s great is that the bear is famous for not really being there. It’s fleeting. present just in this one moment, this one stage direction. Scholars have argued over whether a real bear performed the role, as there were performing bears during this time, or whether a man in a bear costume played it. Bears have an iconic status as an animal that could surprise you in the woods—they’re large, they can be frightening—so to be pursued by a bear would be a classic nightmare. Yet Shakespeare turns the nightmare into something almost comic.

The wolf from Angela Carter’s short story “The Company of Wolves.”
“The girl burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody’s meat. She laughed at him full in the face, ripped off his shirt for him and flung it into the fire, in the fiery wake of her own discarded clothing.”
Wolves are a fantasy of the familiar made strange; they’re like dogs, but they’re not dogs. Perhaps this is why they make such good heroes in supernatural romance fiction; part of our erotic makeup desires something as familiar as a domestic pet, but wild like a wolf. Angela Carter retells the “Little Red Riding Hood” fairy tale, but here Red, isn’t frightened by the wolf with his big eyes and his big teeth. Instead of running away, she throws off her clothes and begins to undress him.

The cockroach from Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis
“He was a tool of the boss, without brains or backbone.”
Part of what Kafka is saying is in our present corporate culture we’re all bugs anyway. Gregor is a company man, a traveling salesman, who is a slave to routine, rising at the same time every day, catching the same train, following the same patterns. When he wakes up as a cockroach, he doesn’t particularly notice. He’s concerned that he can’t get out of bed, but the fact that he’s s a bug is less important than the fact that he’ll miss his train to work.

MOBY1The whale from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick
So utterly lost was Flask [the third mate of the Pequod] to all sense of reverence for the many marvels of their majestic bulk and mystic ways; and so dead to anything like an apprehension of any possible danger from encountering them; that in his poor opinion, the wondrous whale was but a species of magnified mouse, or at least water-rat, requiring only a little circumvention and some small application of time and trouble in order to kill and boil.”
The White Whale in Moby-Dick symbolizes our desperate quest to conquer what we don’t know; in the course of the novel it also comes to symbolize how little we do know—about whales, the ocean, the biophysical environment, and ourselves. Melville was a profoundly liberal thinker (small “l”) whose narrative of a lost-soul mariner (Ishmael), a monomaniacal whaling captain (Ahab), and a noble savage harpooneer (Queequeg) is in fact a relentlessly critical scrutiny of the limitations of our systems of knowledge. In the story, whales begin as fearsome beasts and evolve into emblems of what we don’t know about ourselves—they become us, our humanity.

Buck the dog from Jack London’s The Call of the Wild
“And each time the joyful bark that trembled in Buck’s throat was twisted into a savage growl.”
In the first part of the novel, Buck is a complacent domestic tyrant. He’s king of the castle, but has done nothing to earn that position. When he’s stolen and shipped off to the Yukon and forced to become part of a sled pack team, Buck must do something that domestic dogs don’t typically have to do—test his mettle in the “real world.” First he has to fight for survival in the harsh winter; then he has to fight to become alpha male in the pack. It’s a brutal and violent stage of his life (and of the book). Then he meets Thornton, a man who can inspire loyalty, and the tale becomes a human/animal love story. Yet when Thornton dies, Buck reverts to the wild, literally running with the wolves. In this one character, we see all the possible options that a dog can be.

The geese from the Mary Oliver poem “Wild Geese.”
“Meanwhile, the wild geese, high in the clean blue air / are heading home again.”
Oliver offers us an exquisite image of wildness, mystery, and the inevitable cycles of life. Geese are harbingers of spring and fall. Here in Middlebury, it’s a part of our annual ritual. The geese have left; snow is coming. For Oliver, geese mean that and much more: they are “harsh and exciting—/over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”

Black Beauty the horse from Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty
“Why don’t they cut their own children’s ears into points to make them look sharp?”
When Sewell wrote Black Beauty, people had radically different relationships to horses than they do today. In 19th-century London, horses were more populous than people. Horses were work animals, They were the primary method of transportation. Everyone was intimately acquainted with horses then, and this book captures those lives. Today, horses are very expensive pets.

Aesop’s Fables
I can’t pick just one to illustrate the significance of these fables—it’s the very collection that’s so revealing. Why do we have these moral fables, really the first children’s tales that teach us how to be good—and almost all the characters are all animals? Why can’t we teach our children how to behave by telling stories about humans? I think it’s because we need the animals to provide distance from ourselves. And it works. Psychologists have conducted research that shows children do learn morals from
animal stories. From animal tales.

Paging Doctor King

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Being a veterinary surgeon in a 24-hour animal hospital means each day’s cases are unlike the last.

All that’s visible above the blue surgical drapes is the dog’s lower jaw, tilted up as she lies anesthetized on her back. Her mouth is open, her black fur and whiskers sheared to the skin, and her cuspid teeth, under the lights, appear to glow. She’ll soon lose those teeth. Her name is Stella*, an eight-year-old Labrador who went in for a dental checkup several weeks prior and came out with a diagnosis of cancer: a soft-tissue sarcoma, jelly-bean sized and nestled between her lower lip and gum. The doctors cut it out once, but it returned. Removing it for good means taking about two inches off her jaw.

In the next room, veterinary surgeon Dana King ’89 puts on a cap and mask, opens a package of surgical soap, and scrubs up at the sink. Then she steps into the operating room, where two technicians are at Stella’s bedside, monitoring her vital signs and her anesthesia, and unrolling packs of sterile instruments on the tray to the side. An iPod plays Paul Simon. And outside the window, midafternoon traffic hums along the highway. “How’s she doing?” King asks. And more softly, looking down at her patient: “All right, Stella. Here we go.”

