May first historically acts as a nostalgic day filled with memories of going out to breakfast with my dad and being granted his permission to arrive to school late due to our homemade holiday. However, tomorrow’s arrival of May first is already hitting me with preemptive nostalgia for the start of my last month at Middlebury College. Naturally, it is nearly impossible to fathom the thought of graduation and of fleeing the nest that has housed me for the past four years. However, I have been preparing for this moment all year and while that cannot remove the reality, it can at least cushion the sting.
Another plush cushion has been the influx of notifications about activities that surround this final month. In fact, it has been a feather bed. We are being showered with events and ceremonies simply for completing four years here. I am tempted to say that I cannot wait for senior week, even though it signifies the end of an era. I am also tempted to say that I cannot wait for the exclusive class of 2012 tank tops.
Aside from many ceremonies and gatherings that will occur throughout the month, the last week here promises to be nothing short of fantastic. We have a day dedicated to lounging at the beach (Dunmore, close enough) followed by an evening Caribbean Cruise (Lake Champlain, close enough). We will wake up to a mimosa brunch with our fellow graduates. We will do the unthinkable and attempt to hit every bar (3) in the local area during a ‘Pub Crawl’. We will have the opportunity to spend an entire day crossing off To-Do’s from our ‘Bucket Lists’. We will stay up late, dancing into the night for a Senior Formal in the same space where we first Dos-ee-doed at the Ho-Down four years before.We will fall asleep after a Last Chance 80s Dance, with the promise of charming crushes and chanting Call Me Maybe. We will not fall asleep ever before graduating and dine like royalty at Steve’s Park Diner. We will graduate being quite tired but also being filled with pretty spectacular memories.
While tomorrow is certainly a marker of nostalgia and sadness for the inevitable end of our time here at Middlebury College, it is also an indicator of the incredible senior month that will follow.
In my information sessions, I make a point to speak to the Middlebury Winter and to the integral role that it plays in the Vermont college experience. I specify that even though it can be frighteningly cold, there are countless ways to fill your chilled times. J-term and all of the great winter activities that Middlebury offers make winter a strangely desirable time, regardless of the thermostat reading below zero. However, this year, the winter never really showed up and left us with plenty melty days and zero excuses to wear earmuffs. While I was at first a bit disappointed that I would spend my last winter here without winter, it turned out to be a welcomed heat wave. What made the weather change wonderful was that I found myself always saying yes. I rarely neglected to attend an event or visit a friend across campus and kept much of my time filled. When the weather turns frigid, it is harder to leave a plush comforter, a cup of hot chocolate and two seasons of The Wire for frostbitten fingertips. This winter season proved to be my most proactive and I am elated that I was able to spend my time moving around and saying yes. While I still believe that the Middlebury winter is essential to the true Vermont college experience, I recognize that the 3:1 winter to extended fall-early spring ratio is ideal for every undergrad. I will certainly be the first to construct a Snowman as January rolls around in 2013 but as for now, I am thrilled that Frosty took a vacation this year.
I initially decided on a liberal arts education, as I had no idea of what I wanted to major in and didn’t want to carelessly commit to a department. With the distribution requirements at Middlebury, I trusted that one of the 8 regions would tempt me and quickly make the decision for me. My freshman year, I took courses in 6 out of the 8 departments and unfortunately, had no revelations and ended the year feeling equally confused as I had at its onset. However, the confusion was more fulfilling, as it was comprised of a love for three regions, coupled with indecision on where my passion was strongest. I was torn between French, Spanish and Psychology. After continuing French into my sophomore year, I decided that I was smitten by it and declared the major. However, human nature had me quickly reassessing my seemingly rash decision and feeling as though I had betrayed my first true love of Spanish. After persuading some professors, I managed to receive approval for the last ever, joint Spanish-French major. Satisfied, I entered my fourth semester with a course load free of the English language and loaded with Garcia-Marquez and Alexandre Dumas and had a thrilling semester, practically hidden in my two preferred romance languages. The year after, I decided to stay at Middebury for the fall and study abroad in Argentina in the spring. However, this decision rendered the possibility of completing my joint major impossible. While this was disappointing, I didn’t wish to spend a year away and was happy with committing to the Spanish language. The semester before going abroad, my psychology course load outnumbered my Spanish classes 3:1 as I wanted to complete the minor. Going abroad directly after such a rich immersion in psychology courses prompted me to look into the Psychology department at my school abroad. Amazingly, the university was known for its program and had extensive courses. I was intrigued by the idea of learning psychology in Latin America, with an emphasis on psychoanalysis and Freud, and again, maintained the 3:1 ratio in Argentina. Soon after attending my classes, I realized that psychology was what most excited me and that as much as I adored Spanish and French, it was the speaking that intrigued me and less the literature. Readings in psychology never felt like homework but rather like chosen outside reading. I was excited to attend class and quickly became a psychology enthusiast, eagerly getting my hands on fascinating journals or texts. I spent many of the first few afternoons frantically making calls to the department chair to see if switching to Psychology was a possibility. With extensive analyzing and planning, I was given permission to switch and happily entered into the department as a senior. Although it took me longer than most to decide on my major, I couldn’t be more sure of my decision and have thoroughly enjoyed every course, knowing that it is certainly what most enlivens me.
