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Class of 2013 absorbs Middlebury traditions at Convocation

September 7, 2009

MIDDLEBURY, Vt.-On a perfect day for Convocation, more than 600 Middlebury first-year students lined Storrs Walk leading up to Mead Memorial Chapel in anticipation of the academic year ahead.

With warm temperatures and azure skies on Sunday, September 6, the Class of 2013's week-long orientation was about to give way to books, classes, exams and assignments. But first the members of the class had some Middlebury traditions to experience.

The first-year students applauded the processional of robed faculty and administrators before marching into Mead Chapel grouped by Commons: first Brainerd and Ross, then Wonnacott, Cook, and Atwater.

The Processional was led by Faculty Marshals Amy Morsman and Bertram Johnson.

The provost, Professor of English and American Literatures Alison Byerly, welcomed the new students to Convocation and then, as is customary at Middlebury, President Ronald D. Liebowitz passed Gamaliel Painter's cane among them, giving everyone a chance to touch the 18th-century walking stick carried by the College's principal founder. The faculty heads of the five Commons spoke for a few minutes each on building respectful relationships with each other, using the power of the mind, understanding the idea of "pleasure with intelligence," viewing the Commons as a laboratory of the liberal arts, and taking time for individual reflection that will lead to "transcendent insight."

President Liebowitz followed with his Convocation Address, and noted that the Champlain Valley has enjoyed a remarkable stretch of gorgeous weather for the past week. But the Vermont climate will not always be so favorable, he said. In fact, the harsh weather ahead is part of what makes student-to-student relationships at Middlebury "more important, more meaningful, and more long lasting."

Watching the first-year students file into Mead Chapel were, from left, Provost Alison Byerly, Artist in Residence François Clemmons, President Ron Liebowitz, Chaplain Laurel Macaulay Jordan, and Associate Chaplain Ira Schiffer.

The president reflected on Gamaliel Painter, whose cane by now had reached the back of the chapel, and the vision of the men that led to the founding of Middlebury College in the late 1790s. Just as the founders had high aspirations for a college on the hill, now Middlebury College has high aspirations for you, the members of the Class of 2013.

"Not trying to do it all is sometimes a good thing," he cautioned, because the day is still just 24 hours long, the workload here is demanding, the College offers about 140 student organizations, and there is much to learn from your interactions with faculty, staff, and your fellow students.

He urged the first-year students "to study deeply and broadly," and "to resist the myth that more is better." For example, instead of doing a double major, consider a single major and taking courses across the curriculum in areas you might not have considered your primary interests.

President Liebowitz also advised them to look into the Solar Decathalon, a national environmental competition that's taking root at Middlebury, and the Old Stone Mill, home to the College's Project on Creativity and Innovation in the Liberal Arts.

By finding a balance between the academic, social, co-curricular, and community engagement opportunities at Middlebury, he said members of the incoming class will be well-positioned "to develop the kind of character that comes from an outstanding liberal arts education."

No Convocation at Middlebury would be complete without exalted music and singing.

George Matthew Jr., positioned high atop Mead Chapel, played a concert on the 48-bell carillon both before and after the gathering. The Processional and Recessional were accompanied by Professor Emeritus Emory Fanning on the Gress-Miles organ resounding with its 50 sets of pipes. And Twilight Artist in Residence Francois Clemmons led the gathering (accompanied by Fanning) in singing the 13th-century student song Gaudeamus Igitur and in closing the Convocation with the Middlebury alma mater.

The new students filed out of the chapel, the women in sandals and heels and the men in sneakers and deck shoes. Under the late afternoon sun, they gathered on the lawn south of Storrs Walk for another Middlebury tradition: unfurling the Class of 2013 banner and posing for a panoramic class picture that will take its place in the College's archive.

The class assembled for a group photo on the day before the start of classes.

- Words and photos by Robert Keren