Last Firsts

Hello y’all!

My name is Steve, and it’s great to introduce myself, I am finishing up my last first month of school and am very excited for the coming school year. As a senior it is a tradition to reflect on the last three years and create a bucket list of all the fall/winter/spring activities I have yet to conquer. I decided that this year I want to share with you my entire senior bucket list which is a combination of very Middlebury and Vermont activities that have yet to accomplish in my time here.

Bucket List:

Fall:

-Apple picking

-Swim Belden falls

-Hike Camels Hump

-Breadloaf Stargazing

-Visit the Montpelier

-Finish the book East of Eden

Winter:

-Learn to Ski

-Dog Sledding

-Snow Shoe the TAM

-Read two none academic books during J-term

Spring:

-Camp out in the Organic Farm

-Spend a day in Montreal

-Visit the State Capital building in Montpellier

-Enter in the Middlebury Chili Festival

-Go on a sunrise hike

I think these goals are all super manageable and really span everything from things I’d love to see myself doing in life in general that would be fun, but also Vermont specific activities that seem super finite at this point during senior year. I hope to be held to these goals and I’ll check on in with y’all on these goals are being met.

Bittersweet: Suits and T-Shirts

I can remember freshman year, navigating a brand new social climate, introducing myself over and over again, trying to achieve the college version of myself that I had always pictured and getting a feel for my new home. I look back at sophomore year – making new choices, regretting them, learning, growing and  accepting that friends were becoming family. My junior year brought new responsibilities, freedom, introduction of life decisions, and the solidification of who I was on this campus. And now senior year… a year where I find myself looking back while still experiencing Midd. A year in which every moment I spend with my friends, my new family, is bittersweet as I wonder where we will all be next year. I watch as my friends, usually clad in ill fitting old tshirts and flip flops, walk confidently in dress shoes and suits as they attend interviews. The breakfast conversations have shifted from stresses about classes to pragmatic discussion of the future. As I go through this year I find myself analyzing all of the amazing ways that Middlebury has helped me grow into the person I am today and given my the opportunities to think critically and fully about the world that I will be entering into. I know that I will miss my experience here and that my college family will be spread throughout the US and overseas next year, but it is felt with a sense of gratitude for my experiences and hope that I will be able to put the Middlebury stamp on whatever I do after.  I want to live in the moment during my last year here, for I am currently living the final 25% of my college experience. I watch the leaves change and the gorgeous fall foliage transform the campus and I smile. I smile a smile that is wrapt by its beauty and is aware that this is my fourth and final time starting a new year at Middlebury – incredibly excited and nervous about what this year and my next chapter will bring.

Lights…Camera…Action?

Hair. Make up. Costume. Poses? Different costume? Fix hair. More makeup. Different costume, again?

Every year, the Middlebury Dance Department puts on a photo shoot for all majors and minors in the department.  It’s an exciting time to work with a photographer who really knows dancers.  It’s also a time filled with indecision.  As I walked into the costume closet–hair a mess, makeup only half plastered on my face–I had absolutely no idea where to begin.  I’m almost certain some of those costumes have been in that closet since before I was born.  There was everything from silver unitards to oversized red blazers to dresses only a barbie could fit into, and I wasn’t interested in any of it.  Did I want to look pedestrian or full on diva?  Use the clothes I brought or be completely transformed?  And for heaven’s sake, what was I going to do with my hair?  It’s amazing how quickly such trivial questions became so vitally important when there’s a camera involved.

I was at the shoot with the three other senior dance majors, who were also trying on and throwing off costumes at an alarming rate.  Each of us was to decide what our solo shoot would look like, but also how we wanted to look for our shoot as a group.  Here we were, four very different dancers with four very different bodies, all trying to look like we fit together.  There were some serious, and thankfully some not-so-serious, decisions to be made.  Ultimately, we decided we would all don jumpsuits of varying colors.  My first thought: you want me to dance in this thing?

Once we were all together and under the lights, I had a second thought: this might be kind of neat.  I had done the shoot the year before but only as a soloist.  For the most part, solo shoots are all basically the same, because I know how I dance and what it feels like to be in front of the camera.  Shooting, and more specifically moving, as a group would prove to be an entirely new and surprisingly rewarding experience.  None of us knew where to begin, but we knew we had to start dancing eventually.

What happens when you put four dancers with different backgrounds in jumpsuits and tell them to move?  They move!  Although our collaboration typically starts and ends with us all being in the same room for technique class, there was a mutual understanding of each other’s strengths as both people and dancers that allowed us to create some truly beautiful images.  It was surprising how well we knew each other and were able to respond to each other’s movement.  All having to overcome the awkwardness of the clunky jumpsuits gave us a common enemy, and this created a level of comfort with each other we had never been able to achieve before.  At first, we were afraid to even get close to each other, but as the shoot progressed, we learned how to lean on each other for both moral and “oh my gosh, stay still, please don’t let me fall over” support.