I am still grappling with the fact that I just registered for my last semester of classes at Middlebury College. It is quite surreal as I vividly remember the first session of registration and the first weeks of school that followed and know that I will soon have an even stronger memory of receiving a diploma, donning a cap and gown. I don’t want to accept my nearing departure or come to terms with the idea of leaving this utopia and entering the harsh confines of the big old world. While I am distressed at the simple thought of leaving, I have an equally calm sensation knowing that Middlebury has aptly prepared me to go. I am at ease knowing that I have experienced Middlebury in a true liberal arts fashion and can leave feeling fulfilled. This satisfied sensation stems from experimenting in arguably too many activities, exploring Middlebury’s extensive programs and saying yes more often than saying no. My best 10 tips for current students who have an expiration date that is not as pressing as 2012 are to
10 Explore Vermont in every season
9 Eat at restaurants in town or cook meals with close friends at least once a week
8 Go to lectures, especially outside of your major
7 Pick classes that truly excite you (makes reading much more enjoyable)
6 Get a good coat
5 Meet as many people as you can, low acceptance rates make for pretty outstanding individuals
4 Take advantage of all the great social options but don’t forget to have some alone time
3 Go abroad
2 Live in large, communal housing for at least a semester
1 Call mom and dad more than you want to
As J-term registration faces me tomorrow morning at 6:59am, I cannot help but think back to my experience in taking MiddCORE last January. While I was not certain of what the course would entail, I had heard too many people tell me that, “It was the greatest course I have taken at Middlebury” or “You would really be perfect for this course” or “I worked all day every day but it was the most rewarding experience” to not buck up and take it. So, knowing nothing more than people’s strangely passionate reactions to the course, I fell asleep at 7:03am on the day of registration, warily signed up for MiddCORE. A mere two weeks later, we began receiving e-mails from the coordinator with our first week challenges, our mentor sheets, our daily schedule and a mission statement. Included in the first e-mail was a friendly welcome note followed abruptly by a subtle warning that in the four weeks of January, we should be prepared to relinquish our beings to the greater entity of MiddCORE and be prepared to have a life-changing experience. This was where I began to question my rash decision of enrolling in a mysterious beast of a course that was subsequently leading me into surrendering my soul and transforming my already satisfying life. I was in too deep as any other possibly appealing class was filled to the brim with eager students and followed by extensive waiting lists. I had committed and albeit skeptically, I would head to the Atwater seminar room on January 3rd at 8am to prove all of those previous students correct.
I can’t describe accurately what happened in the four weeks that followed but I can vouch that every previous comment was verified and that while I was happy to retrieve my soul at the end of January, I couldn’t have been more pleased with my winter term experience. The course was a dynamic collaboration of every possible skill necessary in the work world. The topics covered ranged from sales to marketing to networking to public speaking to negotiating to consulting to art projects to movie making. Every day, topics changed and we were constantly shifting from one theme to the next. There was no single professor but rather a host of mentors that came daily to lead the class and facilitate challenges. Each week, we were split into groups of 4 and given distinct challenges that culminated in a presentation and judging session on Friday. Aside from the prize of finally sleeping on Friday night, the winning team also was given a gift certificate to a restaurant in town. Being an ultra competitive individual, I dove head first into the challenges and felt as if the coordinator was Donald Trump and I the eager Apprentice. The four weeks are quite a blur as days melted into nights and core themes multiplied. I worked extremely hard each day but never felt distressed as I was doing so on my own accord. At the end of the course, I primarily felt a bizarre sense of power stemming from the confidence gained throughout the four weeks but mostly, a sense of satisfaction with my Middlebury education. Before entering the course, I was skeptical of my future plans and feeling as though the lack of focus in the liberal arts education would hinder me in the application and interview process the following fall. Contrastingly, upon completion of MiddCORE, I discovered that a liberal arts education would in fact prove to be quite practical as it prepares you not only for one distinct track but truly, for any. The course continues to follow me and its benefits are notable in my daily happenings. I couldn’t be more pleased with my decision to enroll and have brashly become a proud MiddCORE alumna spouting similar ambiguous praises around registration time in efforts to convert new wary, but brave, undergrads.
