Tag Archives: Editors Choice

Road Taken: Unfinished Business


I was in the second week of my German class in Dresden. Hasan and I presented a skit. I played a hotel receptionist. Hasan played my customer, disgruntled because his Internet service wasn’t working. Translated from German to English, the skit ended like this: 

Hasan: “So, are you going to fix the service?”

Me: “Nope. I’m only the receptionist.”

“Well, who can do something about it?”

“Maybe my boss.”

“Then call him! I want a refund!”

Phoning my manager.

“We have a man who is very angry about our Internet service. He wants a refund. Yes, we should give him one. I’m afraid of this customer. He is angry, and bigger than I am.” Stage whisper. “Besides, I think he’s a Syrian!”

This last line was an ad lib, and, like all ethnic humor, not without risk. But my classmates roared with laughter. I got away with my bad joke because my classmates were Syrian refugees. They had arrived in 2015 and were among the 5,500 refugees living in Dresden.

I had taken my last German class at Middlebury in 1974. By graduation, my skill had reached the same level as my downhill skiing: sloppy intermediate. I now had the opportunity to complete the unfinished business of learning German to the point of conversational fluency. My classmates had a more pressing reason for learning the language. Their university educations had been interrupted by civil war. To continue their studies, they needed to be proficient in German.

No country has been more welcoming to Syrian refugees than Germany, which has provided them with language education, apartments, and living expenses. But Dresden, the center of Germany’s anti-Islamic and neo-Nazi movements, is its least welcoming city. During my stay, a mosque was firebombed, four refugees were attacked by thugs, and two Syrians were attacked by a man wielding a sword. Weekly anti-immigrant demonstrations attracted thousands of protesters.

The American presidential election was around the corner. My classmates’ interest was purely academic. To them, America became irrelevant in 2011, when the U.S. refused military aid to the rebels even after the Syrian government had crossed the “red line” of using chemical weapons. Moutez, a doctoral candidate in international business, theorized that the Americans’ decision to stay on the sidelines was part of a deliberate strategy to tilt the Middle East balance of power away from Saudi Arabia toward Iran. I told Moutez that he was giving our government too much credit for actually thinking things through.

Hasan, my dialogue partner, was expecting his first child, a son. He once asked if I had experienced racism as a child. Sure, I said. In my small Wisconsin hometown, I was frequently teased about being Japanese. But, I said, it was no big deal. Every kid gets picked on at some point. Hasan responded: “The other day, I saw some German kids on the playground call a black child a ‘neger.’ If my child plays with other children and learns such words from them, I would want to make sure he doesn’t use them against another child.”

My answer had missed his point. Hasan was less afraid of his child being picked on than he was of him picking on someone else.

On my last night in Dresden, Hasan and his wife had me over for tea. Hasan told me that he was glad that I had gotten to know the Syrians. “You could have stayed at your apartment and not gotten to know us,” he said, “but this way, you know that we are normal people. We’re not terrorists or criminals.”

Road Taken: Déjà Vu


The graffiti on the wall down the block from my student apartment in Paris was profane, referencing oil. I walked past it at least once a day in the winter and spring of 1991 on my way to class at Reid Hall, the building shared by Middlebury’s School Abroad with a cluster of other American colleges. Often, I walked by twice, once to class and again in the evening on the way to the home of the family I was renting from; they lived in another apartment a few blocks away from mine.

It wasn’t the only reminder that the Gulf War was unpopular in that corner of France. Dinners with the family—included in my rent and at least as educational as my semester of classes—featured regular conversations about current events.

All this returned with the clarity of a formative moment after the November 13 terrorist attacks on Paris. I work in a newsroom, so I spent the evening reading about those harrowing events unfolding across the Atlantic. The next morning, I woke after a lengthy dream, in which I was walking home from work through the darkened Paris streets. I stopped at a small restaurant, nothing fancy, and felt I was known there, a regular. It was my first dream of Paris, and my first in French, in years.

