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I was very pleased when first-year student Sayre Weir accepted my invitation to participate in a student-life panel at the trustee retreat, to offer her early impressions about the College. And I am delighted that Sayre has decided to share this experience with the Middlebury community as guest blogger this week. As always, I look forward to hearing your comments and thoughts.
—Shirley M. Collado 

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak on a student-life panel at the trustee retreat. Having lived here for less than two months, I consider myself a true first-year. Whether trying desperately to memorize the locations of my classes, pondering how in the world to open my mailbox, matching dozens of names to faces, or debating the relative merits of staying up late talking to my roommate and completing tomorrow’s reading assignments, I classify myself as a typical Middlebury freshman, slightly overwhelmed by new demands and the constant buzz of activity, yet enthused by my new classes and new friendships. My initial experiences on campus supplied me with ample inspiration to dust off a pair of heels from the recesses of my closet and to share my impressions and opinions of life as a first-year at Middlebury with the trustees. While I originally believed I would attend this retreat to give the trustees a glance into my chaotic journey as a first-year student, I also left the retreat with an unexpected sneak-peek into my future as a member of the Middlebury community.

The daylong retreat was structured so that the trustees could observe the progressive journey of students during their time at Middlebury. Luckily for me, this meant I spoke first and then enjoyed the rest of the day listening to upperclassmen detail their varied Middlebury experiences. Aside from sneaking out a couple of times to attend class (self-consciously noting the abnormally loud clink-clank of my heels echoing in the halls of Axinn), I relished a day of pure absorption in my surroundings and the opportunity to learn even more about the rich tapestry of student life at Middlebury.

The students spoke genuinely and honestly during their panel presentations, a fact that surprised and impressed me. While they raved about their love of the College, they also openly expressed their doubts and concerns and noted areas where they sought social and academic improvements for the school. Recognizing room for improvement and discussing struggles is a healthy and productive process for any institution. Dedicating an entire panel to challenges that students face illustrated to me that Middlebury truly cares about the student body and strives to mend the problems that we may face.

Along with discussions of challenges, the students also shared with the trustees what distinguishes Middlebury and what makes their time here wonderful. As a freshman who has yet to experience her first set of final exams (yikes!?!), it was mildly intimidating to listen as upperclassmen summarized their various achievements. At the same time, it was invigorating and motivated me to be more engaged in the Middlebury community. Stories of juniors studying abroad, accomplishments of current seniors, and exciting new jobs for recent graduates granted me a glance at the many directions that my journey may take as a Middlebury student.

After a morning and afternoon of compelling dialogue about the school, we all gathered for dinner and an evening of casual conversation at Atwater dining hall. During the day, I learned about the multifaceted Middlebury student experience.  That evening, however, I began to appreciate a longer-term, more comprehensive view of the Middlebury community. Whether it was a table conversation about new grandchildren or hiking trips to Snake Mountain, discussion about my transition from North Carolina to Vermont, or group reminiscences about adventures in college, it was clear to me that there was a shared appreciation and love for Middlebury—for its campus, its students, its community. The fact that students, trustees, staff, and graduates gathered together and conversed about their special connection to this special place, while simultaneously discussing how to expand its opportunities and address its issues demonstrates the commitment to excellence found here at Middlebury.

At the end of a day dedicated to listening to and interacting with my peers, trustees, and administrators, I kicked off those heels and knew that the passion and community we feel as students here on campus extends miles and years beyond our time here. I am excited to be a part of it.

5 Responses to “Glad I Brought My Heels: A First-Year’s Day at the Trustee Retreat”

  1. Addi DiSesa says:

    Awesome, Sayre. Super jealous you’re still a lil’ firsty.

  2. Rhiya Trivedi says:

    Hey Sayre – we’ve never met, but I’m super stoked about this post, and to know that you’re feeling welcome in and excited about this community. As someone currently on their way out of Middlebury, and a Senior Fellow in the Admissions Office, trying desperately to convince prospective students to come here, I can look back and see a lot of truth in the community ethic that you teased out of the Trustee Meetings.

    But I’m also curious to hear about what some of the “social improvements” student sought for the school were. I’ve been thinking lately that despite the phenomenal quality of our education, and the ever-increasing diversity of background and perspective that populates this campus, we don’t learn nearly as much from each other as we could.

    My concern stems from how busy people are with some of the commitments you mention (class, extra-curriculars, athletics, etc.). I worry that we do not have the time to truly get to know one another and discuss the various challenges, biases, and exclusionary rhetoric and action we all encounter and espouse, whether we are athletes who feel pigeonholed by the assumptions of other students, or financial-aid recipients affected by the extreme monetary privilege of others. I worry that we all see the world in very distinct, sometimes problematic ways, but we rarely are given the opportunity to sit down and truly establish understanding between one another.

    I hope that some of these things were discussed at the meetings. I’m part of a growing group of students working to increase the acceptability and feasibility of really learning from each other and confronting each other; if you or anyone else is interested in helping out let me know.

  3. Sayre Weir says:

    Rhiya, thanks for the comment. At the Retreat there was definitely discussion about how busy and involved the student body is. One panelist talked about how the weekends are times to work but also to step back from the chaos of our academic schedules and get to know our peers. However, with the stricter Public Safety regulations this semester like a limit to the number of people in a social house, students are getting turned away from parties (which I hear is unlike past years). Reconsidering restrictions that limit social opportunities where students can meet each other was one of the “social improvements” proposed at the Retreat.

    Also, I see what you are saying about students being so busy that we sacrifice time simply to get to know each other to finish that 10-pager. However, I believe that the extra-curriculars and social organizations that we join are ways in which we can connect with the people around us. I am participating in a Middlebury Alternative Break Trip to El Paso, TX this coming February break, and my group has met on a couple occasions to get to know each other. The students on this trip are from all over the world, and I already feel that I’m getting to know them and am connecting and learning from the group. I am also sure that as we continue to meet, we will delve into the serious and timely topic of immigration and will listen to and question each others’ opinions.

    I am also baking for the Ross Fireplace Cafe every few Thursdays. Through this commitment, I have developed friendships with a handful of people with a shared interest in baking. While waiting for pumpkin bread to rise in the oven takes time, we talk about topics beyond the ordinary, ‘where are you from/what classes are you taking/which Commons are you in’ introductory conversations.

    At September Orientation this year, one of the most valuable pieces of advice I was given was to schedule unscheduled time into my agenda so that I could enjoy spending time just getting to know the people around me. Even if we are extremely busy, we are constantly around people at lunch tables, in our dorms, and in whichever social organizations or special-interest groups we may be apart of. I believe that the more time that we spend with these people, the deeper conversation and greater understanding of each other will come, and that we just have to be open to participating in this discussion.

    I hope this helps.

  4. I doubt that there isn’t a video documentation of the event? Since if there is, your loyal readers, such as myself, would gladly appreciate it!

    Videos are an easier way of communicating your thoughts rather than just plain ‘ol text. But you have to bear with me here, I’ve read the whole post. Just want to save other’s the time and trouble, if they don’t have either of those at their disposal.

  5. Oh I remember the last time I attended a trustee retreat, we had such fun and learning experience that time too as we have had plenty of good speakers. I could only imagine what you must have felt that time, being able to speak in front of an audience who had their earns all on you. Even if it must be overwhelming at first, it will always be well worth it.

    There’s nothing more priceless than having yourselve considered as a student life hero because of that one line you said at a speech. So priceless!

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