Before coming to Middlebury, I was sure of a few things: I wanted to take a new language, be in a play or two, and stay as far away from history and the sciences as possible. Much to my chagrin, I promptly discovered that due to the 7 of 8 distribution requirements at Middlebury, I would have to choose the better of two evils. My natural instinct was to avoid latex gloves, bunny brains, toxic chemicals and extra hours so I begrudgingly signed up for a history course, The American Mind.
On day one, I realized that I was one of two girls in the class and one of the only who had never taken any other history courses at Middlebury before. The professor explained that the course would consist of reading primary texts of American thinkers, rather than other historian’s description of thoughts and events. Each class, we read two to three texts from significant thinkers in our country’s history and wrote summaries for our favorite one. Individuals studied ranged from George Washington to Bill McKibben and included both traditional and radical thinkers.
Reading direct texts from such prominent thinkers was unbelievably exciting and empowering. The course permitted me to travel through time and feel as though I was in the same room as Abraham Lincoln, discussing his ideas and future plans. I remember that often, I would read a text aloud to make it come alive even more, and when I found one reading to be particularly interesting, fortunate friends or family would act as my (eager) audience. I worked extremely hard in this class as the material was novel to me and I was certainly forced out of my zone of comfort. However, the class was equally rewarding and handing in my final exam marked an accomplished moment. Not only did I feel that I had a significantly improved my grasp on our country’s foundations, but also that I had come to view history distinctly and much more enthusiastically. That spring, taking a history elective became a priority and that Christmas, Abraham Lincoln’s hardcover biography topped my wish list.
I vividly remember a few months ago running with my friend from Middlebury through the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina on a cold, rainy Sunday. We were a bit lost and quickly running further and further into an unfamiliar neighborhood. We were looking around us at the run-down buildings, not catching even a glimpse of sun and pounding our tired feet on hard pavement. We were keeping fairly quiet and just running, hoping to soon see a landmark that would orient us in the city. We were speeding up and both pretty antsy, and I looked to her and said, “Just imagine, in a few weeks, we will be back at Middlebury, in the hot summer, running on the Trail Around Middlebury through the plush, green woods, breathing in cows and grass and proctor granola, knowing exactly where we are.” The thought of being back at Middlebury and running together from our senior year housing was unbearably exciting and felt like an unimaginable dream. Ironically, a few weeks before leaving for abroad, I am sure that we had a similar conversation about how excited we were to soon be in a huge city, speaking solely our beloved second language of Spanish and being far from the words organic and snow. Sure enough, leaving Middlebury and seeing the world from a completely different angle was unbelievably necessary and rewarding. I absolutely loved being abroad in a place that was essentially the opposite of Middlebury for a semester, and I was extraordinarily happy during my semester abroad. However, I would say that the greatest part of being abroad was coming back to Middlebury. Towards the end of abroad, it didn’t seem real that I was not only coming back to live in the United States again, but that I had one more year to spend at Middlebury College. Before leaving, I took for granted that I was constantly surrounded by my best friends along with a couple thousand remarkable peers all of whom were eager to talk, eat, run, walk, play or simply hang out at most hours of the day. Being abroad gave me a lot of independent, alone time, as well as daily opportunities to reach out and meet new people from a distinct culture. While I have yet to speak with one friend that has spent time abroad and been disappointed or unhappy with it, I can pretty fairly say that everyone is unbelievably grateful and energized to be back at Middlebury for one last year and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. While leaving and heading powerfully to a new, foreign city is quite stimulating, being able to come back to having delicious meals prepared for you daily, having running courses mapped out through clearly marked trails, living next door to all of your best friends, watching the leaves slowly turn bright colors, taking classes in the language that comes most naturally to you in subjects that most interest you and feeling pretty comfortable pretty much always is the craziest, most thrilling opportunity of all.