Stella’s surgery is the last order of the day for King, one of two surgeons at Veterinary Emergency Service, a 24-hour clinic and specialized-care facility (which also employs an internist, cardiologist, and oncologist) in Middleton, Wisconsin, just outside Madison. Mostly the clinic serves dogs and cats, although it also sees some rabbits and, occasionally, birds or other exotics. This morning, a Wednesday in early September, King arrived just before 9:00 to make the rounds, checking on the patients who’d stayed overnight in the hospital. There’s Clyde, a retriever from West Texas, with a mysteriously swollen back paw.  Probably a puncture wound that got infected—he’s in Wisconsin training to be a competitive field-trial dog and spends his days running through woods and weeds—but so far King hasn’t found the pathogen. Tests for fungal infections came back negative, and a bacteria culture grew only “garden-variety skin bugs,” she says. A biopsy ruled out cancer. She may never determine what happened. Which is OK, she says, as long as Clyde keeps getting better.

Then there’s Lily, a six-month-old Bernese mountain dog who ate part of a couch the day before and came to the ER with a stomach full of wool batting. Her owners tried an emetic to help her body rid itself of the batting, but she still required surgery to remove what was left. “Apparently she’s eaten socks before, and other stuff, so she’s probably going to be a frequent flyer here,” King says.  She bends down and takes Lily’s face into both hands; the dog’s tail wags, thumping against the side of the cage. “Hi!  You’re very sweet,” King tells her. “Yes, you are.  Looks like you’re feeling good today.” Along with tumors and orthopedic problems, “foreign-body removals”—opening up an animal to take out something it shouldn’t have eaten—is one of the most common surgeries King performs. Cats tend to ingest ribbons, coins, sewing needles, and thread.  Dogs eat socks, underwear, fishhooks, wooden skewers, and—well—just about anything. King once pulled a rubber duck from a dog’s stomach. “You could see it in the x-ray,” she says.  Its bright silhouette was outlined against the animal’s dark belly.

Last in King’s rounds: Megan, a black-and-white Shih Tzu who the day before had abdominal surgery to remove two tumors. King is a little worried about her. The vet took out half the dog’s small intestine and biopsied some nodules on her liver. Eighteen hours later, Megan’s still curled on her blanket and uninterested in food. A feeding tube gives her constant liquid infusion, and an IV catheter delivers pain medicine. King talks with one of the overnight vet techs about how Abby’s doing: no appetite, but a few hours ago, she went outside and walked, and this morning she had been sleeping soundly until they shifted her to measure her heart rate and temperature.

“Did she yelp or try to bite you?” Biting indicates pain; yesterday Abby was snapping at everyone.

“She did not physically bite anybody, but she tried to.”

King opens the cage door. “Hi sweetheart,” she says, touching the dog’s incisions. “Are you going to try to bite me?” Megan doesn’t. She lifts her face weakly and whimpers for attention. “Hi,” King answers, almost whispering, stroking the dog’s head. “How are you?”

Being a veterinary surgeon is the only job King ever really considered. She grew up on Long Island, in a house full of pets: cats and dogs, mice, rats, gerbils, a rabbit, and a hamster. When she was five or six, she and her brother set up a maze for the hamster and somewhere along the way as he ran it, a block fell on his head. The family took him to a veterinarian. “So it was a hamster with head trauma,” King says, suppressing a chuckle over what now seems to her an absurdly futile vet visit. “They talked to me with a straight face, but I’m sure behind the scenes, they were saying, ‘There’s not much we can do.’”

Nor was there.  The hamster didn’t survive, but King’s path was set. “My parents said that from then on, that’s what I talked about.”

Another important influence came when King was 13 years old, and her grandmother passed away, leaving her some money, which King used to buy a horse. On Long Island, where she was surrounded by horse farms and racetracks and equestrian schools, getting a horse seemed like a natural thing to do. After only a few months, the horse died suddenly—after breaking its knee running in a field, he had to be put down—and so a short time later, King got another horse, a beautiful chestnut named Justin. He was an ex-racehorse, three years old, silly and sweet—the same color as Secretariat, with none of Secretariat’s talent. “He was a disaster at being a racehorse and wonderful at being a trail horse,” she says. When she came to Middlebury, she brought Justin with her. After classes, she’d get on her bike and ride six miles out to the farm where Justin was boarded.  She’d saddle him up, and they’d go out on trails.

After Middlebury, King went to veterinary school at Cornell and then followed her schooling with an internship at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.  Justin came along, too. Then in 1996, she got a residency at the University of Pennsylvania. By then, Justin was an old man, and King knew she’d be too busy to spend much time with him. He was happy in Ontario, so she decided to let him stay. “He was just retired out in a field in Ontario for the last couple years of his life,” she says. “In grass up to his knees.” When Justin died from intestinal cancer, he was 26 years old.

This Is Not Business As Usual

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Jamie Gaucher, Director of Business Development, Town of Middlebury

Jamie Gaucher, Director of Business Development, Town of Middlebury

How an innovative partnership between the College and town is boosting the local economy.

Just after breakfast on a warm fall morning, Jamie Gaucher walks down the steps of the Middlebury Inn and around to his Honda minivan. He noses the car out of the parking lot, following an itinerary that’s become very familiar. “I like to start downtown,” he says, pointing out the white façade of the Congregational Church, driving past the town green and down Merchant’s Row, then heading left on Main Street and up toward the College campus.

He’ll take a visitor inside the Davis Family Library before returning to the car. Then he continues out past the athletic facilities and back toward Middlebury’s industrial park on Exchange Street. All the while, he asks polite questions about the guest’s business, what resources it needs to be successful—and offers subtle guidance on why setting up shop in Middlebury would be a great way to help the enterprise grow.

Gaucher may seem an unlikely tour guide: Before 2012, he’d never been to Vermont. But since April of 2013, when he became the town of Middlebury’s first-ever director of business development, he’s been talking up the region at trade fairs and on cold calls—and when he finds a receptive business owner, he invites them for this nickel tour.

