Class of 2012 gathers in Mead Chapel for Middlebury's Convocation

September 8, 2008

MIDDLEBURY, Vt.-As the 580 members of the Class of 2012 lined Storrs Walk waiting for the faculty procession to begin, anticipation grew. It was a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon in the shadow of Mead Chapel and the new first-year students passed the time with ripple after ripple of "The Wave," that American ballpark favorite.

The new students organized a wave while waiting for the procession to begin.

Then, as the cap-and-gowned faculty and administration of Middlebury College marched through the gauntlet of students, the 18- and 19-year-olds, in crisp shirts and brightly colored sundresses, broke into applause in the Middlebury tradition.

Faculty marshals Jacob Tropp, left, and Jeffrey S. Munroe led the Convocation procession.

Thus began the Convocation ceremony for Middlebury's 209th academic year.

While George Matthew Jr. played the 48-bell carillon high atop the Chapel and Emory Fanning, professor emeritus, played the Gress-Miles organ inside, the new students filed into the Chapel and stood at their pews arranged by Commons - Atwater, Brainerd, Cook, Ross, and Wonnacott. They bowed their heads as College Chaplain Laurel Macaulay Jordan '79 gave the Invocation.

The Class of 2012 followed the faculty into Mead Chapel.

The 16th president of the College, Ronald D. Liebowitz, welcomed the "first-years" and passed among them Gamaliel Painter's cane, a symbol of the inextricable link between the College and the townspeople who founded it. Countless numbers of Middlebury students, including Language Schools and Bread Loaf School of English alike, have so had the opportunity to handle Painter's walking stick.

The faculty heads of the five Commons introduced their students who stood, shouted, and more-or-less in unison presented a rousing song, poem, or cheer. Then Francois Clemmons, the Twilight artist-in-residence, led the gathering in the singing of Gaudeamus Igitur, in Latin of course, and Susan Campbell, dean of the faculty, welcomed the new students on behalf of the faculty.

Students in Brainerd Commons waved their banner and cheered when introduced by their faculty co-heads.

A Middlebury education "is not a singular product, but a set of possibilities," Professor Campbell explained, and how you choose your classes and your co-curricular opportunities "will shape you and the community around you." She urged the students to explore disciplines outside their usual areas of interest and discover new passions.
Peter Nelson, associate professor, delivered the faculty address.
Peter Nelson, associate professor of Geography and head of Atwater Commons, gave the faculty address. In it he drew upon two central themes of geographers: place and mobility. Prof. Nelson prefers to think of place as "space with meanings attached to it." No one student's "special meanings" are like any other's because "no two sets of Middlebury experiences are the same," he said. "But we can't forget that at the core of Middlebury's 'place' identity is learning. Middlebury is a place of learning in both an academic as well as personal sense."

In terms of mobility, Nelson spoke about how, through history, an individual's "mobility and quality of places frequented" were often an indicator of a person's social position. This is where he pointed out that the Class of 2012, while made up of members of many social classes, are members of a privileged group because "you can move freely across Middlebury's curricular landscape and experience its many different intellectual places."

"Think of your next four years as a migration to many exotic intellectual places, " he said, "know that these travels will forever change you."

Community and friendship

President Liebowitz followed with the Convocation address in which he advised the Class of 2012 to take full advantage of their liberal arts education by setting aside assumptions and taking risks. "The tried and true is not likely to open new doors for you," so reach out by taking a laboratory science class, enrolling in classes that are writing- and speaking-intensive, and by taking the initiative to learn outside the classroom.

Ronald D. Liebowitz, 16th president of Middlebury College, gave the Convocation address and passed Gamaliel Painter's cane among the first-year students.

"You will meet some very smart people here in addition to the faculty: your classmates, staff members, and folks from town. All can serve as teachers and mentors in significant ways, and will complement the excellent education you will receive in the classroom."

"And, finally, and perhaps most importantly," the president urged the new undergraduates "to take full advantage of the outstanding Middlebury faculty, who are ready and willing to teach and mentor you. They were, or should have been, the major reason you came here."

The president then spoke to the first-year class about the concepts of community and friendship, and related both to student behavior.

In terms of community, he said, "There is neither an easy nor definitive answer to where one's individual rights and freedoms begin and end, and where one's actions need to circumscribed because one is a member of a larger group." Furthermore, "the degree to which you and others take an active role building a strong sense of community will determine how rich your learning experience will be."

Similarly he said friendships formed at Middlebury are special and deep, and "the link between living in a vital, supportive community, and reaping all its benefits, may well lie in establishing true friendships."

He advised the students to take an active role in defining the community and to "grab some potential true friends along the way" because, he concluded, "The degree to which Middlebury meets your expectations and provides what you will need to meet the challenges you will face upon graduation is, to a very large extent, up to you."

Rabbi Ira Schiffer, the associate chaplain, offered a Benediction, and Convocation closed with the singing of the Alma Mater, led again by Francois Clemmons. The assembly followed Faculty Marshals Jeffrey Munroe and Jacob Tropp out of Mead Chapel into the warm September afternoon.

The experience had given the first-years a lot to ponder and a light breeze started to blow. But before they could rejoin their Commons, get ready for dinner, and think about tomorrow's classes, there was one more obligation. A photographer with a panoramic camera was standing by, waiting to take the official picture of the Class of 2012, on the Mead Chapel lawn.