One Pen Explosion and Two Floods of Tea

Yesterday, I took the comprehensive exam for my major, Literary Studies. For the last month, I have reviewed the work of over thirty authors. I spent about 100 hours studying and meeting with other students and professors to discuss the texts. I used three stacks of sticky notes, I dried out four highlighters, and I filled two notebooks with plot summaries, analysis, and outlines. I suffered one pen explosion and two floods of tea across my work.

Although all of these elements make up my month, I really cannot quantify my experience. I have never felt so committed and engrossed in my studies. My commitment did not find its source in professorial oversight, however. I had so much freedom to study the way I wanted to! I managed all my own time, and my fellow seniors and I planned our own curriculum. Some of our best classes occurred when no professor came to join our discussion. Instead, we examined and considered the texts amongst ourselves, participating in illuminating and riotous conversations about the nature of reality and fate and literature. I always thought that given that much freedom, my work ethic would surely crumble. But it turns out I actually am a self-starter! That’s not just something I write on my resume. I so valued the chance to collaborate with my peers and really get to know them intellectually and personally. Because of the opportunity to direct my own studies, I really feel pride in my hard work. That feeling of ownership will never wear off.

Sometimes, I get a little caught up in my extracurricular activities and my outdoor adventures, but at the end of the day, I came to Middlebury to study. This month, I have studied harder and more effectively than ever before. Now, I just have to write my thesis…

American College Theatre Fesival

J-Term is an awesome Middlebury tradition that allows students to enjoy a alternate form of study for a month. That alternate form of study can be just one class that meets almost every day, an internship, an independent study,  or one of the numerous opportunities available for students during this really special time of the academic year. During my time at Middlebury I have used my J-Term’s to attend the American College Theatre Festival. Each year Middlebury sends roughly 8 acting nominees, a few costume designers, and usually 1 or 2 playwrites to compete in this festival.

Those that attend spend the entirety of our J-Term working hard on our material so that it is audition ready on the first day of competition. Audition type performances are tough because there are a lot of feelings when one enters an audition room. The room is unfamiliar, you know you’re trying to make a good impression, you hope the scene goes well, and you have only three minutes to show them your stuff. Kind of terrifying, but ultimately kind of fun.

No matter whether we win or lose, ACTF is always a joy to be a part of. You get to spend your J-Term working with very talented people, doing scenes tirelessly, and always finding room to improve. You get the opportunity to travel with members of your department and all compete against each other, and then as people get moved on and others don’t, support each other with fervor.

The first time I went I was a freshman. I was so excited to be working so seriously with older members of the department and having the opportunity to have such serious acting conversations with the faculty. I loved spending time with the older majors and I got to know them and thus got to know the department. I felt welcomed, excited and part of this big thing with my new theatre family. I hope in some ways as a senior on this trip I can provide a similar experience for the underclassmen with us today.

So cross your fingers that a Middlebury student will win!

J-term, New-ways-to-spend-the-day-term

Smack dab in the middle of the winter, when wind is brisk but the views are breathtaking, you might think the best way to enjoy the winter is snuggled up with tea, looking out your dorm room windows. While this is more than lovely, J-term is really the best time to get out and have fun! And I don’t necessarily mean outside (so you don’t need to worry about frostbite).

Because we only take one class during J-term, we all have tons of free time to attend Middlebury-sponsored events or bring our friends together in a way we don’t usually have the time to. Just last night, my housemates and I attended an etiquette dinner hosted by our Center for Careers and Internships. We all dressed up in our most dapper business-casual attire and learned all of the proper steps of buttering your bread. While this may seem silly, it was a wonderful opportunity to spend times with my friends in a completely new environment that was a little challenging but ultimately came with a delicious catered meal.

And it just gets better from there! Not only do we all have extra time to go to sponsored events, we can put on our own little luncheons such as Thai Thursday. While my housemates and I usually have class on Thursdays, we took J-term time to spend the afternoon together off of campus in our greater Middlebury community. Lunch in the dining hall with friends is wonderful, but getting together to plan something different is truly special.

If you want to go even further, if a lunch trip into town just doesn’t seem like enough, J-term classes often aren’t five days a week, so day trips become far easier than they are during a typical semester. This week, my housemates and I are planning a trip to a small Vermont cheese-making factory. I can’t image anything better than eating cheese with my best friends. If you can, I’m in!

J-term is one of the most exciting parts of going to Middlebury. At first, you have so much time to read for pleasure, you spend all of your time in your room reading young adult novels (or at least that’s what I did), but then you see that you have been given an amazing opportunity to spend time with your friends in whole new ways. Whether you’re faking your way through an etiquette dinner or tasting cheese, J-term is nothing but fun and surprises!

