We asked alumni returning to celebrate Reunion to tell us one thing they just had to see when they came back to Middlebury.
At this year’s Reunion, MiddMag recruited a group of alums at the Saturday evening dinner to tell us one thing they just had to see when they came back for Reunion. Here’s what they told us:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.”
Trees connect us in many ways—through life, shade, a place to lean and sit under. Class trees are connected memories, bundles not of neurons and blood, but marking with rings and twigs the experiences of four years at Middlebury, a snapshot in time. Looking at class tree makes you think of your time in Middlebury, and your life during the time of that class.
Even before the discussion of where the tree would be and what type, I’d already picked one I thought would be perfect, and the request of having a Vermont Maple aligned perfectly. It’s a Sugar maple, grown by my good friend V.J. Comai at the South 40 nursery in Charlotte, and was planted 3 years ago.
My first summer here I was out in front of the Davis Family Library mapping the trees in the Library Quad. Collectively some of our oldest trees on campus, they are also the most stressed, with years of soil compaction wreaking havoc on fragile root systems. A professor came up to me, to this day I don’t know who, but he undoubtedly taught some of the students in this class. He asked what I was doing.
I explained how I was mapping trees, assessing health and measuring, and he asked if there were plans to plant more trees in this quad. I said most certainly, and showed him some of the weaker old trees nearby, and told him how it was much easier to remove a dying tree if the replacement tree was planted nearby and already well established. He then asked if I was going to keep the original line of trees, and fill some of the holes.
I had no idea what he was talking about. The trees in this quad are scattershot throughout, in random locations in between the uneven lawn shapes formed by the sidewalks. When the new library was constructed, many of the sidewalks were re-done in the library quad. At present, they are graceful swooping curves connecting the various destinations, such as Old Chapel, the library, Emma Willard, and Warner Science and Starr Library.
He points, and I look, and then finally see how many of the trees in the quad aren’t random, but demark a sidewalk long gone, connecting the south (front) door of Warner to the north (again front) door of what we now call Starr/Axinn. The old sugar maples lined the walk, and reading the landscape history, it was clear where some trees were removed, and needed to be replaced. The line is like a hidden Easter egg, a subtle reminder in the landscape of the past that many of us here don’t even know, a past the graduated class looking for a new tree took for granted as they walked on the now removed sidewalk from class to library.
I’ll be placing this plaque in the ground, looking down the row of trees, and thinking about what I was doing while these students were walking the long gone sidewalk. I was failing naptime in preschool.
My preschool was in a church basement, with a painted concrete floor reminiscent of the tile in the church upstairs, but harder, colder. Naptime means we bring out our blankets mom brought the first day of the year, and we place them out in neat rows, lay down for a half hour or so, and probably give the workers there a much needed break. My blanket had developed a hole, and my mom brought it home the previous night, sewn a patch over, and hung it back up on the rack as she dropped me off.
I lay my blanket out on the floor. There’s the patch I’m seeing for the first time, a large, black, hairy spider right where the hole used to be.
Screaming, tears, running, and no nap. For anybody.