The Last Day of the Last J-Term

After having a hectic fall of research projects, senior seminars, and job applications, this J-term felt wonderfully free. Firstly, I was able to add the class “Bollywood and Beyond” so I spent my month watching Shah Rukh Khan dance around the Swiss Alps in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Amitabh Bachchan restore his honor in the name of justice in Sholay, and Nargis embody post-Independence India in Mother India. In addition to watching these fantastic films, we learned about the religious epics, polarized politics, and social conventions that inform these movies. For my final paper, I read Devdas, a short story written in 1917 by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, which has since spawned 12 film versions of the same story over the past century. After reading the story that began the legacy, I watched Bimal Roy’s Devdas from 1955 and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s version from 2002, noting the differences in nostalgia, melodrama, and aesthetics.

Needless to say, I was in my academic and personal element.

In addition to immersing myself in this facet of Indian culture, I also took moments to enjoy my last J-term. Twice a week, I attended my “Yoga and Meditation” workshop, taking time to strengthen, stretch, and soothe the body. Additionally, with four other friends, I took a workshop called “Art of Tea: Tasting and Sustainably Sourced Loose Leaf Tea (and Chocolate).” We sampled green teas from China, matcha tea from Japan, and of course, we ended the session with a Chai tea from India. We ate white chocolate lavender bark, mocha snacks, and LoFi chocolate with each of the teas, all in the soothing, warm Stone Leaf Tea House.

In between yoga, tea tasting, and movie watching, I headed out to California for my cousin’s wedding for the weekend. I lounged in the pool, ate fresh tortillas tacos, and danced the night away with cousins and aunts and uncles. The wedding was a perfect interlude to reconnect with my family and some happy California sun.

At the end of the month, I was a little sad to say goodbye to J-term. It was the perfect time for me to explore an area of interest I do not normally during the semester. For the month, I was able to engross myself in Bollywood extravaganzas, subtle teas and chocolates, and some quality family time. The end of J-term also heralds the beginning of spring, my last semester as a Middlebury College student. Stayed tuned for exciting adventures next semester!

The Oratorio

One of the four classes that every Middlebury first year takes during their first semester is a first year seminar, a writing intensive class capped at 15 students designed to prepare students for the writing-intensive Middlebury curriculum. Each fall, around 40 seminars are offered for our September admits, ranging from The Art and Life of Andy Warhol to Literature in Exile to The Geology of National Parks to The Story of Geometry. My first seminar, elegantly titled Oratory: Winning the Soul with Words, was one of the most academically transformative experiences of my Middlebury career.

Taught by theatre professor Dana Yeaton, the seminar was divided into three parts. During the first part, we read Aristotle’s book “On Rhetoric” and studied the theoretical components of constructing a powerful speech. The middle third of the class was focused on reading great speeches throughout history, from Pericles’ Funeral Oration to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to MLK’s I Have a Dream. During the last few weeks of class, we wrote and delivered a number of our own speeches, culminating in a TED Talk presentation.

The class was incredibly rewarding precisely because it was unlike anything I had ever done before, or after, for that matter. Since it was the first time he had taught the class, Professor Yeaton experimented with different methods of teaching and various kinds of assignments. He always brought an energy to the room that made the 75 minutes fly by in the blink of an eye. And because of the personal nature of our final TED Talks, the 15 of us got to know each other very well by the end of the semester.

In the January following that fall semester, Professor Yeaton invited a few of us from the seminar to participate in the College’s annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration in Mead Chapel, an evening of song, dance, and oratory that commemorates the life of the civil rights hero. Together with a few other theatre students, we performed a condensed reading of MLK’s famous I Have a Dream speech. Relying on the projection of our voice and the acoustics in the chapel, we tried to capture, without microphones, the cadence of King’s speech and project its power to the standing-room only crowd. We even added a touch of Middlebury flair by reciting one section of the speech in various foreign languages.

This past Martin Luther King Day, I returned to the chapel to watch the oratorio for the first time since I participated in it three years ago. Professor Yeaton helped direct the show again, this time with students from his Speechmaker’s Studio J-Term class and members of the newly formed Oratory Society. Together, they read a series of quotes from MLK and other civil rights leaders to begin the show and like us, performed a reading of the I Have a Dream speech. Sitting in the pews, with a tinge of nostalgia, I felt incredibly proud of how much Professor Yeaton’s oratory program has grown at Middlebury. This was the second year in a row that he has offered the Speechmaker’s Studio as a J-Term class, attracting students ranging from political science majors to varsity skiers to international first years. His Oratory Society hosted an “oratory slam” in the fall and conducts workshops open to anyone wishing to improve their public speaking skills.

In his quest to bring public speaking to the fore of the liberal arts curriculum, Professor Yeaton has struck a chord with students who recognize the importance of that skill in today’s digitally connected world. The oratory program is yet another example of how the liberal arts continues to evolve here at Middlebury.

Train Tracks

I am having a very unique J-term experience this year as I am working on an independent film project with a few buddies. We are writing, producing, filming, and editing the entire project together from start to finish! It has been amazing to take on an intrinsically motivated project in which we have full control. It has also provided great learning moments of figuring out the simultaneously frustrating and magical aspects of organizing day long shoots that are filled with hilarity and unexpected hiccups along the way.

In addition to my independent film project this semester, my other registered course I am taking is martial arts. It is an introductory P.E. course in which the class is learning the art of Tae Kwon Do on Wednesday nights.  Our first night was amazing as the class was a combination of sweaty grossness. Throughout the class, our instructor reiterated to us that the two most important aspects of learning Tae Kwon Do is 1) stand as if you are on a train track and 2) never watch your feet but watch your target. Both mantras I aimed to accomplish during my final J-term. I really felt grounded this month which in some ways proved to be quite the exhilarating experience. Finding my train tracks for the month also helped me spend time with some of my friends who graduated this morning and really hone in on my goodbyes to some amazing people. Watching my target was something that came more natural for me. I am someone who will self-describe as being extremely focused on the necessary task at hand. I did push myself to redefine what the target is for me for my last semester. I spent the month really exploring the kinds of places I’d like to be in the next year or so and the kind of people I hope to surround myself with in the coming months.

Saying goodbye to this final J-term is bittersweet but I feel like I am more than just chugging along and am enthused about taking senior year at full speed ahead.

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.