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Faculty lead the processional to Convocation at Mead Chapel on September 10.

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Convocation Marks Start of Academic Year for Class of 2021

September 11, 2017

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Members of the Class of 2021, just back from a two-day orientation trip, gathered with faculty and administrators at Mead Chapel on Sunday night to celebrate the start of a new academic year with the traditional Convocation ceremony. Wearing academic regalia, the faculty processed up Storrs Walk to the chapel through a corridor of applauding first-year students.

Although it was a beautiful late-summer evening in Middlebury, Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life Mark Orten asked the students to be mindful of the profound natural and human-caused disasters currently unfolding around the world and to seize this educational moment to improve the lives of others. “May we, as a community of scholars, never give in to the temptation to stand by hopeless; rather to employ all that we gain by this college, with determination, strength, and resolve,” Orten said.

President Laurie Patton greeted the incoming class with one of many College customs they would experience over the course of the evening. She passed around the original Gamaliel Painter’s cane, an important symbol bequeathed by one of the College founders, which now serves as a ceremonial mace at official events.

In one of their first Middlebury traditions, first-year students pass around Gamaliel Painter's cane at the start of Convocation.

    Dean of Admissions Greg Buckles welcomed the students, who represent 41 states and 31 countries, and offered some context for the times in which they are arriving at Middlebury.

    “I’ve been thinking a lot about you and what you have experienced and been witness to over this past year as you have gone through the college process and prepared to arrive here in Vermont,” said Buckles. “One of the most charged and controversial presidential elections in our history this past fall, campus unrest across the country in the spring, including right here at Middlebury, as well as the tragic unfolding of the events in Charlottesville just this summer—even the weather seems to suggest foreboding times.

    “And that is exactly why we’re fortunate to have you here at Middlebury. As we go about our challenging work of higher education, the Class of 2021 and 21.5 will be fully immersed in, and will help lead, the difficult conversations around race and class and access and history.”

    In her Convocation address, Patton drew a clear distinction between acquiring information and wisdom. Wisdom is not knowing a lot, but knowing your own truth, she said.

    “Once you’ve stopped comparing yourself to everyone else, then you can go on to the second part of wisdom: understanding that you are Middlebury,” said Patton.

    “You are probably wondering whether you have the strength sufficient to the task. So here’s what we want to tell you. You do have that strength, because you belong here. We chose you. We chose you because we sensed, and you did too, that there was something about you and this place that made a really wonderful match.”

    “Whenever you hear people talk about Middlebury as if it were outside of them, apart from them, they’re not being wise,” Patton continued. “It’s our job to remind each other: we are, all of us, Middlebury. Which means that all of us belong, and have something profoundly important to contribute to this community. And we need to make changes in ourselves first and foremost if we want the community to change.”

    Jin-Mi Sohn ’18, president of the Student Government Association, also greeted the incoming class and offered words of encouragement at the start of their college careers. Sohn, who identified herself as a first-generation Asian-American student, said the best advice she could offer was to “not be afraid to let yourself  change as many times as you need to” during your time at Middlebury.

    “I will tell you right now, the real secret of the college experience is constantly realizing that you are so much more and, in some cases, different than what you and others once expected you to be,” said Sohn. 

    Sohn emphasized that, like many colleges and universities, the Middlebury campus community is working hard to tackle difficult conversations and topics and that the voices and ideas of all students, including first-years, are welcome in this effort.

    College Carillonneur George Matthew Jr. performed a prelude to the ceremony. Jeffrey Buettner, associate professor of music and director of choral activities, performed the processional and recessional on the Mead Chapel organ and directed the College choir in a performance of Hildegard of Bingen’s O Virtus Sapientiae. Student Ronnie Romano ’20 played the organ for the College alma mater.

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