I don’t want to name the Parisian family I lived with, but other students of the era who rented from them will no doubt know who I’m talking about. The father was a school principal and an ardent Socialist, and the mother, his younger second wife, was Syrian. She had a young son, maybe eight or nine years old, whom she’d brought with her when she left Syria.

They were wonderful people, and I did indeed learn as much from them as from my classes. After spending my first five days in Paris with no one but the family, speaking nothing but French, I showed up at Reid Hall for the first day of class, and the first word I heard was a slack “Hey,” one of several cultural divides that proved hard to navigate that semester.

Most Thursday nights were couscous nights at the family’s apartment, and I remember them still as some of the best meals of my life. Often visitors—usually from another part of the Arab world or North Africa—would come by, bearing Tunisian pastries or dates stuffed with a mix of cheese and honey.

Conversation turned to the Gulf War. As the lone American at the table, I was often called on to explain the ways of my government. I wasn’t a supporter of the war, but I wasn’t prepared to offer a heartfelt denunciation either. Diffidence was my shield against my fellow diners’ questions. At one point, we decided that we’d consider me a Swede, officially neutral.

The question, or entreaty, that stayed with me from those conversations, because it is so resistant to solutions, was Pourquoi est-ce que les Etats-Unis peut pas fouter la paix au Moyen Orient?

Why can’t the United States leave the Middle East the fuck alone? Our economy’s thirst for oil is such that this question struck me, even then, as rhetorical or unanswerable.

Perhaps that was a failure on my part. Would another student in my seat at the dinner table have decided to seek an answer, or at least to reassure a Syrian woman resettled in Paris that her question was worth answering, even haltingly and incompletely?

To recall that question again, posed by a Syrian, reminds me that the conflict now manifesting itself in terrorist attacks and waves of refugees was already under way, visible and audible and angry, 25 years ago.

Alex Hanson ’92 is the features editor at Valley News, a daily paper in Lebanon, New Hampshire.

Road Taken: Awakening


Somewhere along the way modern America lost its sense of scale. The coasts seem to have grown more proximate. Our neighbors have inched closer. Everyone appears to know everything about everybody. Maybe the Internet is to blame, or the airplane, or even the car. But no one seems to notice. At least I didn’t—not until last summer, when a friend and I embarked on an unorthodox trip from Buffalo to New York City.

The plan was to paddle the decade-old, 17-foot, obnoxiously red, recreational Old Town canoe my father had given my mother for their 19th anniversary. We were going to go along the Erie Canal and down the Hudson River. By car Buffalo to New York is seven hours and a tank and a half of gas. By canoe, it’s three weeks and 20 cans of soup. Setting out, we weren’t sure if we would encounter a small portion of a big world or a big portion of a small one.

We felt every mile. The canal has a 10-mile-per-hour speed limit—a restriction I’d always thought laughingly slow until I considered it from the stern of a canoe. Paddling as hard as we could—dip, swing, dip, swing, dip, swing, j-stroke—we’d hit about 5 mph tops. But after 20 minutes, even that was out of reach.

I was surprised our slow progress wasn’t demoralizing. Instead, as we slipped along past farmland that endlessly stretched from the water’s edge—past abandoned mills and factories, past dense tree cover—our journey’s slowness accentuated the distance we covered. There was something deeply satisfying about every day’s small progress. Thirty miles on the water contained more than 300 on the interstate.

There were pieces of the canal that I had crossed daily for a large part of my life—mundane trips in the car headed to school or the store—but from the water everything was different.

I barely recognized my own community. From the canoe I saw the backs of buildings or a random swing set, and my brain wouldn’t register these familiar landmarks from a different vantage point. And the canal itself was unfamiliar. What I had always assumed was a meandering vestigial feature of a less-refined era revealed its elegance in gentle curves and long straights that were far more direct than the ribbon of roads we passed under.