Gaucher, a 6-foot-4-inch New York native who came to Middlebury after 14 years as an economic development official in West Virginia, is the most visible evidence of an unusual initiative that’s the culmination of years of work by College officials. The aim: to bring new economic vitality and more jobs to the town of Middlebury in an attempt to reduce tax burdens, assist with faculty recruitment, and create new opportunities for students. “We have a guiding principle that what’s good for the College is good for the town, and vice versa, so to the extent we can help each other, all the better,” says College President Ronald Liebowitz. “Jamie Gaucher’s position is part and parcel of that.”

It’s an effort that goes far beyond the hiring of the man the local press has dubbed “Middlebury’s jobs czar.” It’s an opportunity to leverage burgeoning student interest in entrepreneurship, a passion fueled by academic programs that have grown over the last decade. It’s also aimed at convincing a growing class of telecommuters—who, in theory, can live anywhere—to consider relocating to Middlebury. Although the various initiatives, some of them funded by the College, are not yet a clear-cut success, most observers are encouraged by early results. The effort seems likely to be one piece of what people in Middlebury will recall about Liebowitz’s decade-long presidency when he steps down in 2015. “This is one of Ron’s legacies,” says Jon Isham, an economics professor who’s been a central part of the efforts. “It wouldn’t have happened without him, and the reason it happened is that he brought us all together, then let us all run with it.”

Indeed, the efforts underway today are only part of a broader strategy that emerged a decade ago. Though Middlebury is sometimes referred to as the “Town’s College,” the relationship between the two hasn’t always been so symbiotic. For generations, while many students moved back and forth between the College and the town without a thought, there was little cooperation at an official level. It was almost as if the two existed in different worlds.

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Middlebury President Ronald D. Liebowitz

Soon after Liebowitz took office, Bruce Hiland, a former McKinsey consultant and publishing executive who had moved to Addison County in 1987, approached the College’s new president and proposed a meeting with a group of local business leaders. Even today, Liebowitz recalls that he was skeptical given the often-stated “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” reality when it came to greater College engagement in the town. But Hiland was persistent and challenged the group to come up with some “big ideas” for the town. Once they started talking, progress came quickly, though the project first identified was not feasible and came to naught. Within three years, though, the College had pledged $1 million to support the $5 million renovation of Town Hall Theater and then $9 million to help fund construction of an in-town bridge over Otter Creek, an idea that had been a seemingly unachievable dream for 50 years. The bridge opened in 2010.

But even with the investment in infrastructure and amenities, the need to bring more jobs to the area remained. In 2006, the College hired Spencer Cox ’08 as a summer intern to work closely with Dave Donahue ’91, special assistant to the president of the College, and Hiland to study the issue. “Although the town of Middlebury is not in a state of crisis, long-empty storefronts [and] a slowing economy have sparked concerns that Middlebury is falling behind,” Cox wrote in a report that examined how other institutions—including Dartmouth, Marlboro, and Colgate—were partnering with their towns.

Within months of Cox’s report, concern over the lagging local economy spiked. In January of 2007, two of Middlebury’s largest employers, Standard Register and Specialty Filament, announced plans to close their local facilities, resulting in a combined loss of 287 jobs. (The College, with approximately 1,200 full-time employees, remains the largest employer in both the town and in Addison County.) Middlebury has just 6,588 residents and 1,996 households (according to the 2010 Census), so that scale of job loss had a giant impact. The fallout from the plant closings served as a reminder of something Liebowitz had been saying for years: that beneath the “veneer of prosperity” created by its rural beauty and picturesque campus, the town of Middlebury isn’t as affluent as it might appear. According to census data, 17.5 percent of town residents live below the poverty line, and its median household income of $47,849 falls below the state average by more than 10 percent.

44 Ideas, Inventions, Discoveries, & Creations that Middlebury (and Its people) Have Given the World

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Have you ever tossed a Frisbee? Seen The Vagina Monologues? Used a handy GPS device to find your way? Then Middlebury has had an impact on you beyond the four years you or your offspring spent at the College. All three are examples of Middlebury ingenuity that find a place on our list of 44 ideas, inventions, discoveries, and creations that Midd and its people have given the world. Of course, this isn’t all about you. We purposefully included the grandiose designation of the world as the beneficiary of Middlebury’s determination and know-how. After all, you might not have personally benefited from the discovery of the headwaters of the Mississippi, but society sure did. ¶ So dive in—and let the debate and discussions begin.

Alexander_L_Twilight_Middlebury_College_Alumnus_Class_of_18231. The First African American College Graduate
If you don’t know this fact about Middlebury College, you certainly should: Alexander Twilight, Middlebury Class of 1823, is universally recognized as the first American black college graduate.

Born in 1795 in Corinth, Vermont, Twilight spent much of his childhood and adolescence as an indentured farm worker. (While slavery was prohibited in the Green Mountain State after 1777, children could be indentured as a form of apprenticeship, a practice exploited by businessmen and farmers to virtually enslave black youth until they reached adulthood.) Having gained his freedom at the age of 20, Twilight spent six years of accelerated study at a grammar and secondary school in Randolph, Vermont, before applying to and being accepted by Middlebury.

Now, here’s where things get a little confusing. Twilight was of mixed race and had a fair complexion—and it is believed that when he was admitted to Middlebury, no one knew he was black. “Throughout his lifetime, we cannot find evidence to suggest that he identified as black,” Bill Hart, an associate professor of history, recently told the Middlebury Campus. Yet why was he indentured until the age of 20? And why did an 1800 census for the Twilight family list “all other free persons except Indians not taxed by the government,” phrasing that Hart explained could mean “free blacks, unaffiliated Indians, or mixed race people.” Many believe that the phrase referred to Twilight’s father, also of mixed race. After he died (or disappeared, no one is quite sure) when Twilight was young, all subsequent censuses referred to the Twilight family as “white.”

“[Alexander Twilight] neither embraced nor rejected his racial identity,” Hart told the Campus.