“Cheese is milk’s leap towards immortality.”

It’s that magical time of year here at Middlebury – it is J-Term! It is time to adventure (and stay inside), it is a time to dive into a topic (and then go for a ski break), and this year it is a time to eat cheese!

 

Okay. Let me back up. J-Term is this magical time of year because Middlebury ensures you will not only survive but also enjoy a Vermont winter. As a Floridian, you have my word that, although it feels like -17 oF tonight, I have a smile on my face and I am having fun. This J-Term I am working on my senior thesis in the chemistry department and auditing Prof. Murray Dry’s class Love and Friendship. So I get to read Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Tolstoy (and more) in addition to the Journal of American Chemical Society. A very well-rounded semester, I like to think.

 

But J-Term is also magical because of the few extra moments everyone (typically) has in his day. As Middlebury students, we usually try to fill up those 24-hours with as much as possible, even if just for a month long commitment. So naturally I – on top of my thesis and auditing a class – signed up for a J-Term workshop (go.middlebury.edu/wtw). Workshops are non-credit bearing mini-classes that are run by students, faculty, or staff who want to share their passion. They can range from learning how to whistle to….eating cheese! Well more specifically this J-Term I am signed up for an “artisanal cheese tasting” workshop. It is taught by Linnea Burnham, a senior at Middlebury who loves cheese. Way more than me. She could not stop smiling the entire hour tonight while me and 8 other Middlebury students tasted “hard alpine cheeses” and learned how to talk about them and how to go about smelling and tasting them. And then once we tasted the 6 cheeses she brought in, we kept eating good cheese.

 

Linnea I must say was very qualified for the job. I had never met her before, but learned that she is a French/History double major writing both of her theses on cheese in 19th Century France! She also spent this past summer making cheese in France (she brought some of that cheese with her tonight), and her childhood is somehow affiliated with dairy farming (I missed the actual story). I was very impressed and look forward to two more Wednesdays with Linnea and her fabulous cheeses.

‘Tis the season

‘Twas the week before finals

along the wings of BiHall,

every student was studying

…well…not really all….

 

‘Tis the season to be sledding!

 

As a native Floridian, it’s only appropriate that I still gasp at the sight of snow. When I first announced I would attend Middlebury, my Floridian family members shrieked: “Won’t it be cold?!” Yes, it is cold. The weather definitely doesn’t hover over the same 70-75 degree range that sunny South Florida does during winter’s entirety. Thus, we’re stuck with the beauty that is a snowy winter.

 

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My first year at Middlebury, I had a horrifying vision of what winter would look like. I expected hurricanes with snow every single day. I imagined winter as a turbulent freeze. With wind, if that wasn’t clear. It turns out winter is more low key. For me, winter usually marks a time to drink hot chocolate, sit next to a fire, and look out the window. Each winter I do get a bit more adventurous, easing myself outside for a few more hours each day. I now know how to get down the bunny slope without falling on my face or crashing into my professor’s five-year-old child; I have accomplished one winter hike without snow shoes; and I have conquered my fear of running with snow on the ground. This year I’m hoping to take up a more seasonally appropriate endurance sport: cross country skiing. Last year I tried it once. I fell. Bill McKibben passed by and asked me whether or not I was trying “to go up or down.” I’m still not sure what he actually meant because I was trying to go down the hill, but stay up on my skis. Overall, it was a great time because I was outside, embracing winter, and was acknowledged by Bill McKibben.

But since it is finals week and I am trying to be the responsible senior tackling a thesis and a job search, I’ll hold off on cross country skiing until J-term. For now, I will gladly settle for a slide (or two) down Battel Beach before heading off to bed.

 

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Post Grad, Pumpkin Pie, and Poster Sessions

The air had shifted. When I returned to campus yesterday from Thanksgiving break, the final leaves of my last fall semester had been replaced by wisps of melting snow. I had just spent the week in California, where the sky looked impeccably blue and the breeze came in around a blissful 75 degrees every day. When I landed in San Diego, I felt as if I was on different planet from my familiar Vermont, palm trees lazying outside the airport and sailboats floating in the marina. Even though I had previously lived in San Diego, the city felt altogether foreign as if I was the one who had changed since I left at 15.

Once I settled, San Diego welcomed me with open arms. I meandered down the beach at least once a day, and I reveled in walking out of the house without a sweater. I indulged all my California cravings: fish tacos from Roberto’s, In N Out milk shakes, and my favorite Turkado sandwich from “Board N Brew” in Del Mar. I could feel myself slowly recharge, as if the sunrays themselves revitalized me.