Leaving the canal behind, the Hudson brought further revelations. Every mile
possessed abundant detail—the smell of pine needles, the hum of the freeway that was almost always in sight, bald eagles soaring overhead, aquatic life just beneath the water’s surface.

And then there were revelatory moments: container ships on the Hudson sound like a cross between a jet engine and a dinosaur, and when I viewed them from the surface of the water, I found judging their distance or movement almost impossible. With their skyscraper stacks and mammoth hulls, these water-crawling beasts obscure both the shore and landmarks. For what seems like hours, they don’t appear to move. Until suddenly a ship rushes past, leaving a fury of displaced water in its wake.

And then those moments, too, passed.

When we reached the Inwood Canoe Club in Manhattan—19 days and 450 miles from where we’d begun—I was relieved, satisfied. Still, I couldn’t shake one feeling. With all of the new sensations I’d experienced, I started wondering what I’d missed while looking the other way—or not looking at all.

The world no longer seemed quite so small.

James Lynch ’16 interned with the magazine last summer and is continuing on as a contributing editor. An English major, he is writing his senior thesis on his canoe trip down the Hudson.

Road Taken: Serving Me Well


After I graduated from Middlebury, I waited tables. I found pleasure in learning long wine lists, working by candlelight, and timing 12-course tasting menus to the minute. I am persnickety by nature, which is excellent for high-stakes fine-dining restaurants where minutia like matching all the handles of the oyster forks at Table 34 takes on astounding importance. But serving was not what I imagined for myself post college. In the summer and fall of 2010, I interviewed for a few editorial assistant positions and almost got a job in management consulting. Eventually, by winter, I took what I thought was an editorial research position at a business-to-business journal, but it was actually telemarketing. Surprise! The job didn’t pay enough to cover my rent, student loan payments, and living expenses, so I quit in May and got a job serving. I worked first in Portland, Maine, and then in Washington, D.C., where I served at the most-booked restaurant in the country for three-and-a-half years.

Occasionally my friends and relatives expressed confusion about why someone—me—with a degree in international studies was scraping plates and cleaning out drip trays for a living. But here’s the thing—just as Professor Jay West taught me to love 19th-century German literature, angry patrons and drug-addled chefs taught me never to feel above anything. I toughened up and learned to take responsibility. I also learned salmon roe kohlrabi foam exists (but maybe shouldn’t); anything can be made into a velouté; and grad school is not always the answer—even though, late one night, smelling like truffle oil and sitting on a bus next to a vomiting sous chef, I thought it might be. I applied to MFA programs and got waitlisted.

When I graduated from college, part of me believed the world had a perfect, golden niche waiting to be filled with my skills and abilities. This is embarrassing and obviously not the case. In her opening address to Middlebury, incoming president Laurie Patton said students “increasingly must create their own worlds—their own forms of employment, their own ways of being in the world.” That’s a great sentiment, and I think it’s true.

Eventually I left serving, and after several months of scrambling/freelancing (and nights spent staring at CodeAcademy, wishing I might magically become a Javascript genius), I got an editing job I love. Working in an office is different than working in a restaurant: it makes small talk easier, and it’s nice to get a lunch break. But part of me misses the hustle and delicacy of restaurants—and the feeling of being in a club of people who choose to work in the shadows of everyone else’s lives. More than anything, I still believe my success as a person shouldn’t be measured by the job I have or don’t have.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because of all the talk about the relevancy of a liberal arts education—whether courses on European structuralism sufficiently prepare students to meet the demands of today’s job market. But the liberal arts are also about adaptability, persistence, intellectual generosity, restlessness, tradition, and grit.

Middlebury allowed me, even in moments of selfish, myopic despair, to step back and find perspective. And as for structuralism, I remember hearing my trendy restaurant’s spring menu—some elevation of local honey and stone-cooked peasant bread—and thinking of nothing but Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction.

Rachel Siviski ’10 still enjoys finding just the right wine to pair with dinner. She lives with friends in Vermont.

