Well, Accepted Students Weekend 2014 is behind us, and it was a rousing success. This was one of the biggest events of the year for the Admissions staff and senior fellows and all of them (us) did a great job launching a memorable weekend for the 2018ers. It was weird this year, for me, seeing all those excited and wide-eyed prospective students gawking at Middlebury and at its tales of liberal arts and cultural immersion and endless opportunity. That was me four years ago. It was four years ago that I made my first Middlebury friends at the reliably awkward Ice Cream Social. “Full circle” doesn’t even come close to describing how far it felt I’d come as I toured prospies around campus, helped organize events, and stood by to help lost families find Axinn 219 (not least of all because full circle would land me right back where I started). Events like Accepted Students Weekend are, on a small scale, a reminder of how important it is to pay-it-forward: in Middlebury, in life, everywhere. I remember the nerves and jitters and excitement of that uncertain time, and nothing made me feel more fulfilled than to share a story and witness a small circle of next-years shake with anticipation. The universe works in cycles, I’ve heard it said. This one is about to come around. It just makes me happy to know that, as we head forth, there is another group here to take our places; an eager, anxious, interesting, and interested assemblage of tomorrow’s Middlebury.
Author Archives: Nathan LaBarba
The Oscars Party
Right now, I am sitting in McCullough, the student center, reading about psychological behaviorism. In a few minutes (after my blog-break), I will put that book away and turn my attention to a few short stories by Chekhov before reading about the consequences of affirmative action in higher education. I am eating a delicious waffle with Nutella and bananas prepared for me by the lovely all-student staff at Crossroads Cafe. The Oscars are on the screen and there was a distinct cry of relief from the crowd when Frozen was announced as this year’s best animated feature. There are about 100 people here enjoying this scene. There is a mixture of studiousness and leisure in the air that is quintessential college. A few students shoot pool, faux ivory balls clacking against each other with Newtonian predictability. Free popcorn flows. I just finished a discussion with a friend who wants to write a short story about a woman who finds a secret message hidden in a book and becomes the subject of some more highly-enlightened human being’s attempt to simulate emotions. On Middbeat.org, our student events blog (which manages to be so much more), there is a new song buzzing around, a hip-hop arrangement by Innocent, Dwayne, and Caroline that is creative, engaging, and 100% going to blow up.
There is a special quality to life here sometimes, a tacit recognition of the Sunday blues and a willingness to combat it by any means necessary. I can’t tell if I’m procrastinating right now, by sitting here and reflecting on this special scene, or if I’m engaging in some higher form of education that is distinctly Middlebury. Either way, I’m not complaining.
Come join us!
Moving Out, Moving On
As J-term comes to a close, so too does my time living on campus at Middlebury. This is not for any particular reason. I quite enjoy my senior housing down in Homestead on Weybridge Street. It combines many of the luxuries of dorm-life with a geographic separateness that’s often refreshing. The walk up to Proctor in the morning is always cold, but I like the briskness of 9 am in Vermont as trucks whizz by on their way out to the country.
Now I am off to a new home! My sixth and final room. I am moving with a few close friends to live at 2 Park Street in town, above a custom leather-shoes workshop that has given the space its colloquial name: Leatherworks. Leatherworks promises to be a nice change of pace as well as a nice lead-in to life after college. There is a patio and a clean kitchen and a big shower. We have to take out our own trash and keep the bathroom stocked with toilet paper. We’ll probably cook many of our own breakfasts. As I write this post from the comfort of my sofa in Homestead, I am feeling quite claustrophobic as boxes begin to tower in preparation for the big move. And then that will be it, and I’ll be out of here, and I’ll have moved on to a new chapter.