Having completed both sessions, I can now say the group shoot actually taught me more about who I am as a dancer than did my solo shoot.  Being me is pretty familiar, but being me in a jumpsuit with other three other dance majors, that’s a whole other story.

Wonderland

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Almost instantly after we finished our ascent, the forest had transformed itself into a sunlight grove with golden leaves swaying from every tree branch. My friends and I peered around in awe as if we had just stumbled upon Wonderland. Could this be real? We hurried through the cover of the glimmering leaves to the vista below.

As I sat on Rattlesnake Cliff looking down at Lake Dunmore, the Champlain Valley, and the distant Adirondacks, I feel absolutely at peace. After a week of dismal gray clouds, the skies opened up and gave us the most glorious fall week I’ve ever had at Middlebury. Maybe the advent of my last year at Middlebury had inspired a particularly deep connection to the fall colors. But I knew I had to be out amongst the trees during this spectacular weekend.

As we climbed the two miles up to the top of the cliffs, conversation bounced between relationship questions, post-grad exploration and travel plans. I had done this same hike almost exactly two years. As sophomores, the conversation felt more frenzied and hurried. We were all still establishing ourselves on campus—contemplating majors, navigating the workload, giggling about the night before. But now, our conversation felt settled and relaxed even though we are facing even more uncertainty than at any other point at Middlebury. We felt no urgency to fix each other’s problems like we had in the past. We simply walked and talked and shared.

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Listening to Paul Simon and Stevie Nicks, we drove home past cow pastures and a dipping pink sun, and I thought about my goals for the semester. For my Social/Emotional Development class in the Psychology department, our professor asked us to create three goals for the semester. They needed to be specific, measurable, and attainable. I knew I definitely wanted to have a post-grad goal (talk to a professional in my desired field once a week, spend two hours a week doing research, etc.). But I also wanted to create Social and Emotional goals, something that I could reflect on through my life at Middlebury but also through my coursework. I wanted more moments like this, where I felt totally at peace. As if I was in the exact place I was supposed to be at the exact time. A natural fixer, I decided I should focus on actively listening to friends without trying to intervene as we all did on the hike. Additionally, I wanted to do more to engage in Vermont before I leave. I hope to get off campus at least once a week, preferably without a plan, and head off to enjoy the beauty around me. I want to immerse myself fully in Middlebury and Vermont before I leave.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll magically stumble upon another forest from Wonderland.

 

Time for a Thesis

Last week, all seniors received an email from the library staff encouraging students to sign up for a senior thesis carrel.  A thesis carrel is a small desk on the upper or lower levels of the library which senior thesis writers can reserve for the semester.

This sign-up email made me realize that I was about to embark on an academic project I had been anticipating almost since the start of my time at Middlebury.  During this fall semester and Winter Term, I will be writing a History thesis.  For some reason, as I read through this email, it struck me how near I am to finishing my majors (History and Political Science), and how much academic work I’ve progressed through at Middlebury.  At Middlebury, some majors require a thesis, some majors require it only if a student wants to receive departmental honors, but almost all departments require some form of senior work or capstone project.

There is a typical life cycle to a thesis carrel throughout the year.  Invariably, while writing a thesis, students acquire a stack of books and papers that pile on the carrel.  Printed out rough drafts with edits marked in pen cover the desk.  Post-it notes with encouraging messages from friends appear on the carrel’s upper shelf.  Empty coffee mugs dot the rows of carrels.

I took a course designed to prepare History majors for the thesis during the fall of my junior year, when I wrote a 30-page research paper on 1890s Malawi.  This junior thesis was a great way to get experience in finding primary sources.  It also introduced me to the fantastic staff in our library and the College Archives.  The librarians can help you find information on seemingly every topic under the sun.  Even History topics that seem very far removed from Vermont and the United States (like Malawi or the Ottoman Empire) are accessible thanks to the help of the library staff.

Getting to claim a carrel for my senior thesis makes it feel like I am graduating from an introductory thesis to the real deal. As a History and Political Science double major, I have been thinking about how I can craft a thesis that has a focus on an international relations or political institutions theme.  I returned relatively recently from Turkey, where I spent the spring semester of my junior year abroad in Istanbul.  The courses I took at a university there have influenced my thinking on a thesis topic, and as I write this I hope to research a topic that has to do with the 19th-century Ottoman Empire.

It is an extraordinary thing to be an undergraduate and have the opportunity to work closely with a professor to do original research on a topic.  I am grateful for my adviser’s assistance and will no doubt rely on his expertise in historical inquiry as I begin the marathon that is a senior thesis.

