75.4%

This past week, the Middlebury student body went to the polls to elect the members of next year’s Student Government Association. For 24 hours from noon on Wednesday to noon on Thursday, students logged into a website where they ranked their preferred candidates in races for SGA President, the Student Co-Chair of Community Council, representatives for their Commons and Class, and two proposed amendments to the Honor Code.  After the dust had settled on these hotly contested elections, 75.4% of the student body turned out to vote in the election, by far the highest rate in recent memory. After a year in which the issue of apathy and communication between the student body, the student government, and the College administration has been at the fore of campus conversation, this incredible turnout is an emphatic statement of how much Middkids care about what goes on in their community.

The campaigns for the SGA elections generated ample campus chatter on campus. It seemed like everywhere you went, students were asking each other: “Who are you going to vote for? What do you think of (insert your favorite candidate here)?” The buzz was partly generated by the number of candidates, 34 in total running for 15 positions, including four for President, and partly generated by who the candidates were. There were students who had been a part of the SGA since their first day at Middlebury and others who had never done anything in student government ever before. And as such, almost every social circle was brought into the election in some way, since they all had a stake not just in how the student government would affect them in the abstract, but a concrete interest in seeing a friend win a seat at the table.

My favorite moment during these elections, however, happened this past Monday evening, when the four presidential candidates and three candidates for Student Co-Chair of Community Council participated in a public debate in Crossroads Cafe. I was in charge of catering for the event and ordered refreshments for about 40-50 people, a good turnout for this kind of event in the past. Boy was I wrong! As the hour for the presidential debate creeped closer and closer, more and more students kept streaming into the space. By the time the debate began, more than 200 of us had managed to squeeze into the cafe. Every nook and cranny of the space was taken; some students leaned over railings on the second floor, others sat on the billiards table, still others stood on the stairs. And in front of that crowd, our four candidates made their case for why they should lead the SGA. They answered questions about their experience, their qualifications, and their stances on issues ranging from social life to environmental sustainability to surveillance cameras.

During the debate, I was in charge of walking around with a mike in the audience so that students could ask questions of the candidates. And as I stood amongst the crowd of students, I realized this was exactly what I imagined college would be like. If they had made a movie about the small residential liberal arts college experience, this scene would have made it into the script. In that moment, the feeling of the Middlebury community was palpable in the room and in that moment, I was so grateful to be a part of that community.

The Last Lap

Back in high school, I ran cross country and track. I was a distance runner, most of the time running the 2-mile or the 5000m. Having spent a large amount of time in the racing realm, I picked up a lot of the lingo. One of the classic coaching phrases for distance racing has to do with the end of the race. Typically, as I neared the finish line or turned into the last lap on the track, I would hear my cross country or track coach belting, “Don’t let up!” or some other phrase guaranteed to make runners like me sprint to the finish.

I have been thinking about this advice a lot lately, as the final month of my time at Middlebury nears. In some ways, I’ve been approaching these last few weeks with the opposite perspective. Knowing that I’m going to leave Middlebury in a matter of weeks gives a different perspective to the final days of class and even the upcoming exams.

The last issue of the newspaper comes out next week and it’s hard to believe that there won’t be another afterward. Despite the work required to produce the weekly newspaper, I’m already feeling nostalgic for editing sessions, article drafts, and working with the fantastic team we have assembled in the newsroom. Normally, I’m excited to see the paper on dining hall tables on Thursday. However, the knowledge that it is the last set of articles and stories makes me practically want to delay this week’s publication!

The same applies to classes. I thought I might be counting down the days until commencement, and I am — but not in the sense that I want to be finished. In every class, I find myself relishing the ability to explore different topics or to discuss with the professor and a group of talented peers. It is all the more bittersweet knowing that these opportunities might not come around again for a while.

Even the upcoming exams don’t seem like a hurdle to get over but, rather, the last chance that I’ll have to show what I’ve learned.

I was recently reading the statistics for the newly admitted class of Middlebury students and could not be more excited for them. They are about to embark on a new adventure. If they are anything like I was in May 2011, they may not anticipate the opportunities and encounters at Middlebury that will change them in immeasurable ways.

In any case, I think there is something to be said for not sprinting to the finish line. I am positive that I will look back on these last few weeks with fondness, just as I know I am going to reminisce on my time at Middlebury overall. With that in mind, I definitely won’t be leaning into the turn to the finish line of what can sometimes seem like a race. Rather, I am just enjoying one last run.

A Celebration of Pan-Africanism

On Saturday, UMOJA (Sawhili for ‘unity’), the pan-African student organization, hosted their annual AMKA Conference, which attempts to open up the space for discussion about some of the biggest challenges facing the African continent. This year’s conference focused on education in Africa. Admittedly, I couldn’t attend all of the sessions happening throughout the day due to homework – a typical dilemma that ails many Middlebury students towards the end of the semester; but fortunately, I was able to make it to the keynote speaker’s talk at the beginning of the day and the gala dinner at the end of it.