Thinking back on my tiny Allen double, my vaulted-ceilinged Coffrin single, my party-suite Palmer single, my upstairs Palmer double, and now my cozy room in Homestead, I realize how much I have changed in my four years. A wide-eyed and overly enthusiastic freshman Nathan lived in Allen. A hardworking student with a lot of ambition took over Coffrin. A back-from-abroad and determined-to-get-better-at-squash Nathan soaked up the drama of Palmer House as a junior. This semester I was a student of constitutional law, a Disney movie screener, and an active job-searcher. How will my Leatherworks months be defined? Which new version of myself awaits? I always feel a real connection to the space I occupy. “Home” is where the heart is, but I have managed to make all of these places home in one way or another. Each time I move I leave a little bit of myself behind. Each room is replete with memories that weave together like a tapestry of my college experiences. I love moving. A new place, new smells, new sounds in the morning, new visitors, a new view. Fresh, new, alive, like the spring.
Another adventure awaits!
PS Jill, awesome movie.
Happy New Year
To current students and prospective students; to friends and friends that have become so close as to constitute family, especially the men of Homestead House; to all staff: Connie for cleaning Homestead and leaving us spontaneous chocolates and friendly notes, Pat^3 at Atwater dining hall for constantly bringing a smile to my face, Mrs. Ross for running that place like a benevolent drill sergeant; to my faculty this semester: Professor Dry for absolutely destroying my finals week, Professor Schmitt for somehow making multivariable calculus fun, Professor Callanan for sharing with us the birth of his beautiful son, and Professor Viner for introducing me to the insufferably reproachable TruTV program BaitCar; to faculty past, for enriching these four years in a way I never imagined could be possible; to the inspired and hilarious writers and journalists at MiddBeat for creating something simply wonderful; to the hard-working leadership and senators of the SGA; to my fellow admissions-office staff members: my quirky senior fellow colleagues, Barbara and Val, Lori and Nikki and Sara, and everyone that makes that office a delightful place to work; to the Nelson family, my mother, father, and two little brothers away from home; to Scott Barnicle for inviting me to play platform tennis with him and the old-timers; to my parents for putting up with my post finals-week listlessness; to all of the new faces that are going to make 2014 memorable, unique, unpredictable, and rewarding…
A very happy new year.
Who Needs a Prof?
On Wednesday my political philosophy professor had a baby—his second, a 9 lb little boy. It was no surprise to me that he wasn’t able to make it to our Thursday afternoon class.
That didn’t matter, though. There is a student in my class conducting an independent study this semester with our professor on Nietzsche. Anticipating his absence due to parenthood, my professor reached out to this student and encouraged him to do his best to get a class discussion going. We are reading Nietzsche this week.
When I arrived to class, a quick scan of the room confirmed for me that our professor had indeed taken the day off. I considered leaving for a moment. What could a motley assortment of political science majors possibly have to say about the mysterious Nietzsche? He’s an enigma in himself… I suspect many students came to class particularly excited to hear our professor clarify things.
But no. The independent study student kicked things off with a few provocative remarks, and we were on our way. No one moved. Not a body stirred. There was a brief moment of awkward silence pierced by the conjecture of a brave soul. And then a response—a challenge, an inquiry. A back and forth ensued.
A few students tried to raise their hands. Our student-leader humbly noted, “There’s no way I’m going to start calling on people… Let’s just have a discussion.”
And we did. A few students left, recognizing the unstructured class period as an opportunity to hit the gym early, get a head start on some work, or catch up on some lost sleep. I get it; Nietzsche isn’t for everyone. Twenty minutes went by. Thirty. Our class was cut in half at this point, but it didn’t matter. We were deep inside Nietzsche’s labyrinthine pages, arguing about morality, overmen, government, Marx, Mill, even Plato. Fifty minutes of discussion without a professor.
I went to a high school where, if a professor didn’t show, we ran to the Senior Commons room to play Super Smash Bros. after yielding a five-minute grace period, max. But here at Middlebury, an eagerness and willingness to learn trumped a desire to be anywhere else.
That’s what we’re here for, after all.
Bundling Up, Buckling Down!