A typical History thesis is between 60-70 pages, and the scale of the project can seem daunting.  But when I think ahead to the books and research, I am not so much nervous as I am excited.  I can’t wait to get started.

A Self-Proclaimed MiddCOREr

Like most Middlebury students, I’ve been developing an ongoing bucket-list in my head since my first day at Middlebury. And like most seniors, I am now hyper-aware of the time restrictions with which I need to complete my bucket-list. I haven’t been procrastinating too much; throughout my time at Middlebury I’ve been checking off these items one by one. Maple Run – check. Spend a summer in Middlebury – check. Sunrise hike – eh, close enough. Tell a story at the Moth – this Thursday! MiddCORE – umm…

For those of you who don’t know, “MiddCORE is a mentorship-driven, experiential-learning program that builds skills, creates opportunities, and expands networks for tomorrow’s leaders and innovators.” More simply: MiddCORE is a class you can take during January term (J-term). From my limited understanding of what MiddCORE actually is, I would describe it as an intensive training in real-world problem solving using a liberal-arts mindset. I realize that is equally as vague, so this is where I direct you to the link at the bottom of my post to learn more.

I have never taken MiddCORE (hence my umm…) and I know I won’t have the opportunity my final J-term. But it’s on my bucket-list for a reason. It’s intense, interactive, collaborative, goal-oriented, and all those other buzz words that make my (somewhat) career-driven-self salivate. I want to do MiddCORE, but I can’t.

Or so I thought.

Turns out MiddCORE hosts workshops throughout the Fall and Spring semesters. As the eager-beaver trying to plow through my bucket-list, I signed up for almost every MiddCORE workshop available this Fall, obviously thinking that by the end of the semester I could be a self-proclaimed MiddCOREr.

So first week of senior year I walk into the MiddCORE house (their headquarters) for Persuasive Speaking with Mike Kiernan. His biography online says he is an expert in “all areas related to communication” – how persuasive. If you read past the first sentence of his biography you will also learn that he has worked as a communication consultant with political candidates, physicians, and business executives. He is also a doctor. Really, there is nothing on the website that communicates how wonderful of a workshop he would host. He is a communication guru.

There were six other students in attendance for the two-hour workshop. We did all things in a circle formation, which included activities like:

  • State the energy in the circle
  • Overcome your subconscious consciousness
  • Give a pitch (these ranged from why you should eat at Proctor if you are looking for Vegan deliciousness to how to invest sustainably)
  • Listen to Mike Kiernan’s wealth of wisdom

It was a great way to kick-off the semester. Meet new people – check. Get a fix of the out-of-the-classroom learning (that happens all the time at Middlebury) – check. Practice speaking in front of strangers – check. Become a self-proclaimed MiddCOREr – almost!

Prime Time for Apple Picking!

Last week, approximately 600 first-year students along with a couple dozen transfer and exchange students arrived to Middlebury for their MiddView Orientation, participating in a variety of different on-campus activities and student-led outdoor, community service and wellness trips ranging from camping to yoga and meditation. One of my good friends, Dave Yedid, led a camping trip for new students and made strong connections with all of the participants of his trip. The day after he returned, I caught up with him on his trip in our residence hall, Munford House. After our conversation, he mentioned what a beautiful day it was outside and suddenly asked me, “Do you wanna come apple-picking with me?”

As a New Yorker transplanted to Middlebury, Vermont for several months out of the year, I am always willing to take advantage of the unique opportunities I have to be outdoors. Also, believe it or not, in my three years at Middlebury, I had never been apple picking before! So I accepted my friend’s offer and we headed over to Happy Valley Orchards, which is about a 5-minute drive from campus.

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Dave (left) and I happy to be apple picking at Happy Valley Orchards!

A self-proclaimed apple-junkie, I probably consume at least an apple a day. I love apple cider, apple turnovers, apple crisp and even sour apple candies! So it was great for me to finally go to where it all comes from (minus the sour apple candies, of course). I enjoyed walking through the field of apple trees, taste test some apples to see if they were ready for indulging and chatting with other apple pickers that afternoon.

I highly recommend to all those who visit our scenic campus in Vermont, whether that is from an urban metropolis like New York City or elsewhere, to pause and take a moment either before or after your information session and tour of Middlebury to explore all the beautiful places that surround us here. Let us know if you need any suggestions! You will be surprised by what you find.

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No apple-picking experience is complete without a dynamic jumping picture.

Welcome to the Blog!

Hello! Welcome to the Senior Admissions Fellows’ Blog. My name is Rachel, and I’m on the Senior Fellows. We’re here to tell you our stories about Middlebury. Whether you visit the college and listen to our information sessions, send questions our way, or read this blog, we’ll give you the student perspective on what it’s like to be a Midd Kid.