I refocused this energy to thoughts of post-graduate life. Usually, Thanksgiving serves simply as a break from the demands of the semester. This year, images of post-graduate life filled my mind as I picked over rocks at the beach or during conversations over scones and frittata. I spent car rides contemplating hypotheticals and potential options, uncovering goals for both personal and professional development. What about this amazing position in a foreign city or this unknown job in a familiar place?

At our Thanksgiving meal with my mom’s family, I got asked ten thousand times about my plans after graduation. Each time, I winked and told them that that was the million-dollar question. At my cousin’s bridal shower with my father’s family, my older cousins sympathized with my predicament. “It’s like applying to college all over again, expect there’s no decision date and no clear timeline.”

I had pushed the question out of my mind until I had gotten to San Diego, where the air felt clearer and my head more steady. I couldn’t think about papers and exams and presentations and stipends and fellowships and moving costs all at the same time. But I gave myself the space in California. I let the wide ocean be my blank canvas, my sounding board, my scratch paper. With space and clear thinking, I remembered. Everything works out the way it should. Yes, I need to plan deliberately and weigh all of my options. Yes, I need to take time write applications, do interviews, and ask for recommendations. But only wonderful things await. So I can continue to let the fear of the future weigh me down. Or, I can celebrate the beauty of the next, tentative step.

The choice is yours, high school seniors. Will you join me in seeing the possibility in what’s next?

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Student Action on Ferguson

A week ago, the grand jury announced their decision not to indict former police officer Darren Wilson on the fatal shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014. Many reacted in shock at the decision and firmly believed in the overwhelming evidence that the shooting of Michael Brown was not act of self-defense but of racial violence. Thousands of people flooded into the streets of major cities all across America in protest of police brutality. Most protests were peaceful, but some turned violent. President Obama issued a special speech on the eve of the protests urging protesters to remain peaceful. On my Facebook newsfeed, friends were posting emotional reactions, expressing their mistrust for the judicial system and personal experiences with racial injustice. I noticed hashtags such as #blacklivesmatter and #nojusticenopeace all over the place. I couldn’t help but empathize with all of the terrible things I read online, reflecting on my own experiences as a Dominican-American growing up in a predominantly immigrant neighborhood of New York City.

My homecoming to New York City for Thanksgiving break was delayed due to traffic. Protesters had closed down major streets, bridges and highways to raise awareness of the issue. Through its pristine veneer, America has witnessed in the past week that it is by no means post-racial and faces many challenges ahead to create a more egalitarian society for people of all racial backgrounds.

At Middlebury, students have prepared to take action on this issue on campus. This afternoon, there will be a walk out event organized by students to show their solidarity for the thousands of people across the country protesting. Students will be encouraged to walk out of their classes, work, library, dining hall and dorms in the middle of the day for a few moments of reflection.It has been inspiring for me to see people passionately come together around a common cause, share personal stories and experiences with each other to arrive to a better understanding of the events that are occurring throughout the country.

Meet Middlebury’s Next President

On November 18, the campus received an exciting email: it was an invitation to come to Mead Chapel at noon to hear the announcement of the College’s 17th President.  As I walked out of class, students were abuzz about who the next leader of the College might be.  A few hours later, Mead Chapel was packed with students, faculty, and staff who anxiously awaited for whomever might take the stage.  When Dr. Laurie L. Patton, dean of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences at Duke University and the Robert F. Durden Professor of Religion, was announced, the Chapel broke out into huge applause.

I was in the crowd in Mead Chapel to cover the event for the student newspaper (a very exciting day for the campus publication!) and thus got to hear Dr. Patton’s address to the College community.  She gave a very thoughtful speech about how Middlebury is well-positioned to lead in various areas: languages, international studies, sustainability, and the meaning of the liberal arts overall. Her last line was quite powerful and stayed with me after the address. Patton said, “I am delighted to begin work as your 17th president, because here, in all the glorious places where Middlebury lives and thrives, we will become together who we are meant to be.”

President-elect Laurie L. Patton addressed the College community in Mead Chapel on Nov. 18.

President-elect Laurie L. Patton addressed the College community in Mead Chapel on Nov. 18.

As I talked to students throughout the day, many of them mentioned how impressed they were with Patton’s biography and experience.  A professor of religion at Duke in addition to the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Patton is an expert on South Asian history, culture, and religion.  (I recently spoke with a friend, who is a Religion major, who said how excited she was that a religion faculty member will be Middlebury’s new president!) Patton has also spearheaded innovative initiatives in the liberal arts while at Duke, including a university-wide course on a specific theme. She also speaks 7 languages! After hearing her biography, I kept thinking about how well Patton’s experience fits with Middlebury’s unique strengths and programs in languages, study abroad, and innovative offerings in the liberal arts such as MiddCORE and other experiential learning programs.  Additionally, while speaking with faculty and staff throughout the day they repeatedly mentioned how Patton is precisely the right person for the position.