Island Time


I check my watch again—likely for the 10th time these past two minutes. It’s 6:25 p.m., and the 5:30 “Speedy’s” ferry has yet to leave the dock. I do the math in my head, even though I know there’s no chance I’ll make the connecting ferry to Virgin
Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.

I flip through my notebook, where I’ve written down phone numbers for other ferry services and hotels in the area. I like schedules, efficiency, timeliness. And this night is not going as I’d planned.

I’m about to begin a monthlong internship, an environmental research expedition in the Caribbean. The other ferry passengers around me don’t seem concerned about the lack of timeliness. A baby peeks over the seat, chocolate-brown, sleepy eyes watching me tap my fingers.

Looking for assistance, I ask the man working at the ferry dock when we might be leaving.

He laughs.

“Why are you in such a hurry?” he asks.

Without waiting for an answer, he tells me about “island time.” Apparently island time means nothing is on time.

An hour and fifteen minutes after the scheduled departure, we push away from the dock. We pick up speed, crashing over waves in ways that seem reckless. “Finally,” I sigh.

I’ve always been obsessed with moving forward. In high school I worked endlessly, participating in every imaginable activity to craft the perfect resume to get me into a school like Middlebury. And while I enjoyed these activities—at least I thought I did; in retrospect, I’m not sure I took the time necessary to enjoy them properly— often my primary motivation was to check another item off my mental list: things I needed to do to succeed.

At Middlebury, I’m always working, distributing my hours between athletics, academics, two jobs, and a social life—doing so hoping I’ll find a job after graduation. I have no patience for sitting still. I must always be making progress, always moving forward.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that my exposure to “island time” is starting to change that mindset. While on island time, no matter how badly I wanted to move forward, I couldn’t.

Boxes weren’t checked. And it was okay.

Now, I can’t say that this time of self-
reflection allowed me to “figure everything out.” While gazing out at the beautiful water, I didn’t suddenly realize what I’m supposed to do next; I didn’t figure out how I was going to make an impression upon the world. What I realized—perhaps for the first time—is that trying to figure everything out is a fool’s errand.

When I returned to Middlebury, I resisted the temptation of falling into old habits: I had responsibilities, of course, but I wanted to be responsible for the moment, not the future.

Moving forward may mean a long run down a country road instead of rushing from activity to activity; time doesn’t stand still, but my time does. Instead of devoting countless hours to future plans, I try and turn this devotion to those around me. Instead of worrying about a murky future and trying to blast through the haze, I try to become comfortable with ambiguity.

With graduation approaching, I’m cognizant of the landmark events—graduations, new jobs, promotions—that will mark life’s progression. But if I’m always checking the seconds that go by and focusing on where I need to be next, I’ll forget to notice where I am.

Elizabeth Reed ’15 will graduate this spring as a sociology and anthropology major. She’ll let us know what she plans on doing next—on her own time.

Old Chapel: Looking Ahead

middlebury future president

As Ron Liebowitz enters the twilight of his presidency, we asked him to reflect on the new challenges that leaders in higher education can expect to face, while examining where these challenges came from and how they can be confronted.

What challenges will future leaders of colleges and universities face that presidents of the last decade either didn’t face or faced only in
limited ways?

At the risk of annoying a whole lot of people, I will start with the issues of cost and relevance. I tried out this issue as a topic of conversation with my faculty colleagues almost three years ago, and let’s just say it was not the most popular topic I ever introduced for collegial dialogue. And I can understand why. Yet it is something that the private institutions, especially, cannot afford to ignore, as the cost of such an education is now around $250,000 for the four-year BA degree.

This figure becomes even more astounding when one learns that the annual cost (room, board, and tuition) of around $60,000 represents only about 70 percent of the actual cost of that education per student. Annual gifts and earnings from the endowment provide what amounts to a hidden “scholarship” of more than $20,000 to even those who pay the full price.