Two decades later, in 1845, Middlebury accepted for admission Martin Henry Freeman, a black applicant from nearby Rutland. Unlike Twilight, Freeman identified as black, and his admission to Middlebury was well publicized.

A century and a half passed before Alexander Twilight was officially recognized as the country’s first African American college graduate. It’s believed that collegiate rivalry played a part in this revelation. Following the American Civil Rights movement, folks at Amherst College posited that Amherst grad Edward Jones, Class of 1826, was the nation’s first black graduate. Middlebury historians suspected differently. Alexander Twilight was a storied alumnus, well known as one of Vermont’s pioneering 19th-century educators, as well as a powerful state legislator. Over the decades, Twilight’s race was referred to anecdotally, specifically in his hometown of Corinth and his adopted town of Brownington; a letter to the editor of the Burlington Free Press in 1949 refuted the newspaper’s claim that the citizens of the state had elected the first black man to the Vermont legislature—“Not so, that would be Alexander Twilight from Brownington,” wrote a woman from Newport. But there was no proof to back up this claim, until the Middlebury historians discovered and produced the 1800 census.

We did some digging of our own and discovered that the Middlebury College Newsletter, the precursor to this magazine, had covered Twilight over the years, notating his accomplishments as an educator and politician. We found feature stories written about Twilight in 1936 and 1959; neither mentioned his race. This was not the case in the spring of 1974 when the only existing photograph of Twilight was featured on this magazine’s cover, with the cover lines “Alexander Lucius Twilight, Class of 1823: The First Black American College Graduate.”

2. The New York Times Style Section
Style aficionados can thank journalist Trip Gabriel ’77 for this section of the New York Times, once an occasional Sunday feature, now with stand-alone sections on Thursday and Sunday. Gabriel led “Style” for 12 years, overseeing its expansion and assembling its extremely talented writing collective.

3. The Frisbee
Yalies may shun us for saying this, but the world can thank a few Middlebury Delta Upsilon frat boys for the “invention” of the Frisbee. Legend claims these five Midd Kids were the first to have thrown the Frisbee, in the form of a discarded pie plate from the then-well-known Frisbie Pie Company. The boys made this epic toss while changing a flat tire in Nebraska, en route to a national fraternity conference.

Technically, the practice of throwing a disc in athletic competition dates back to the first Olympics in 776 BCE. Several colleges believe their students were the first to toss a non-stone Frisbee: Yale states undergraduate student Elihu Frisbie first flung the pie tin in 1820, while Princeton, Dartmouth, and Amherst also stake claims.

Despite counter stories of the game’s invention, Middlebury is the only college to host an honorary “Frisbee Dog” on campus. The bronze statue of a dog leaping to snatch a disc permanently resides outside Munroe Hall; it was created by Patrick Villiers Farrow of Castleton, Vermont, and gifted to Middlebury in 1989. Fact or fiction, we know Farrow drew inspiration from the long-lasting Frisbee tradition on Middlebury’s campus, continued today by the Middlebury Pranksters, 2013 Ultimate Frisbee National Champions.

breadloaf.cmyk4. Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference
Few places evoke reflection so keenly as Green Mountain National Forest in Ripton, Vermont, home of America’s oldest writers’ conference. Sited among 30,000 acres of forest willed to Middlebury College by Morgan horse breeder Joseph Battell in 1915, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference has convened annually since 1926.

Robert Frost was first inspired to establish the “Conferences on Writing” upon visiting the idyllic Vermont setting. Writers Willa Cather, Katharine Lee Bates, and Louis Untermeyer all encouraged a late-August conference when the School of English at Bread Loaf was vacant; Middlebury College agreed. Since, Bread Loaf has welcomed innumerable reputable authors, the tradition continuing today with a two-week summer session for known and developing writers, students included.

5. The New Balance Running Shoe
Jim Davis ’66 didn’t found New Balance, but he has made the American footwear and apparel company into one of the world’s largest—and most respected. When he purchased the company in 1972, New Balance employed six people; it’s now a 4,000-employee global corporation with annual revenues topping $1 billion.

6. Polymer Cable Sheath
Until the 1940s, telephone cables were insulated with a lead-based coating that was expensive, extremely heavy—and toxic. So when Field Winslow ’38 and his Bell Labs colleagues Walter Lincoln Hawkins and Vincent Lanza found a way to stabilize polyethylene and create a plastic cable insulation that was both durable and cost-efficient, universal telephone service went from a dream to a reality.

7. A Carbon-Neutral Ski Area
Dreamed up by a group of students in an environmental economics class, the idea of making the Snow Bowl carbon neutral became a reality when Middlebury purchased carbon offsets from Charlotte-based NativeEnergy in 2006, converting the Snow Bowl into the first carbon-neutral ski area in the United States, as confirmed by the National Ski Areas Association. It has maintained carbon neutrality every year since. Following Middlebury’s lead, the 2013 U.S. Alpine Championships at Squaw Valley ski resort offset its carbon footprint and became the first carbon-neutral professional skiing event in the U.S.

8. Global Positioning System
Can we actually claim that the world would be lost without Middlebury? Perhaps. That’s because Middlebury alum Roger Easton ’43 is the principal inventor and designer (along with Bradford Parkinson and Ivan A. Getting) of the Global Positioning System—the satellite navigation system known universally by its initials: GPS.

Immediately following his graduation from Middlebury, Easton began working at the Naval Research Laboratory, where he developed TIMATION (a blend-word for “time” and “navigation”) for the Naval Air Systems Command. Timation provided both accurate positions and precise time to observers. Every GPS satellite now in orbit uses the fundamental principals of the Timation system, which has an unlimited user size. The system was used in four experimentally launched satellites over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, the last of which was the first satellite to transmit GPS signals.