In the afternoon, a reception was held for President-elect Patton in Wilson Hall and members of the College community lined up to meet the new President and to shake her hand.  Patton had conversations with each person who stood in line in order to get to know as many members of the community as possible.

One thing that I think is so great about Middlebury is how accessible administrators are, even an administrator as important or busy as the College President.  President Liebowitz routinely holds open office hours and meets with students and student organizations on a regular basis to hear their thoughts and ideas.  I have no doubt that President-elect Patton will be the same way.  I am so excited for the students that will enter the College and have her as their College President, because I think she will do a fantastic job.

Baffling Buffets

This year for Thanksgiving, my family went to Florida, and so for the last week, I have been thawing out. After all, winter is coming. We packed a lot into our vacation including roller coaster rides, nature tours, and beach combing. All of this variety proved exhausting, but it remained grounded by the consistent presence of breakfast buffets.

Now, I have a love-hate relationship with buffets. On the one hand, they offer a multitude of options from pancakes to eggs to oatmeal. On the other hand, I cannot possibly eat every item. If I attempt to eat all of it, my meal lacks thematic unity and leaves me with a bellyache. So I am left with the incredible burden of choice.

Now, obviously, this problem is not a crisis… it isn’t even a real problem. In fact, it stems from the incredible privilege of abundant nutrition for which I am grateful. But, over the course of the last week, I began to notice the potential metaphorical resonance of the breakfast buffet. And, like any good bibliophile, I really cannot resist.

The breakfast buffet exemplifies the problem of an overabundance of options. This challenge is certainly present at Middlebury. Here, there are over 170 different student organizations, over 40 different academic programs, and an average of six different dinner entrée choices. One simply cannot do, study, or eat all of them. College obviously opens many doors, but the experience also requires the ability to shut them. Taking on zillions of extracurricular activities or failing to balance the academic load proves untenable. When I put myself in that position, I cannot do anything well, and I end up frazzled, ineffective, and dissatisfied.

To avoid this, I need to choose which clubs or classes or dinners I want most. The problem boils down to actually ascertaining my preferences. I struggle to know what I want before I’m in the thick of it, and, by then, it’s too late. Although I was hoping to escape this issue, it does not seem confined to the college experience. As I plan my next step, I am again encountering overabundance. There are so many career paths available to Middlebury graduates that choosing any of them becomes challenging. It requires a deep knowledge of one’s self.

In the end, I am definitely grateful for this overabundance. I greatly appreciate the ability to choose how I spend my time and my career. I would much rather pick between bacon and sausage than have none at all. I am just still learning how to navigate all of those choices! Luckily, I already have a lot of experience. In the end, knowing my own interests and needs might prove the most valuable element of my Middlebury experiences.

Barriers and Friends

This week I have been having trouble focusing on a group project. I keep finding myself really avoiding doing the work for it and actively searching for reasons to not engage with the project. The problem is it’s a project that I have chosen to do.  It is a film that I’ve written and will be screened in Sight and Sound 2, and I’ve been on this rollercoaster of hating and loving the idea of it. This is a large project; it is worth a significant portion of my grade in the class, but more importantly it is something that I’ve been planning on doing for more than a year at this point.  As of now, I have a completed script that needs revising and I have yet to cast or really do most of the pre-production that should be occurring at this point. I have kind of let the project fall to the back burner, and only now am I starting to address it.

Besides the physical barriers of having to shoot an extended film at length, I have created these mental barriers. I feel as if I have been sandbagging myself in a lot of ways by not setting time for the project and not really planning specifics. I think that I need to sit down, make a calendar, and write up an email asking my actors to participate. I think that I am emotionally feeling stretched by the film. In a lot of ways I have become very involved with the idea of making it and the concept of being able to play on set with these ideas which I think are very fun. I am also nervous and scared to think that after a lot of the hard work of setting up of the film, it won’t be successful. Not success in the idea of it becoming some kind of viral hit, but the comedy and feelings of the concept I had not translating on screen. I am not socially intimidated by the idea of getting a crew; I am worried that asking individuals to be part of this project will add on to the heaping plates of activities and stressors that my friends who I would normally ask are experiencing at this point in the semester. Ideally I would like to finish editing the script today, and then send out an email asking individuals to participate in it tonight.

The connections and friendships that I have formed have truly been a great source of support and talent to tap into. It has been great to see Midd students take on different roles outside of academics and really step into these multiple hats of actor, filmmaker and student. I think that as finals are ramping up, it is great to see that my friends are able to find that fine balance of co-curricular interests and academics even during the proverbial  crunch time that this next week entails.  It is the spirit of holding and wearing so many hats that really speak to the way Midd students shine.