This year’s keynote speaker was Fred Swaniker, co-founder of the African Leadership Academy (ALA), a reputable institution based in South Africa. Fred gave an inspirational talk about some of barriers to progress in developing the field of education in Africa, shared his personal experiences in navigating an overwhelming college admissions process and starting the first pan-African school in the continent. Many alumni of ALA are now studying in the US and were sitting in the audience listening to what he had to say. Throughout the day, there were many sessions of impressive talks done by students, World Bank analysts and directors of NGOs based in Africa.

I rejoined the participants in Atwater Dining Hall for a gala dinner to cap off the day. The food served at the dinner was absolutely delicious and spanned from countries all across the continent. After dinner, we were serenaded by Ingoma, the first African a cappella group on campus, and then by an incredible vocalist from Berkley College of Music. Earlier in the week, one of the organizers of the conference asked me to walk in a fashion show at the end of the dinner. I immediately agreed to be a part of it and pulled out my traditional Moroccan threads that I got while volunteering as an English teacher in Casablanca last summer.

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Here’s a picture of me (center) modeling a traditional Moroccan razza, jabador and belgha (top to bottom) with Ingoma a cappella singers Rana (left) and Razan (right) after their performance!

 

It was great to get together with some of Middlebury’s African students, most of whom come to our small-town campus in rural Vermont directly from the continent, others live in the diaspora. I felt a strong sense of community and solidarity among the students and the participants of the conference as they grappled with issues their countries face and discussed them passionately, while celebrating many diverse cultures.

Preview Days

Hello Accepted Students!!!

 

This week is Preview Days and the senior fellows are anxiously awaiting your arrival. We’ve been working hard to ensure that you have the best time of your life over the next few days. We even ordered top notch Vermont weather for your enjoyment (forecast is sunny and 65 F with 0% chance of rain).  Be prepared to toss a frisbee on Battell Beach and chat with new friends on Proctor Terrace while watching the sun set. If you’re looking for some more structured activities, you can find a whole slew of them posted here:

http://www.middlebury.edu/system/files/2015previewdays_webv5.pdf

I highly recommend the Student Panel and Brooker Fireside on Wednesday. Likewise, the Iron Eyes Cody concert and Middlebury MothUP will be awesome on Thursday. But really, everything will be fun.

Wednesday through Friday your days will be packed. My advice to you – especially if you’re still trying to narrow down your decision [to Midd] – is to talk to as many students and professors as you can. Ask questions that matter to you. Determine if this is a place that will challenge you and support your search for knowledge. See if you find Middlebury fun.

Please note: College today is not only about the books you read and the concepts you study. You will learn the same history, math, philosophy, chemistry, or sociology wherever you decide to spend your next four years. What matters at the end of the day are the people who shape your experience. I hope Midd’s Preview Days will alleviate the burden of your college decision-making.

 

Wishing you all the best,

Staci

Exploration, Discovery, and Inspiration

Every once in a while, you’ll find that professor who gives you free range on essays. I have always found that Middlebury professors want you to be inspired by your work, that they encourage you to be innovative and creative in your research and papers, but that often still comes with prompts and structure. Every so often, though, you will walk into a class that is all about exploration. I am currently enrolled in two classes in which the professor provides structure for essays but also makes it very clear that she does not want to tell us what to explore. Every essay comes with a “your choice” prompt. Pedagogically, she wants us to find something that means a great deal to us in the hopes that we will use this topic to really let us grow and develop as students and people. Giving us free range allows us to be the best possible versions of ourselves, because we want to learn as much as we can about a subject for reasons that are not purely rooted in obtaining a good grade.

While it may seem obvious that writing about something you are interested in is more rewarding than writing about something about which you care little, but it has really come into focus for me this semester. I am currently working on an essay about various works of the children’s author Kate DiCamillo, and I am not writing about her because she was assigned reading, but instead because I happened to pick up Because of Winn-Dixie on a plane and fell in love. I immediately wanted to read everything she had written, and more than that, I wanted to bring all of this reading together in an academic way that would then become part of my Middlebury learning experience. I actually wanted to write an essay on this author. Just reading her work wasn’t enough; I needed to pull apart her novels, see how they fit together and where they find their place in the literary canon. Because I was given free range over what to write my essay about, I was free to find my own inspiration, and this has led to writing a really fun essay that I can honestly say I am proud of.

