It’s hard to believe that I will soon finish my first year as dean of the College. Last September, I said in this blog that coming back to Middlebury felt like coming home. And now, after months of incredibly rewarding work, I wake up every day knowing that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing and that I’m very fortunate to be doing it here.
In a couple of weeks, I will read the names of the graduating class in my first Middlebury commencement. This means much more to me than simply reading a list. I’ve had the opportunity this year to learn many of the personal stories that form our students’ lives, characters, and choices. I’ve learned how students came to be here, what they had hoped for, are hoping for still, and what they and their families have sacrificed in order for them to attend Middlebury. And I understand what it means to call students up on stage, knowing that their loved ones are watching as they move into the next phase of their lives.
I was delighted recently to hear more students’ stories during the process of choosing the senior commencement speaker. A number of seniors auditioned before a group of students chosen by the Senior Committee. They delivered speeches reflecting on their Middlebury experience and sharing significant thoughts with their classmates. Their addresses were funny, personal, political, and dramatic, and they proved again how smart and thoughtful our students are.
Statistics are often used to describe a graduating class. But these form only a snapshot of our complex community—like one page in a family photo album. Each page offers a glimpse of the family, but it takes all of the pictures and the reminiscences and the stories to get a sense of what that family is like. In 2007 when the current seniors arrived on campus, they represented 42 countries, 47 states, and composed one of the most diverse classes in Middlebury history. That’s one view of this class. But there is much more—the gradations of experience, brain power, creativity, and personal grit that each person brought to this campus over the last four years will continue to be a part of Middlebury for years to come and will fashion our collective sense of who we are
Although the graduating seniors will leave something of themselves behind at Middlebury, they will also take Middlebury with them. When they connect with other Middlebury people in the workforce and elsewhere, they will be part of an organic, worldwide network, formed in common experience. And when they return—as many, many do—to be refueled by this place, to visit with favorite professors, to tour campus with their loved ones—the connections become even stronger.
I didn’t graduate from Middlebury, yet I started the year feeling that I had returned home. I believed that there is something woven into the Middlebury environment that gives us that feeling. Isn’t it telling that in the span of four years, people can come to feel that this is home? It is my hope that every student walking across that stage on May 22, 2011, will feel that this is a home they are leaving and can return to time and time again.