On this blog, you’ll find the ruminations, musings, and reflections from the nine Senior Fellows. We’ll write about our most delicious Atwater dinners, our most adventurous hikes, our most stimulating classes, and much more. We come from different places and backgrounds, and we’ll share our varying perspectives with all of you. Check this blog regularly to hear student perspectives about this campus. So, without further ado, let me give you an update…

Happy first day of school! The sun is shining, the quad is green, and the mountains look beautiful! We Senior Fellows are bustling around campus, enjoying our last first day of class. You’ll find us finishing up our majors, exploring new departments, and embarking on our capstone projects. You might also spot us reuniting with our friends and returning to our favorite haunts. We’re all still having new experiences too as we become acquainted with our new classrooms, professors, and classmates.

Personally, my year has begun with a good balance of the familiar and the newfangled. I’m living in a new building called Voter. It’s one of oldest buildings on campus, complete with built-in shelving and huge picture windows. There’s a spiral staircase in my suite! (It makes up for the small bathroom.) The five other people cohabitating with me all lived in my first-year dorm, Battell. We’ve been friends since we first started at Middlebury. My course schedule this semester includes some familiar selections too including the Senior Colloquium for my major and an English class with one of my favorite professors. I’m also trying to expand my horizons with a class on health policy, a new subject for me, and an independent study. In all, I’m looking forward to enjoying my favorite aspects of Middlebury as well as finding some new passions.

That’s all for now! I hope your first few weeks of school are going well. Don’t forget to check this blog again soon to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be a Middlebury student.

 

The Finale

For us seniors, May is a month of lasts. The last time you’ll hike snake mountain, the last time you’ll have chicken parm in proctor, the last Vermont sunrise you’ll watch over the football field before graduation. For many of our class, it’s also the end 16+ years of continuous schooling – the last time to be in a college classroom, the last paper you’ll ever write for a professor, the last exam you’ll sit in, that last powerpoint presentation.

As an environmental studies major, my last assignment at Middlebury College was a culmination of all these academic milestones. The capstone environmental studies course, called ’401′ for short after the course, always consists of a group project with a community partner focusing intensely on one particular environmentally related issue. This semester, all our projects focused on environmental innovations occurring in Rutland County, about an hour south of Midd.

Therefore, for the past semester I have been working with a group of three other students from different foci and the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL), an organization that is devoted to fostering the farm-to-plate movement in Rutland County. We ambitiously aimed to make a video for our project based on interviews we conducted with farmers, restaurant owners, chefs, hunters, anglers, even insurance agents, about their connections to food and eating local. As a result, we took upwards of 10 trips to Rutland as a group during the semester, interviewed 12 people, conducted 5 short surveys, and attended several food-related events, like the farmer’s market.

Last night, we finally had the chance to present everything we’ve worked so hard on to our community parnters at RAFFL, our professors, and the rest of the Rutland Community. We did our presentations actually in Rutland, as opposed to here at the college per usual, at the Rutland Public Library. To max out on academic potential, we presented a PowerPoint presentation, turned in a 22 page written report, made a website, and finalized and aired our video (which was so nerve-wracking it certainly felt like taking an exam!).

All in all, the feedback we received and the positive reception from our professors and community partners made the entire semester worthwhile. All the long drives and long days spent editing video footage paid off in a capstone presentation of which I am truly proud. It was an appropriately ambitious way to finish out my final semester here. I can’t believe last night I turned in my last paper, presentation, and test. All good and satisfying lasts.

Make It Happen May

It is here. This “May” that I purposefully never flipped to in my planner for fear of my eyes wandering to that highlighted box – May 25th. May means that a count down is unnecessary; the date you write down on all assignments is a constant reminder of the ticking time clock.

Here is my bucket list:

1. Dunmore Day

2. Ben and Jerry’s Factory

3. Shelburne Farms

4. Climb Camel’s Hump…and Mt. Abe….and Mt. Mansfield (sorry calves)

5. Make a pilgrimage back to old dorms with my roommate (yes, I have had the same roommate every year and am already feeling the separation anxiety)

6. Sunrise from organic garden

7. Enjoy it all (this one is easy)

The funny thing is that Middlebury has felt like one giant check off the bucket list. While here, I have done so many things I never thought I would, things I had never imagined, and things I had no idea to put on my bucket list. However, it has all fallen into place because this four year experience has been so amazing. You literally get smacked in the face with the water pouring out of the buckets you are turning over nearly every day. Is that where the phrase comes from? I should look into that.

Anywho, it is Make It Happen May. Best to-do list ever. You all best hold me to this. Yes, you, reading this.