Looking Back on a Summer Well Spent

Pleased to share the final blog post in a series that highlights the experiences of Privilege & Poverty Interns as they learned and worked with local and national social services this summer.

This one is my (Connor Wertz ’22) personal reflection, which takes in the conversations and reflections I had the entire summer with other interns, my co-workers, and those I worked with at the John Graham Shelter.

Group shot of interns and community partners in a field.
The summer intern cohort and their community partners gathered for dinner and reflection in August. L-R: Abi Sessions (Board member – John Graham Housing and Services), Kerri Duquette-Hoffman (Exec. Director – WomenSafe), Olivia O’Brien (Middlebury College), Justin Srsic (Marymount Univ.), Luna Gizzi (Middlebury College),
Kassydi Dunnaway (Ohio Univ.), Anna Durning (Middlebury College), Joshua Lanney (Open Door Clinic), Nico Plume (Middlebury College), Connor Wertz (Middlebury College), Pete Kellerman (Co-Director, John Graham Housing and Services), Peter Mehler (Middlebury College), Brigett Weinstein (Middlebury College), Christina Grier (Services Director – WomenSafe), Doug Sinclair (Co-Director – Charter House Coalition), Cynthia Ramos (Middlebury College). Photo by Jason Duquette-Hoffman.

One hundred days. Not a very long time – in fact, less time than I have spent on any other job in my life. Yet I have taken to describing this past summer to those who ask as nothing less than perspective changing.

I started the summer primed from a lifetime of American culture, media, and my own privilege to see the differences between myself and others in our community. Indeed, I think I wanted to see differences, so that I could overcome them.

Ambitious? Maybe. Naive? Most definitely. 

Class, education, hometown, expectations from life, skin color, dignity, structural inequalities: I prepared analyses of all of these and more, and spent long nights wondering how they would play out in my personal interactions with those I would be working with.

Then, within the first few days of my internship, a little girl sidled up beside me, eyed me somewhat suspiciously with paper and markers in hand like an offering of peace, and said “Why are you so quiet?”

Four collaboratively completed pictures later, someone else recognized my hometown in Massachusetts. “That’s where Jack Keruac is from, right? Love him. Greatest American novelist.” Two conversations in, and I realized I was going to have to forget everything I expected. 

And 100 days later – days full of coffee conversation and creaky chairs, mornings discussing with other interns our shared experiences, concerns, and emotions – I can’t think of anything worth reflecting on except the similarities I’ve come to learn through relationships, even within structures of inequality.

At times, my first year at Middlebury College seemed like a constant performance of adequacy. Of proving one’s competency over and over – though I haven’t yet figured out to whom. This summer at the John Graham Shelter, living and learning as a part of the broader community in every sense of that term, if I had to prove anything it was how to be human: how to connect with people solely on the basis of what we shared.

Here, if I learned nothing else, it was just how many shared elements (hopes, sense of humor, needs) that we all have.

Thank you to the staff and community of the CCE, as well as the John Graham Shelter community for an experience that will shape me – has already shaped me – wherever I go moving onwards. I can only hope to give back a small fraction of the wisdom, the energy for change, and the inspiration that I will be taking with me.

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