Last week, we said goodbye to the Feb Class of 2010.5, and this week we are welcoming a new group of Febs to Middlebury. It was an honor to play a formal role in this year’s midyear celebration for the first time as dean of the College. Febs bring with them a certain energy and enthusiasm that seems to characterize the February cohort. Every time I meet Febs, I’m struck by the infectious, vibrant quality about them.
I don’t necessarily believe that Febs are inherently different from other students, but as a group they tend to bring a slightly different outlook to campus. What they have in common is that they took time off from their usual routine to push the boundaries of their lives—to experience something new, to develop a skill, or to simply become more centered.
The things the incoming Febs did between high school and coming to Middlebury are as varied as you could imagine—from working with children in Guatemala to getting Wilderness EMT certification. Some spent their time outdoors, rafting, riding horses, backpacking, or participating in ropes courses. Others took on challenging internships or lived in a foreign country. And some added something simple but satisfying to their experience, for example, one student worked for a while as a gift wrapper and can now make the “most beautiful bow.”
I’m intrigued by the idea of taking time outside of what we traditionally do to enhance our intellectual capacity, our character, and our passion around an interest. These breaks in the routine may be more important than we realize. If they can so energize Febs, they can do that for all of us.
While Febs have time set aside for risk taking and innovation, other students, faculty, and staff have similar opportunities. Students often use their summers and winter term for this purpose. They sometimes undertake an unusual internship or a significant study-abroad experience. Faculty members take leaves, during which they move their work to the next level, and they come back renewed. Staff, too, shake up their lives in similar ways. I know 50-year-olds who have gone back to school, changed careers, studied something that fascinated them. Within the institution, forward-thinking individuals have taken advantage of opportunities to switch to new jobs or acquire a different set of skills.
These “outside the box” ventures not only restore our spirit, they expand our capacity as individuals. They take us out of the comfort zones we all tend to live within and push us to test ourselves in new ways. Setting a challenge and then meeting it can be very empowering. I believe that the self-assurance and self-awareness that result are essential to living a rewarding life.
I’m curious to know whether you agree with me. Do you think more high school students should be encouraged to take time off before college? Do you feel that Middlebury provides adequate opportunities for everyone to do this type of risk taking and dreaming? And, what would you do if you could? I’d love to see a list in the comments section, outlining the aspirations and dreams of our community; what interesting, powerful, and special things are calling to you?
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