As an English major, I have written many an essay in my time at Middlebury. I have been given a lot of freedom in my writing, and I have also been put under a lot of constraints. Each essay has led to new discoveries and a deeper understanding of not only the material, but also who I am as a student. Not essay assignment, though, has really exemplified the Middlebury ideals of exploration, discovery, and inspiration in the way this essay has. Every once in a while, you’ll find that professor who gives you free range on essays, and every once in a while your whole perspective will change.

Faculty and Staff Appreciation

As the Chief of Staff of the Student Government Association, I have been working with the College’s administration to coordinate the nominations for the annual faculty and staff appreciation awards. As nominations from the student body have been trickling into my inbox this week, I have been reminded that one of the things that makes our campus community so vibrant and dynamic is the energy and commitment of our professors, our caretakers, our athletic coaches, our public safety officers, and our dining hall staff. While our Awards Committee will choose one member of the faculty and one member of the staff for their hard work, I think that all of them ought to receive more appreciation for the important role they play in our community.

To start with our professors, they are some of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever met, but what I will remember about them after graduation is the time I spent talking about them in office hours, after classes, and even in grocery stores. Our professors are here because they love teaching and they truly care about us as more than students, but as people. In addition, from the professors I’ve met working with the SGA, I can tell that they really care about the community they are a part of, dedicating their time to our judicial process, discussing issues in Community Council, and attending sporting events, concerts, and presentations their students are a part of.

Other than our faculty, our staff members, ranging from the chefs to the caretakers in the dorms to the librarians, help make the College the smooth-oiled machine that it is. Many of them rise bright and early, long before many students even think about getting out of bed, to make sure that everything is ready to go for a new day. They do such a good job that we hardly notice their presence. Yet, when you take the time to get to know our staff members, they are humble, caring, and hard-working people, whose presence remind me that there are bigger things in life than that next class, the next paper deadline, or the sports practice.

Many students here often describe Middlebury as a “bubble” – a place where we are safe from the trials and tribulations of the real world. While our students may feel this way, Middlebury is the real world for our faculty and staff. This is their home, in a much more permanent sense than we could ever call it that. And their love for this place is contagious. For that, I salute every faculty and staff member here at Middlebury. Without them, this community would not be what it is.

Monet, Middlebury, and the Musée d’Orsay

Over spring break, I made a quick hop across the Atlantic on a vacation to Paris with my parents and two of my siblings. It was a great trip — we ate plenty of fantastic food and saw all there is to see of the City of Lights. It was also nice to catch up with my siblings and parents. In addition to walking the Seine and the Champs-Élysées, the trip was an opportunity to wander the halls of some of the world’s most renowned galleries of art.

While visiting the Lourve, the Musée d’Orsay, the museum/garden housing the sculptures of Auguste Rodin, and the national museum of Picasso, I was struck by how what I had learned in art history at Middlebury all came rushing back to me. I took a course called Monuments and Ideas in Western Art my sophomore year, which was taught in the History of Art and Architecture department. I had never taken an art history course before, and knew very little about art outside of being able to recognize the big-name artists that occupy places of honor in galleries like the Lourve.

However, while taking the course I was completely enthralled. In many ways, the course was both a broad and deep introduction to what a person needs to know to be an educated consumer of art, even art as varied as sculpture, painting, and architecture. We began our exploration in antiquity, examining depictions of Caeser Augustus and various Greek gods in sculpture, and ended with the perplexing and thought-provoking postwar work of Picasso on canvas.

"Poppy Field," 1873, by Claude Monet is in the Musée d'Orsay and was one of my favorite pieces that I saw there during my recent visit.

“Poppy Field,” 1873, by Claude Monet is in the Musée d’Orsay and was one of my favorite pieces that I saw there during my recent visit.

While visiting the museums of Paris, I was surprised at my ability to take what I had learned several semesters ago and apply it to the art in front of me. It is a testament to the dedication and skill of Middlebury professors, like my professor of Art History. Faculty at Middlebury work tirelessly when teaching a course so that students from a variety of academic backgrounds or interests find the material highly informative, memorable, and rewarding for a lifetime of learning.

Of course, the credit also goes to the liberal arts philosophy of Middlebury. The College has a commitment to broad learning across many different disciplines through the distribution requirements, such as the Art requirement, that cause students (myself included) to explore new and important areas of the curriculum that they might not encounter on their own. You never know where knowledge you pick up at Middlebury is going to serve you well, whether in the museums of France or another locale far across the globe.

Numbers and Mud @ Midd

Walking to Ross Dining Hall today, my first day returning from spring break, my boots were coated with a nice thick helping of what felt almost like primordial mud. Wading through the swamp like land of Battell Beach, I stared down at my shoes to notice the salt stains which serve as Vermont winter tattoos for your footwear—ironically leaving the texture and color of a sun bleach—replaced by the inevitable padded mud that hugged to the bottom of my feet.  At that moment I knew it was spring at Midd and therefore time for room draw.