Bundling Up, Buckling Down
Brrrr! What happened to the warm breeze? What happened to dinner on Proctor Terrace? Where did all the leaves go? (No, literally… I know they fell off the trees but… where did they actually end up?) We had an outstanding Fall of weather here at Middlebury, but it looks like winter’s chill has arrived. Judging by the size of the bags it’s packed, I’d say it’s here to stay.
People always ask me on tours and in information sessions if the cold bothers me. I reply, “Of course it bothers me! It’s the cold!” Then I make some remark about how it doesn’t do much more than deter me from going to the gym, and the group laughs.
The cold is sown into the fabric of our identity as college students in Vermont. A few nights ago, a couple friends and I went for a midnight swim off campus. We linked arms, said a prayer, and plunged into the frigid water. It washed over us like the first cleanse after a camping trip. That’s what the cold does to you here at Middlebury. It washes over you, it dries your knuckles, it makes you long for your LL Bean moccasins, Vermont Flannel, and down comforter. It promotes snuggling.
But it also promotes hard work. The coldest months are the months we are working the hardest (J term excluded for obvious reasons). Anyone remember Spring 2012? On March 21st it was 82 degrees- a full-blown Dunmore Day. I don’t recall the temperature dipping below 65 again until well after graduation. My GPA that semester warns me that the warmth can sometimes be distracting!
The cold winter months remind me that the focus of our college is primarily to grow our minds intellectually. It is to learn inside the classroom, to work hard, and to apply ourselves. Easy to do when 4:30 pm rolls around and it’s pitch black outside with whipping winds and a bitter frost. Not so easy when Battel Beach is abuzz with sunbathers and Frisbee tossers. I look at the winter months as a time to rid myself of distraction, to curl up in a cozy corner of the lib with a good book and read it. Really read it. Put down the phone, no fear of missing out, just a kid and his homework.
Winters at Midd are good for more than just skiing and snowshoeing. They provide more than merely an appreciation for warmer days.
When it’s time to bundle up, it’s time to buckle down.
PS The water was so cold. So, so cold.
On tours, in information sessions, and in life I have often received the question, “What is your least favorite thing about Middlebury?”. I sometimes coyly respond that the walk to the gym is a little too tiresome for my liking. An ironic quip, nothing more. But when I give my honest response, I usually say something much more astute- Fomo, or, more precisely, retroactive fomo.
Fomo stands for “fear of missing out”. That’s my least favorite thing about Midd. There is so much going on, so much to take advantage of, so many moving pieces that, when you start staring graduation in the face and recognizing that you are already ¼ finished with fall semester of senior year, you start to feel like there are opportunities that passed you by. Retroactive fomo.
I remember the end of my sophomore year of high school and the internal debate I had about whether or not I should take AP English Lit with Mrs. Roeser. Mrs. Roeser’s name is enough to awaken fear in the hearts of Spartan warriors. The work load is tremendous. You are lucky if your essay doesn’t come back to you with red pen stabbed right through your cover page and onto her cluttered desk. Maybe I won’t take it, I thought to myself. I deserve a break.
No one deserves a break. I took Roeser’s course and it was one of my favorite high school courses ever. That is the attitude you need to have if you want to truly take advantage of all that Midd has to offer. Maybe I shouldn’t join Solar Decathlon… It’s too much commitment. Wrong. Join Solar Decathlon. Maybe I shouldn’t add math as a double major. I love math but it’s just so difficult sometimes. Wrong. Double major in Math. Push yourself to the limit. Set goals for yourself. Fulfill them and surpass them and then shock yourself with how much you were able to accomplish.
Four years will pass you by in exactly 1460 days no matter how you spend them. Do everything. It’s ok to spread yourself a little thin sometimes. It’s worth it, in a place like Middlebury, where opportunities are ample and experiences rich. You will never remember the course you didn’t take. You will never form connections with the people you didn’t interact with. You will never fall in love with the place you didn’t visit.
I have packed my Middlebury career nearly to the brim, but I know I could have added just a few more drops to the surface of the penny before it all spilled over. 1460 days. Spend them well!