This leads to the question of relevance, whether a degree today ensures what it did for earlier generations…

Right. Our current students are entering a world vastly different than the one their parents and grandparents encountered when they graduated from college. And people want to know: is a liberal arts degree worth worth the investment.  And this holds true for everyone, even those most able to afford this high cost.

As taboo as it might be to say aloud, when one is paying a quarter of a million dollars for an education, one of the things one inevitably considers is whether such an investment is relevant to one’s son’s or daughter’s future—whether the four years will help them acquire the knowledge, character, habits of the mind, and skills necessary to compete in a world that is very different from just a generation ago. More and more parents are beginning to notice that the education that worked for them 25 or 30 years ago will not suffice for this generation.

Of course inside the academy and at Middlebury we all know the value of a liberal arts education: it is, in the long term, second to none in preparing young adults for a fulfilling and productive life. Yet, the many defenses of a liberal arts education that are offered up more and more frequently, while convincing to those already committed, are not fully understood by the uninitiated. Unfortunately, this group represents an overwhelming majority of families with soon-to-be college-bound children.

What, then, is the solution, or a solution, to this information or curricular gap?

Well, we need to continue to extol the virtues of having generations of liberally educated graduates while, at the same time, building on what a liberal arts education has traditionally offered students. That is, the 21st-century version of the liberal arts, different from the 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century versions, should evolve as its predecessors have done and include components that require students to experiment, conceive, design, build, and engage in uncertainty. It needs to provide the opportunity for students to take all they learn from studying across multiple disciplines and through different modes of inquiry and apply their learning to real-world challenges, questions, and numerous unknowns. Students need the opportunity to take risks, experience failure, and learn lessons from such failure without fear of a bad grade or having to wait until their first job or endeavor after graduation.

The combination of intense specialization and technological innovation, spread so easily and rapidly over the past decade as the result of globalization, requires the liberal arts to evolve and become more dynamic. It needn’t become diluted or beholden solely to the trendy or the here and now. Rather, it needs to equip its students not only with the timeless virtues of the liberal arts of the past but also with the tools, perspectives, and experience necessary to adapt to our rapidly changing and competitive world.

The two Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competitions, the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) summer program, the Center for Social Entrepreneurship, MiddCORE, Middlebury FoodWorks, our faculty-student summer research program, and the annual Spring Student Symposium are all examples of programs that can define, complement, and transform a traditional liberal arts education. These programs provide opportunities for students to follow up their course work with experimentation, design work, problem solving, collaboration, and the experience of creating something new, or at least the setting out to do so. Failure is a common and inevitable part of each program. What one learns in the process is invaluable: students graduate possessing a combined breadth of knowledge and set of skills that are today so necessary to succeed in a highly competitive and increasingly specialized world.

And so why is this so different now from what presidents faced 10, 20, and 30 years ago?

As I mentioned previously, the world has changed dramatically since many of the faculty and the parents of our current students were themselves in college, and the rapid pace of change challenges our education systems, from kindergarten through higher education. It has become harder and harder to keep up and evolve with the times and what they demand from our graduates. It remains to be seen if colleges and universities, let alone K–12 schools, can blend the best of what I would call traditional pedagogies with what might be called new pedagogies that recognize the ways current and future generations of students will learn. We already see a large proportion of students shying away from text-based materials and gravitating almost naturally to digitized content. The attention span of the current generation of students is far shorter than it was 20 years ago, which translates for many into an inability to sit for 50 minutes and enjoy, let alone learn from, a lecture without texting or checking Facebook. Yet this should come as no surprise. At the same time, an expectation that faculty can and will adjust to these changes and do so seamlessly, while pursuing their research and professional obligations, is optimistic, at least in many of our disciplines.

Robust and generous faculty-development programs are essential if higher education as we know it is to thrive in this century. And a willingness on the part of faculty to engage in such professional development is equally—and perhaps more—essential.