Easton also headed the design team that built the Vanguard I satellite, the country’s second, and now oldest, satellite in space, launched in the spring of 1958. Easton also conceived of the Naval Space Surveillance System, an electronic fence—still in operation—that detects all satellites crossing the southern United States. Easton was justly inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010. In 1996, the Naval Research Laboratory announced the establishment of a new award,the highest civilian distinction for engineering achievement, named for Easton.

banjosignal.cmyk9. Banjo Signal
The railroad switch invented by Middlebury graduate Thomas Seavey Hall in 1869 saved innumerable lives, warranting his induction to the Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007. The 1860s and 1870s were decades of frequent train casualties due to conductors’ inability to effectively communicate. After witnessing such accidents, Hall grew determined to invent improved signals to better alert train engineers of the presence of oncoming trains and alert travelers crossing railroad intersections. In 1869, Hall was issued a patent for a switch designed to alert train engineers of the presence of another train on a stretch of track by using electromagnetism to display a sign shaped like a banjo, Hall’s favorite instrument. Later, Hall weatherproofed the banjo switch by encasing it in a watertight enclosure to ensure proper functioning in ice and snow.

10. The Believer
First published in April 2003, The Believer is a literary magazine edited by Vendela Vida ’93, Heidi Julavits, and Andrew Leland. Published by McSweeney’s, The Believer has been described as a “utopian literary magazine” and “highbrow but delightfully bizarre,” which is probably why we love it so much. Charles Burns illustrates all of the covers and Nick Hornby, Greil Marcus, and Amy Sedaris are regular contributors.

11. Headwaters of the Mississippi River
After studying geology and mineralogy at Middlebury College, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft became one of America’s most dedicated explorers in the early 1800s. Schoolcraft led various expeditions in his native Missouri between 1818 and 1822 before being appointed superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Michigan Upper Great Lakes region by the federal government.

Schoolcraft’s most notable achievement came a decade later, in 1832, when he discovered and named the “primary source” of the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Lake Itasca, in what is now Minnesota. While it is acknowledged that later explorer Jacob Brower was able to push a little higher up to Elk Lake, thanks to a better flow level, history’s decision is indulgent of our alumnus, allowing him and Brower to keep their own crowns.

MORPHO_2P_ELITE_1door_open12. The Self-Inflating Tent
Shunning the cubicle life after graduation, Cam Brensinger ’98 started his own outdoor equipment product design firm: NEMO Equipment (originally, New England Mountain Equipment). After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2002, Brensinger began his company’s first line of products: self-inflating tents, the first of their kind.

After two years, Brensinger perfected NEMO’s AirSupported Technology. Tents using this technology have no poles, no fly, and no moving parts. Users employ small hand or foot pumps or a breathing tube to quickly and easily “inflate” the tent into a stable form; pressurized air inside high-tech fabric creates the tent’s sustainably stiff infrastructure. NEMO and the self-inflating tent met immediate and continuous success, including placement in Time magazine’s “most amazing inventions” issue in  2005.

13. 350.org
This international environmental organization was founded by Middlebury Schumann Distinguished Scholar Bill McKibben and recent grads Phil Aroneanu ’06, Will Bates ’06, Kelly Blynn ’07, May Boeve ’06, Jamie Henn ’07, Jeremy Osborn ’06, and Jon Warnow ’06 in 2008. Since then, 350.org (the number corresponds with the atmospheric CO2 parts-per-million threshold that scientists believe a livable planet cannot exceed) has grown into one of the world’s most influential environmental groups, with a global network active in nearly 200 countries and the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history to its name.

14. New Dawn High School and Library
Kennedy Mutothori Mugo ’12.5 has always perceived education as a gift to be re-gifted, rather than a means of personal advancement. In 2006, before attending college, Mugo, a native of Kenya, cofounded the New Dawn Educational Center, a high school in the Huruma slums of Nairobi that was designed to educate children otherwise unable to attend merit-based or private schools. Rather than giving up on this highly impoverished, HIV- and crime-ravaged community, Mugo saw potential in its youngest members, motivated by Ropo Oguntimehin’s famous statement, “Education is a companion which no future can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate it and no nepotism can enslave.” The school thrives today, providing residential education to approximately 160 impoverished or orphaned youth, and receives community support as a beacon of change. Mugo taught math and chemistry at the school until matriculating at Middlebury in 2009.

Mugo returned to Nairobi during the summer of 2012 with 12 Middlebury students to build a new library for the school, in collaboration with the Huruma community. The Middlebury group received a prestigious Davis Projects for Peace grant, and after raising $25,000, they were able to successfully construct the library; provide books and school materials; and conduct various musical, mural painting, and athletic workshops for local students.

800px-LincolnInauguration1861a15. An Intact Capitol Building—When the Nation Needed It Most
With the fires of a Civil War being ignited in the United States in 1861, a new building to house the U.S. Congress stood half built in the capital city of Washington, D.C. By February 1862, construction, which had started 12 years earlier, had been halted for nine and a half months. Yet a quiet move was made to restart construction on a half-built building that was serving as a symbol for a struggling nation. It was Vermont Senator Solomon Foot, Middlebury Class of 1826, as president pro tempore, who introduced a Senate resolution calling for Capitol construction to be transferred from the Corps of Engineers to the Department of the Interior.

The resolution passed in both houses with fewer than 10 votes in opposition. Construction was resumed that April.

16. Broad Street Maps
Conceived as a 2012 MiddStart project, Anna Clements’s and Hannah Judge’s organization Broad Street Maps is now internationally recognized for its work equipping grassroots health organizations with open-source mapping techniques to visualize and improve their services. Through individualized mapping projects in which they collect spatial data and combine it with existing health information to produce maps, Hannah and Anna (both ’12.5) enable small health organizations to observe the geographic distribution of their problems, and hence enact more effective, targeted services. In 2013, they completed a project in Peru, won the Schiller Cup for Entrepreneurship, and were chosen as finalists for the ITU Young Innovator Competition in Bangkok, winning $10,000.

