Scene on Campus: Day Five

Last night, Mead Chapel was filled nearly to capacity during an orientation program for first-year students. It will be similarly, if not more, crowded on Sunday for Convocation. And on Tuesday? Chances are folks will be turned away when Ian McEwan, perhaps the greatest living novelist, comes to read.

But this morning at 10:45, the iconic College building stands empty. Though the outside temperature is approaching 90 degrees, it is warm, but not yet hot, inside the Chapel, and the only sounds to be heard are the floorboards creaking underfoot and the distinctive yet barely audible rustling of leaves in the soft breeze outside the open windows on the building’s north side.

A walk around the main floor reveals clues to previous occupants during the past few days—a business reply card for Vermont Magazine (parent), a half-full Poland Spring water bottle resting at a 45-degree angle against a hymnal on the back of a pew (student), a to-do list—“Karl notes”—with half the items crossed off (Commons staff).

When you are alone in a place where usually you are one among hundreds, you begin to notice things that you had previously been unaware of. For instance, immediately inside the entrance to the Chapel, affixed to the walls to the immediate left and right of the towering twin wooden doors, are two bulletin boards.

One contains what you’d expect: a calendar of events to be held in Mead during the next three weeks; a list, with descriptions, of the various choirs and choruses at Middlebury; and a sign listing the steps one needs to take to reserve the space for an event or rehearsal space.

The other corkboard, however, has just one sheet of paper—a listing of all the components of the Chapel’s 1971 Gress Miles organ. That isn’t all that is attached to the board, though. Someone had both the time and occasion to pin three butterfly wings in a space where you might expect emergency exit instructions to be.

A walk up the north stairs to the balcony reveals a plaque dedicated to the memory of “the graduates and students of Middlebury College who gave their lives in The Great War, 1917–1918.” It lists nine names.

On the back or eastern wall of the balcony are two other plaques listing those from the College lost in the nation’s 19th- and 20th-century wars—Civil War (11); WWI, again (9); WWII (163), Korea (1), and Vietnam (6). And on the wall at the top of the south stairs is another Civil War memorial, this one seeming more substantial—it’s marble—than any of the others. It was given by the Class of 1904 and is “dedicated to the sons of Middlebury College who served their country, 1861–1865.”

A few steps down is a sign printed on red construction paper reminding people to turn off their cell phones.

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