Middlebury

2011 Student Commencement Speaker: Donovan Dickson

I want to talk to you today about what it means to be a “Midd Kid.” I realize that the term is never really free of a bit of sarcasm — in very much the same category as “Club Midd” — but I also think that there is an underlying concept of the phrase that is taken seriously. That is, it presumes that there is some unifying characteristic that every single one of us shares as a fellow Middlebury Student. So what, then, is this Middlebury identity? You might think of a Midd Kid as an incredibly enthusiastic and creative person having a great sense of balance: very hard-working yet socially adjusted, environmentally conscious yet socially adjusted, and attending a school where quidditch is played yet socially adjusted.

What I am saying here is nothing you haven’t already realized. The concept of our identity was, of course, celebrated and simultaneously satirized last year by the “Midd Kid Rap” and video. I am assuming that you, like me, are already among the 1,010,886 current views on YouTube. 
This identity of a “Midd Kid,” however, as true as it may seem to strike in the video, is not what I think defines us as the class of 2011. The qualities I listed may be true for a vast majority of us here today, but I am very opposed to the notion that there is some sort of cookie cutter mold that we all seem to fit here at Middlebury. We don’t. It seems almost too obvious to say, but we are all different people and decided to come here for different reasons. Some of us were drawn to Middlebury by athletics, or by music, or by the study of a language. Personally, I came for the cane. In addition to this, we have all changed in the last four years in completely different ways.

I want you all right now to think back to the person you were four years ago when you showed up to campus for the first time. Think of how you introduced yourself to your freshman hall and then what you were thinking when you dressed up in western clothing and went to the hoedown. Remember your key-card hanging from your neck by a lanyard, which might as well have been a tattoo on your forehead saying “Freshman.” 
Now think about the person you are today and about how different you are as we are now forced to say good bye. Both to each other and to this place. Needless to say, you have probably grown up a whole lot. Some of you had very rewarding athletic careers. Some of you found a life passion that was not even on your radar before coming to Middlebury. Some of you got taller, or wider, or better at growing a beard. These changes are personal to you, so in that regard we have clearly dispelled the notion of a cookie-cutter Midd Kid. What is unifying, though, is that we must all thank Middlebury for these individual changes. What we share with each other is that we were all here, together, for these changes.

We were here together for four years in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Each meal for us was an all-you-can-eat buffet of amazing food — prepared with care without fail. We were here together with a set of professors, faculty members and staff members who genuinely love their jobs and loved working with us. We were here through not only our own changes, but the changes of the school. I can’t tell you how many times I have taken the role of an old, nostalgic man and told a freshman or a sophomore about how unprivileged they are not to have been here during the Atwater Dining Hall era. Axinn, complete with a movie theater and teeming indoor waterfall, opened while we were here. That plant with all the glass walls. We saw the chicken parm lose its breading one year and then suddenly grow it right back the next.  
And it needs to be mentioned that we went through incredibly challenging times together as well. We lost three close friends — Nick, Pavlo and Ben — and should remember that they are just as much a part of this day as we are. In fact, they should serve as a reminder of how the ones of us most affected by these tragedies managed to go on. That is — we had, and have, each other. This, I think, is the one most unifying thing about our class.

I am not saying that we are graduating as a singular group of 600 best friends who will text each other funny jokes on the car ride home. But all 600 of us are walking away from here having had at least one person, if not dozens upon dozens of people, who changed our lives forever. If you think back again to that older version of you who wore a lanyard and conceived socializing as simply sitting in a Battell hallway late at night, you will notice that these memories are flooded with the people at Middlebury who have meant the most to you. They have been there next to you since Day 1 and now you are all sitting here together on Day 1,360 (yes, I did the math). These people will most likely be the ones picked as your groomsmen or maids of honor or — dare I say it — future partners. If nothing else, they will be the ones to whom you will send pictures of your families in cheesy sweaters as holiday cards. What we are all completing here today is by no means short of merit — we all worked incredibly hard here for four years and I am in awe by how intelligent of a group of people you all are. The spring symposium and thesis presentations I attended left me flabbergasted. And they are only a few examples of all the work you have done at this school.

I realize that that is the whole point of coming to college — to complete an education and prepare ourselves for the next phases of our lives. We did that, and we must be incredibly proud of the work we have put in to get to this point today. But notice that we are not leaving an environment that was obsessed with grades or GPAs. It’s just not something we talk about on a day-to-day basis. Instead we have all been interested in — and there for — each other. Think back to a paper you were stressing out about at some point in your Middlebury career. Say it was due at 5 p.m., you were not nearly as far along as you hoped to be, your day was looking stressful and you ended up having lunch with a friend who made you feel a lot better, even without meaning to. I guarantee you remember that conversation, or at least the friend, much better than even a single word you wrote on that paper.

I guess this is what I think of when I think of a “Midd Kid.”  I think of all the incredibly kind-hearted people I have met here and have been fortunate enough to spend four years with. If you want evidence of this, just look at the first prospective student revisit day this year, in which more host students showed up to volunteer than there were prospective students visiting. Maybe it is something about rural Vermont, or perhaps good people simply attract more good people, but be thankful that regardless of why we all came here, we were all here with each other.

So whatever great thing it is that Middlebury has prepared you to do, whether it is to save the environment, or to become a teacher, or an entrepreneur, or to ride the panther a fifth year, or to throw a quaffle, or to go to grad school, or become a diplomat, performer, astronaut, butcher, baker, candlestick maker, lion tamer or doctor, remember the bonds that you made here and realize how important they have been during these wonderful and challenging last four years.

And remember that it’s not over. After leaving this ceremony, we will all have this connection to think back on. In five, 10, 15, or some larger-multiple-of-five years from now, I know that many of us will be able to come back to reunion, reconnect with old friends and be able to proudly say that we were here as members of the Class of 2011. Congratulations to everyone for making it to this ceremony with your hours upon hours of hard work. It was wonderful being here with you. Thank you all so much.