Today the campus is a buzz with the release of housing numbers for the upcoming draw in mid-April. As a graduating senior who has only been through the lottery process once, I am a  little more divorced from the sentiment that most people are currently experiencing. I’ve only had to move through room draw during my freshman year for sophomore draw but that was a little more lowkey as my friends and I knew we would all be living in Coffrin–the Atwater sophomore housing–either way. I slipped through my junior and senior housing draw as I’ve been part of residential life for the last two years. From my point pint of view, housing thus seems easy and fun, which I believe most people would somewhat agree with. It is a time individuals have the privilege to choose their own roommates and hallmates which allows for development of new intentional living spaces. For sophomores, individuals will live with the same individuals that were in their freshman dorm but can shape their halls. As I am in Atwater, I moved from Allen Hall my freshman year to Coffrin where I lived in an adjoining single with a roommate. Normally during housing draw for junior year, individuals choose to live in a self-conceived special interest house that attempts to engage with the broader Middlebury community.  In the past, some examples have been Vermont Foods, Creative Design, and Spontaneous homes. Individuals also tend to move into Language houses in which residents take a pledge to only speak in the language in order to expand colloquial vocabulary and prepare for junior abroad experiences. During senior year, there is usually a buzz around campus to get a hold of the most coveted senior housing complexes that range from an Atwater Suite, Beach House (a 3 person home) or Porter House (a larger 10 person building). Overall, it brings people together to really start contemplating the realities of next year and is a great way to invite students across campus to start setting personal goals for the coming semester.

My Final Drive To Middlebury (as a student)

The first time I visited Middlebury I drove in from the middle of New York State. I had fallen asleep during the drive (as I am want to do) and was woken up by my Dad’s voice saying that we were 30 minutes away.  I looked to my right — farmland. I looked to my left — more farmland. I looked down at my phone — no signal.  Where was I?  I got on campus, took the tour, heard the information session, visited with a professor and fell in love with the school.

That drive through the tip of New Jersey, three hours of New York State, and the ending 45 minutes of Vermont is one that I have done numerous times over my four years.  I know the drive well. I know which rest stops are best to stop at and make the same punny jokes everytime I pass certain stores. Friends that have been in the car with me and thus heard the jokes before groan, new passengers give a polite laugh, and I’ll admit that sometimes I even say them outloud to myself when I drive alone.

Two days ago, at the end of spring break, the last break of the year, I did my last drive back to campus that I will take as a student.  The landmarks became sentimental, the jokes became meaningful, and the long stretches of I-87 opened up the floodgates of memories.  It felt odd to know that the next time I drive back to campus I will be doing it as an alum.  Each time I did this drive it was with the excited expectation of new experiences at Middlebury and getting back to a place I love.  I’m excited to know that my future drives will serve as a checkpoint of how I’ve grown and the new places that I have seen as I go back to visit Middlebury, my alma mater.

March Madness

March flew by in a whirlwind. 

Week One

After having finished a successful Winter Carnival, I decided I needed a weekend away of relaxation. I texted my friend from Williams, we got in the car, and headed to the Berkshires for the weekend. As we wound down Route 7, we caught up on the last 15 months. See, my friend, Hannah, and I were on the same study abroad program, SIT Indonesia: Arts, Religion, and Social Change, and we hadn’t seen each other since December 2013. We immediately fell back into old times, recounting our triumphs and trials since we said goodbye in Denpasar. It was a warm rekindling, a testament to our wonderful semester together and a perfect reboot. 

Week Two

After the success of my weekend away, I geared up for a week of two exams, a birthday party, and our 100 Days celebration. And I had an absolute blast. I reveled in my knowledge of Mughal miniatures and esoteric Buddhist paintings. I celebrated a friend’s 22nd, the beginning of a string of birthdays in our friend group. And I danced the night away in Ross Dining Hall. I was amazed by the familiarity of the sea of faces around me, all celebrating our last semester together on campus. 

Week Three

I wrapped up the last week before spring break with our first executive board meeting with our new fellows for next year for the Activities Board. We had spent the last two weeks reviewing applications, interviewing the applicants, and deliberating as a selection committee. After hours of work, we had assembled our dream team for next year. I felt confident in passing off the torch before I hopped on the plane for Colorado. 

Week Four

For ten days, I hopped around Colorado, heading to Denver, Aspen and Colorado Springs. I appreciated the warm sunshine on my face, the Rockies to the West, and the budding Aspen trees. I will be spending my summer in Colorado Springs so I began to think about potential jobs and fun adventures to be had!

Time seems to be moving exponentially faster with the approach of May 24th! And I’m sure April will go even faster, bringing in more sun, more smiles, and more memories.