17. The Language Schools
In 1915, Middlebury opened a German language school, becoming the first institution to employ a full-immersion-based approach to language instruction and acquisition at on-campus summer schools. Middlebury now offers intensive instruction in 10 languages (with an 11th school, Korean, set to open in 2015) during six-to-nine-week sessions. Middlebury is also the only institution to offer a Doctorate of Modern Languages, preparing teacher-scholars in two modern foreign languages.

The lifeblood and registered trademark of Middlebury’s Language Schools is the Language Pledge. The Pledge, upheld since the 1920s, binds students to use their target language exclusively through the summer; you speak English, you leave. Incomparably intense and effective, Middlebury’s immersion-based language instruction has transformed thousands into true global citizens.

18. In The Time of the Butterflies
Picking any one title from the Julia Alvarez ’71 canon to serve as her seminal work seems an impossible task; still, we believe In The Time of the Butterflies is the Dominican American author’s most influential work. The novel documents the lives of the Mirabal (code name “The Butterflies”), martyrs who founded the underground resistance cell movement in the Dominican Republic during Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorship. Captivating prose stems from intimate ties, as the secret police cracked Alvarez’s father’s resistance cell, forcing her family’s escape in 1960. The novel also inspired a 2001 feature film starring Salma Hayek and Edward James Olmos.

19. Vic Mackey
Badass LAPD detective Vic Mackey (portrayed by actor Michael Chiklis) was undeniably corrupt, but relentlessly entertaining as the protagonist of the hit television drama The Shield, which ran on FX from 2002–08. Television show producer Shawn Ryan ’88 dreamed up Mackey and the world he inhabited, giving television viewers seven seasons with an anti-hero who ranks right up there with Walter White, Tony Soprano, and Dexter Morgan as fictional creations we hate to love.

Skida_3a20. Skida
Corrine Prevot ’13 began making hats out of fun fabrics while a student at Burke Mountain Academy in 2007. During her time at Middlebury, demand for her colorful chapeaus bloomed, inspiring her to devote herself fulltime to the hat-making business after graduating in 2013. With its headquarters in Burlington, Skida is devoted to local production in northern Vermont and also supports chemotherapy patients by donating one hat to their respective cancer centers for every order submitted.

21. Dexter Morgan
Speaking of Dexter Morgan, this forensic analyst by day, serial killer of bad guys by night is also a Middlebury creation, sprung from the mind of novelist Jeff Lindsay ’75. In a 2011 profile in Middlebury Magazine, Lindsay told us that the idea for Dexter came to him while attending a mind-numbing Kiwanis luncheon in South Florida. The room was filled with real estate brokers, car salesmen, bail bondsmen, and “they’re talking and shaking hands—totally phony, annoying behavior—talking with food in their mouths, la la la la, handing out their business cards, and the idea popped into my head that serial murder was not always a bad idea.”

Lindsay has written seven novels with Dexter Morgan as the protagonist. A television series based on Lindsay’s first Dexter novel aired on Showtime for eight seasons.

22. Personal Finance
Jane Bryant Quinn ’60, a financial journalist, has been doling out personal finance advice for more than 40 years, empowering millions of Americans to take control of and better understand their financial lives. One of the codevelopers of the financial planning software Quicken, Quinn wrote columns for Newsweek, Bloomberg.com, Good Housekeeping, and the Washington Post Writers Group, while also commenting for CBS, PBS, and ABC.

23. Muggle Quidditch
Inspired by the fictional sport created by J. K. Rowling in her Harry Potter book series, Muggle Quidditch was born at an Atwater lunch table in the fall of 2005. A group of Middlebury students, led by Xander Manshel ’09, were bored and looking for something fun to do on a Sunday afternoon. That October, the first Quidditch match was played on Battell Beach, and a month later a seven-team tournament was held. Two years later, a group of Vassar students wanted in on the action and showed up on campus for what would be dubbed the first Quidditch World Cup. Since then, the sport has been featured on television (MTV), in international newspapers (Wall Street Journal), and on the silver screen (The Internship), while expanding well beyond Middlebury. The 2011 World Cup was held in New York City’s Randall’s Island, with 96 teams participating. In 2012, teams from Australia, Canada, France, the U.K., and the U.S., traveled to Oxford, England, for the first truly international Cup. Teams must now qualify, in regional tournaments, for the World Cup, and last year’s winner was the first team not to come from Middlebury.

The University of Texas captured the 2013 crown; to commemorate the title, the university illuminated its iconic Main Building, an honor traditionally given to recognize NCAA conference championships.

24. Self-Reliance
In 2011, Middlebury College became the first undergraduate liberal arts college ever selected to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon. The Solar Decathlon is a prestigious biennial international competition challenging 20 collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and aesthetically pleasing.

Team Middlebury consisted of 100 students from more than 25 academic disciplines—think psychology, environmental studies, economics, as Middlebury, unlike most of its competitors, offers no graduate architecture or engineering programs. In true Vermont fashion, the team designed and constructed Self-Reliance, a solar-powered 21st-century farmhouse for the 2011 competition. Self-Reliance placed fourth overall, won the communications contest, and now serves as on-campus student housing. Team Middlebury competed again in 2013. Their house, InSite, impressively placed eighth overall.

25. True Love!
Mathematician Chris McKinlay ’01 was a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley when he hacked the online dating site OKCupid and reverse engineered its matching algorithms to find the girl of his dreams. He’s written a book about the effort and was profiled in Wired magazine. And yes, he’s engaged to the woman he met through his hacking efforts.

26. Dispatch
UVM may claim Phish, but we’ve got our own acoustic-funk music phenomenon. Brad Corrigan ’96, Pete Francis ’99, and Chad Urmston ’98 formed the band Dispatch when they were students in the late-90s, redefining reggae-infused rock with albums such as Bang Bang  and Four-Day Trials.

