On Being Encouraged to Do Your Own Thing


Laura Heaberlin '12 delivers her speech.

Listen to Laura's Speech


When I was seven years old, I wrote a very dramatic poem telling the story of an ant who dies in the first frost as he tries to make it home to his colony.  At the time I thought it was quite cathartic.  My teacher had it published in Underhill, Vermont’s annual town report.  My parents were half proud and half bewildered by my poem’s subject matter. 
My life easily could have steered in another direction where that poem would just be an irrelevant and silly contemplation of mortality in an otherwise sunny childhood, but somehow it has kept on this path.  I continue to contemplate chaos in an otherwise sunny life.  I just finished my poetry creative writing thesis, and it is full of earwigs consuming things out of desire, octopus ink settling into the sludge of the ocean floor, and humans swallowing entire feathery birds.  It’s comical even for me to take a step back and wonder where it all comes from, but there is something about me that makes me want to write poems that make people say “oh…yikes” and that desire to create something that is somewhat repulsive has been with me since I was born.

For many people, part of the educational process is a making room within oneself for practicality.  And this is, of course, very healthy, to be able to take on responsibility, and to have the means to survive independently.  But I think, in this making room within oneself, it is easy to neglect to practice your creativity, and in the process of this transformation, your muse might get lonely and move out.  I have been fortunate to go to a school that values that creative part of me.  Not only values it, but expects things of it and trains its muscles.  I have not had to rearrange myself in order to shoulder responsibility, but instead, I’ve grown by taking on responsibilities that are creatively nourishing.  Instead of trivializing my poems or my songs in the face of what might be considered more exigent goals, Middlebury has encouraged me to continue to create by giving me academic incentive, funding, attentive audiences and mentors.

Middlebury is a place that caters to each individual’s intellectual interests in a way that most other schools are unable to.  I wanted to perform and I got to open for Brad Corrigan from Dispatch, Eric Hutchinson and Anaïs Mitchell.  I wanted to write, and I got to attend Bread Loaf Writers Conference free of charge and work with famous poets from around the country.  I wanted to record, and I got to use a fully equipped studio according to my own schedule for as long as I wanted.  Every student’s experience here is tailored to what they make of it.  Frequently people tell me that they can’t believe they go to the same school I do.  Generally it’s after I say something like “I did some research for my thesis today by watching YouTube videos of mice to see how their tails move” or “I have to write a paper tonight that compares Beauty and the Beast the folk tale to Beauty and the Beast the Disney movie.” 

But I feel the same way when people ask me to participate in their thesis by letting them take samples of my saliva while I play video games to gauge my stress level, or that their J-term class is to create a professional-quality comedy webseries about a fictional team of Public Safety officers, or that today in their physics lab they got to use a hovercraft.  The point being, Middlebury has forced me to accomplish things, but the great majority of those things have been totally my own design.  Yes, everyone is very busy here almost all the time, but they are the busiest when they are planning trips to create maps for non-profits in Rwanda, or when they’re practicing to compete in nationals for improv comedy in Chicago.  Everyone here is busy self-actualizing, doing his or her “thing”.  And so much of it is not traditionally career-oriented in any way, but the college encourages and validates it.

And so, finally, I would like to thank the donors, without whose selflessness I would not be here today.  I am a recipient of the Edward Gosselin Scholarship, which has been supporting Middlebury students for over forty years.  Not only does the scholarship provide my peers and me with time in such a wonderful place, but also it provides us with the education that we choose for ourselves with no restrictions whatsoever.  Donors give with the trust that the students themselves will know best what to do with their time, without ever having met the students.  Their philanthropy is made even more generous because it says the things that you choose to do are worthwhile because you have chosen to do them.  It is a message we don’t hear very many times in our lives.

When I was little, I vacillated between whether I wanted to be a writer or a singer.  Most people change their minds many times about what career they want to have, and perhaps as graduation draws nearer I will reevaluate my desires more rigorously, but I have always had the same Meyers Briggs type no matter how many times I take the test thinking I have changed, I have always written horror poems, and I still want to be a writer or a singer/songwriter.  I suppose there is something about me that has been true since I was little that predisposes me to all these preferences. 

I think it would have been very easy to stamp out these desires and I feel very fortunate that, because of donors like the ones in this room, I have been able to have an educational experience that took who I was and encouraged it to develop without manipulation.  These donors have given hundreds of completely unique gifts because they have been received by unique individuals who have turned their scholarships into the experiences that they specifically needed. 

On behalf of the other scholarship recipients, I would like to express our gratitude for your altruism in giving us the means to an education which will help us navigate the rest of our lives, without restriction or expectation. 

Thank you.