While our faculty are incredibly committed to and excel at the human-intensive pedagogy that sits at the core of a residential liberal arts college education, the incentive for faculty to build upon that pedagogy and amend the curriculum accordingly to meet the needs of students is not quite apparent, or at least not obviously so. And therein lies the challenge for current and future presidents of colleges and universities: to articulate creatively a vision for the liberal arts and higher education that is both timeless and time sensitive, and that recognizes how what was valuable in the past can serve as the foundation for the future. It must be a vision that motivates and inspires faculty, and one whose new pedagogies must be based on a deep understanding of one’s students, align with how those students learn, and allow for the kind of dynamism in both the pedagogy and curriculum essential for the 21st century.

Old Chapel: Arts Scene

Middlebury dance finalThe arts have a rich history at Middlebury, playing a fundamental role in the life and culture of the College. We talked to President Liebowitz about the importance of the arts, its evolution inside and outside the curriculum, and its future in higher education.

Let’s start broadly: What is the role of the arts in a liberal arts education?
It’s an integral part of a liberal arts education. To be liberally educated you have to have an understanding, an appreciation, and a critique, in some way, of the arts. The arts are an embodiment of the human endeavor, a product of creativity, and an expression of one’s relationship to oneself, to other people, and to the environment. The arts are central to our educational mission.

Students come to a liberal arts college like Middlebury for both the breadth and the depth of what we offer. If you’re a chemistry major or a political science major, you’ll take 18 to 20 courses outside your chosen field of study. You’ll be exposed to various ways of thinking, creating, and appreciating. This broad education includes the arts.

The College recently received a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation to support a multiyear project to bring emerging artists in dance to collaborate with Middlebury faculty and students in other disciplines. This seems to be a groundbreaking effort.
I’m very excited about this. “Movement Matters” will address the question of how human bodies can shape—both literally and metaphorically—our political and physical worlds. Christal Brown, an assistant professor and chair of the dance program, will direct the project, and she’s done an amazing job. She’s an incredible ambassador and spokesperson for the performing arts becoming more central in the lives of our students, faculty, and staff.

To be honest, I think students are already there. With this project, I think faculty and staff will be the ones being pushed to think beyond the traditional boundaries of a liberal arts education. As faculty advisers, we always encourage students to broaden their experiences by taking courses outside their areas of endeavor. But this project goes further. It will compel faculty to think about how art meshes with their disciplinary teaching.  It’s a wonderful reinforcement of the liberal arts ideal.

During your time at Middlebury, have you seen an increase in student interest in the arts?
I believe there’s greater student demand to engage in artistic endeavors. There’s always been great interest in the arts curriculum here, and this student body has consistently been a bit more arts oriented than other student bodies I’ve encountered in the academy.

I’m seeing an expansion of interest outside the curriculum. We have amazingly creative students working on, say, playwriting in the Old Stone Mill or pottery on Adirondack View. Both spaces fall under the auspices of PCI, our Programs on Creativity and Innovation in the Liberal Arts, and they’re serving as creative laboratories for students who want to experiment outside the classroom.

Now, there’s healthy debate among some faculty as to whether we should be facilitating this experimentation outside of the curriculum. Some arts faculty feel students should understand the fundamentals of what they’re doing, rather than just attempting it. I understand their thinking, but another perspective is unquestionably compelling. Peter Hamlin, the Christian A. Johnson Professor of Music, says that among his composition students, those who have composed music experimentally in the Old Stone Mill have arrived in his class having already learned, to an appreciable, if not complete, extent what works and what doesn’t work, and he senses a constructive confidence as they discuss their creative endeavors.