Though they officially disbanded in 2002, the group has staged frequent reunion shows, including three in 2007 that sold out Madison Square Garden. Reunion tours have subsequently reoccurred over the past three years, leading one to surmise that Dispatch is as busy or busier “in retirement” than it was during its first go around.

27. Superconducting Tape
Among other things, Mark Benz ’56, a chemistry major while at Middlebury, is the inventor of a strong and highly flexible superconducting tape, which is the basis for commercial superconducting magnet systems. Mark is also the coinventor of General Electric’s  process for making the world’s strongest permanent magnets. He holds 31 U.S. patents in the development of superconducting materials, spray-forming methods for super alloys, refractory metals, and high-temperature composites.

Vagina_Monologues_Poster28. The Vagina Monologues
Many Middlebury grads take creative risks, but few are quite as provocative as Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues. Breaking taboos to advocate feminism and voice the realities of female sexuality and abuse, Ensler ’75 interviewed 200 woman in the mid-1990s, asking, “What would your vagina say if it could talk?” The interviews touched on themes such as sex, love, rape, menstruation, female genital mutilation, masturbation, birth, and orgasm: femininity, as experienced through the vagina.

Ensler wrote the first draft of the play in 1996, the same year it won an Obie Award for Best Play after opening in New York City. The episodic play consists of a series of monologues read by various women (originally Ensler performed all monologues), inspired by the 200 interviews she conducted. All monologues expose normally clandestine aspects of the female experience, recurrent themes including the vagina as a means of female empowerment and an embodiment of individuality. Since its debut, the play has been translated into 35 languages and has been performed worldwide.

29. Seven Days
For those who see no future in print journalism or who have signaled the death knell for alternative newsweeklies, we point you toward Seven Days, the Burlington, Vermont-based alt-weekly that is the talk of the industry.

Founded by Paula Routly ’82 and Pamela Polston in 1995, Seven Days was recently talked up by James Fallows of The Atlantic (“Strange Days in the North Country: A Profitable Print Newspaper”) and is thriving as part of a media company (Da Capo Publishing) that also includes a parenting magazine, an airport magazine, a restaurant and entertainment guide, a city guide, and a technology career fair. And having a bunch of Midd alums, in addition to Routly, on the newspaper’s masthead (Don Eggert ’98, associate publisher and creative director; Xian Chiang-Waren ’11, staff writer; Kathryn Flagg ’08, staff writer; Megan James ’06, staff writer; Andrea Suozzo ’09, digital editor; and Sarah Tuff ’95, contributing writer) only increases our level of admiration for the lively pub.

30. Seeds of Peace
Seeds of Peace is a youth organization that brings young leaders from areas of conflict— across the Middle East, South Asia, Cyprus, and the Balkans—to its international camp in Maine, where they confront their prejudice and tackle the issues at home with each other and professional facilitators. Founded by the late John Wallach ’64, Seeds of Peace also provides regional programs to support its graduates, known as Seeds, once they return to their home countries.

31. Ice
Alexander Catlin Twinning, professor of mathematics, civil engineering, and astronomy at Middlebury from 1839 to 1849, went on to invent a machine that could manufacture ice in commercial quantities.

32. Danforth Pewter
Fred Danforth ’72, a direct descendant of an influential metalsmithing family of the 18th and 19th centuries, revived the family tradition with his wife, Judi Danforth, when he established Danforth Pewter in Middlebury in 1975.

Although drawn to the abstract concepts found in philosophy as a student, Danforth learned that physical activity freed his mind. Over the next 39 years, the business has grown from a two-person shop to a company with national distribution.

Alan_Alda_Hawkeye_MASH33. Hawkeye Pierce
Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, MD, the M*A*S*H protagonist made famous first by Donald Sutherland in the Robert Altman feature film and later by Alan Alda (above left) in the long-running television series, owes his existence to W. C. Heinz ’37 and H. Richard Hornberger.

Heinz and Hornberger, writing under the pseudonym Richard Hooker, coauthored MASH: A Novel about Three Army Doctors in 1968. Using outrageous humor to capture the absurdity of war, the book introduced characters such as Pierce, Trapper John McIntyre, Radar O’Reilly, Lt. Col. Henry Blake, Father Mulcahy, and others who would all appear on the silver screen and television sets for the next two decades.

34. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
This holiday classic, made famous by Bing Crosby, was written by James Kimball Gannon, Class of 1924. Gannon actually left Middlebury after his freshman year, but he thought so fondly of his time at the College that his will stipulated that 21 percent of annual royalties generated by this song be donated to Middlebury.

35. 826 Valencia
At 826 Valencia Street in San Francisco, California, tucked between a cooperative art gallery and a zakka shop, stands a pirate supply store. And like any good pirate shop, treasures can be found if you know where to look. The crown jewel of 826 Valencia is a writing lab—one that just may be the most innovative and influential writing lab ever created.

Drawn from the creative minds of educator Nínive Calegari ’93 and writer Dave Eggers, 826 Valencia has evolved from a small writing center for underserved kids into a nonprofit organization with seven other chapters found around the United States.

With different storefronts, such as Space Travel Supply Co., Robot Supply and Repair Store, and the Boring Store, each branch of 826 similarly serves as the writing and tutoring center for local students, helping them explore their creativity and improve their writing skills. By 2011–12, the centers had served more than 30,000 students and 900 teachers.

36. School of Leadership, Afghanistan
Cofounded by Shabana Basij-Rasikh ’11, SOLA is a nonprofit educational institution serving a new generation of Afghan women in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Today, women constitute more than 50 percent of Afghanistan’s population, yet the existing education system has not met their needs for a generation. In 2007, only 6 percent of Afghan women aged 25 or older had ever received a formal education; and only 12 percent of women aged 15 or older were literate.

Students at SOLA receive academic, financial, and personal support to study at competitive schools abroad. SOLA also helps returning graduates to secure public and private sector opportunities in Afghanistan.

37. The Best Tradition in College Sports
As Rick Reilly, then a columnist for Sports Illustrated, so aptly wrote in 2003: “The best college tradition is not dotting the i at Ohio State. It’s not stealing the goat from Navy. Or waving the wheat at Kansas. It’s Picking Up Butch at Middlebury College.”

“Butch” is Butch Varno, the Middlebury man with cerebral palsy who has been a fixture at Panther football and basketball games for more than 50 years. The tradition of “picking up Butch”—a description with both literal and figurative meanings—began on one snowy late-fall day in 1960, when Middlebury student Roger Ralph ’63 encountered Varno’s grandmother struggling to push her grandson’s wheelchair down a slushy sidewalk following a football game.  Ralph stopped his car, offered his assistance, and drove the two home. Before the next game, he returned to the Varno household to pick Butch up. And students—basketball players for football games and football players for hoops contests—have been doing so ever since.

Following Reilly’s column, the world was given entrée to a story that has been part of the Middlebury narrative for quite some time. Picking up Butch has now been the subject of an Emmy Award-winning ESPN documentary, a Boston Globe Magazine story, and a CBS Sunday Morning feature.

38. InStyle  
In 1993, while overseeing day-to-day operations at People magazine, publishing executive Ann Williams Jackson ’74 began working on InStyle, a new spin-off celebrity-lifestyle publication

An English major at Middlebury, Jackson joined Time Inc. in 1977 as a financial analyst. She climbed the corporate ladder, working at Money magazine, Sports Illustrated, and then People. As the founding publisher of InStyle, Jackson helped launch one of the most successful fashion magazines found on newsstands today.

39. The Ability to Track that Asteroid Hurtling Toward Earth
A planetary scientist and manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Don Yeomans ’64 was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2013—for a very good reason. Dubbed the “Asteroid Hunter” by Time, Yeomans is the guy who will raise the alarm if the shattered remnant of a planet is getting a little too close for Earth’s comfort.

40. The Legislative Teller
Enos Stevens, Middlebury Class of 1838, was a tinkerer and American inventor with several inventions to his name. He devised a system of musical notation and created an apparatus for automatically recording atmospheric changes. Yet the Stevens invention we choose to highlight here is the legislative teller, a mechanical vote counter, which was used in the United States Congress in 1856.

41. Documenting the Downfall of a Dictator
In 1970, Sandra Burton ’63 became the first woman to be named a correspondent for Time magazine. Thirteen years later, she was the first reporter to tell the world of the assassination of Benigno Aquino, who was mounting a political challenge to Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Far from ending the nascent democratic threat, Marcos’s death order hastened his demise. Aquino’s widow, Corazon, picked up the mantle and subsequently defeated Marcos to become the democratically elected president of the Philippines.

42. Sustainable Jungle Bliss
Tamara Jacobi ’06.5 wrote the business plan for the Tailwind Jungle Lodge in a J-term course and then promptly moved to Mexico after graduation to put her plans into action.

A year later, she was hosting her first guests at Tailwind, a collection of sustainably designed bungalows, palapas, and casitas perched on five acres of dense jungle ridges, which drop to secluded white-sand beaches. In 2009, Tailwind became the first certified sustainable eco-lodge in Mexico.

43. Winter Carnival
With its founding in 1923, Middlebury’s winter carnival holds claim to the oldest student-run carnival in the nation. Ski races, snow-sculpture contests, fireworks, concerts, bonfires, and the annual winter ball are all indispensable parts of this 91-year-old tradition.

44. The Ben and Jerry’s Cow
You know that iconic image, right? That painting of the black-and-white Holstein cows scattered about a green pasture, a blue sky, dotted with white marshmallow-shaped clouds? The image found on every Ben and Jerry’s pint or truck or retail store? That’s the work of Woody Jackson ’70.

This now-trademarked image, the black-and-white Holstein, made its debut in a 1974 show at the College’s art gallery, a show called simply “Cows.” In 1983, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield commissioned Jackson to create the design for their young ice cream company.

Remembering Matthew Power

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
When my e-mail inbox pinged at around ten o’clock on the morning of March 11, alerting me to a message from David Bain with the subject line “FW: Matt Power,” I smiled and wondered what adventure the intrepid journalist had embarked on now. David’s opening words—“devastating news”—stopped me cold.

Matthew Power had died at the age of 39.

I did not know Matt well. We had met at Bread Loaf about 10 years ago and had subsequently bumped into each other a couple of times. No matter where his reporting travels had taken him—Iceland, Cambodia, South Sudan, Tasmania—he always seemed to find his way back to the mountain and the Writers’ Conference each summer, where he was a tuition scholar in 2004 and a guest lecturer ever since. While Matt was at home in the world—more at ease in the most uncomfortable situations than anyone I know—Middlebury was his home. He was raised in Cornwall and educated at Middlebury Union High School and Middlebury College, Class of 1996; Addison County seemed to be the perfect place to incubate what Matt described as “childhood fantasies of having an adventurous life.” Fantasy became reality, but unlike those who get the wanderlust bug and never look back, Matt’s perpetual motion allowed, always, for moments in Vermont, moments cherished by family and friends and those who just wanted to be in his orbit.

People like me.

In the weeks following Matt’s passing, I had conversations with alumni journalists who were close friends of his. Some were contemporaries, folks from his class or classes adjacent, but far more were 10 or even 15 years younger. And they all shared common stories. They didn’t come to Middlebury because of Matt, but they all left wanting to do what he did. Not only were they inspired by his example, but they were beneficiaries of what friend Abe Streep ’04 has described as his “relentless generosity,” his ability to connect, to empathize, to encourage.

Matt is gone, leaving this Earth far too soon, yet he lives on through so many others—people we know and people we will never meet. For those feeling his loss most acutely, I hope there’s some solace in knowing this.