Like in other disciplines, in the arts, there’s theory and there’s practice. How valuable are the opportunities students have to engage in these “real world” programs like the Potomac Theatre Project in New York or the Town Hall Theater in town?
Extremely valuable. Let’s look at the Potomac Theatre Project (PTP). Since Cheryl Faraone and Richard Romagnoli founded PTP (with Jim Petosa) in the mid 1980s, scores of Middlebury students have been involved with this professional acting company, working alongside equity actors, learning the art of acting as well as set and costume design, in ways really hard to replicate in the traditional classroom or theater program. And since PTP moved to New York and off-Broadway seven years ago, the experience has gotten that much richer. Our undergraduate theatre program already is amazing; access to PTP makes it, in my view, remarkable.

As well, our partnership with the Town Hall Theatre not only supports a local cultural institution but also expands our students’ opportunities. (For more on this partnership, see p. 32) During the school year, students act, co-direct, and stage productions in collaboration with community actors and performers. Each January, THT also houses our winter-term musical, which typically plays to full houses every night. And in the summer, our Language Schools students perform in the space, as the arts constitute an important part of the learning process and Language School mission. We have flexibility in our accessible venues, and we also place unique artistic offerings right in town.

There are two other programs emblematic of both the thirst for, and success of, the arts for our students. During fall break, senior majors in architecture studies will visit cities—recent locations have been Montreal and Boston—where they will view and study important architectural works. They’ll meet with the architects of those projects, when possible, and also visit architectural firms, both large and small, to see first-hand what it means to work in this field; this kind of exposure to the profession is difficult to obtain in the Champlain Valley.

Another extraordinary opportunity is the Museum Assistance Program (MAP). Students learn how to be docents of a collection—they learn how to show, talk about, and teach art. But they are also learning to speak intelligently to audiences and to carry themselves in professional ways. They’re acquiring interpersonal and intellectual skills that will help them in any profession.

There’s also a fund that allows winter term students to…
They purchase art for the museum! Yes, that’s another wonderful opportunity. Through the generous gift of an alumna, the students research art, they learn about art acquisition, and they learn about the marketplace. It’s an incredible experience, and they get to work alongside the donor to the fund, an art gallery owner, who comes to campus and provides advice and expertise. Another fund, given by parents of a recent graduate, provides residences for visiting musicians. When these professional musicians come to campus, they spend a little time on campus and work with students, giving the students a feel for performing or composing at a professional level. These experiences are invaluable.

The College recently received a generous gift of a Steinway concert grand piano, and part of the donor agreement was that this piano be made available to the entire community.
It’s a beautiful gift to the College, and this aspect of the gift especially so. We have far more musical talent than what we regularly hear about. When the piano arrived, this became abundantly clear. You wrote about it in the magazine—we had sign-up opportunities for people to come into the concert hall and play. The list filled up immediately. And interest has continued, as it has with people getting to play other pianos. If anything, we’re many pianos short in terms of demand on campus!  A gift of 10, 20, and maybe 30 pianos for practice and leisurely playing would probably still not meet our campus demand; one can hope!

Middlebury has celebrated music for a long time. We have a concert series in its 95th year, and recently I looked at the entire lineup of performers who have come to campus during this period. Both the evolution and the continuity in this music series is remarkable. Middlebury cares about music, and this Steinway is symbolic of that commitment to the art form.  It has all the more meaning by coming to us as a gift from parents whose son excelled here in music and the performing arts.

There are well-documented economic pressures on higher education. Where do the arts fall in these discussions of cost and relevance?
It’s a real question, specifically one of cost.  To circle back to the beginning of our conversation: the arts are essential to a liberal arts education. Appreciating the arts doesn’t end when one graduates. Rather, if we are successful in educating our students in the liberal arts tradition, that appreciation becomes a lifelong endeavor.  Learning about artistic forms allows one to appreciate life. We’d be delinquent if we didn’t recognize the arts’ place in our students’ educations.

Does this mean always having the most expensive things? No. It means always making artistic endeavors a part of students’ educational experiences. Students must be exposed to, and inspired by, the arts—by what they see and hear and learn. Middlebury has long been committed to this philosophy, and I believe we’ll not only retain this commitment but strengthen it in the years ahead.