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'Feb' Celebration Honors 126 Mid-Year Graduates

February 1, 2014

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – The 126 seniors who completed their academic requirements this winter rejoiced in the completion of their undergraduate careers during Middlebury’s annual February Celebration on campus and at the College’s Snow Bowl in the Green Mountains.

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The “Febs” – so called because the majority of them started their college education four years ago in February – will officially earn their bachelor of arts degrees on March 1, 2014. The celebration, which took place this year on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, is an occasion to commemorate the graduates’ achievements and reflect on what makes Middlebury’s Febs distinctive.

“‘The most serious charge that can be brought against New England is not Puritanism, but February,’” President Ronald D. Liebowitz said quoting naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch. “February is the year’s dark predawn. It's cold and quiet. And that most of you came to Middlebury in February says something about your character, more than about our admissions.

“It suggests that you are optimists, maybe a little non-conformist. Willing to take risks, eager as the poet Robert Frost wrote, ‘To take the road less traveled by.’ Those are important characteristics that I think you share with your college.”

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Video: Scenes from Ski Down

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Daniel Loehr ’13.5 gave the student address to the senior class.

feb14_7d_8556Dr. Robert Sideli ’77, vice president of the Middlebury College Alumni Association, and President Ron Liebowitz present the ceremonial replicas of Gamaliel Painter's canes.  

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Members of the class of 2013.5 cheer during the ceremony at Mead Chapel.

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New Feb graduates ham it up with their new canes following the Mead Chapel ceremony.
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Not everyone opted to ski down Worth Mountain. Several walked or snowshoed.
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A Panther on skis led the class down the mountain for the celebratory ski down.

In his address to the senior class, Middlebury’s 16th president spoke about how the Class of 2013.5, as it is known, has enriched the lives of others.

Liebowitz talked about the Febs who were instrumental in recovery efforts from Hurricane Irene. He commended the seniors who worked on “InSite,” the College’s demonstration solar home. He honored the altruism of the graduates who volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, DREAM and the Page 1 Literacy Project. And he acknowledged the seniors who formed influential campus organizations like StopTraffick, Middlebury Music United, MiddBeat and JusTalks.

He also gave tribute to the seniors who devoted themselves to documenting stories about war veterans across the country, and to those who improved the lives of people living in Zambia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere.

Liebowitz emphasized that Febs have much in common with the essence of their alma mater. One of the defining characteristics of Middlebury, he said, is its willingness to do things differently, to innovate, to take calculated risks in order to accomplish something extraordinary.

“A college that began as an experiment in an out-of-the-way farm settlement has developed into one of the leading liberal arts colleges in the country,” he said, “largely because – like you – it has done things a bit out of the ordinary.”

The president, a political geographer, also talked about how graduates of Middlebury take away a powerful sense of place, a sense of both the natural world of Vermont and of the people they encountered here – especially their friends and professors.

“Seated around you today are 125 of your fellow Febs, many of whom are very likely to be your friends for life... Friendships like these, which began in the cold winter and bluster of February, are often intense, especially when they develop in a community that is small and relatively isolated, and where there are few distractions to compete for one’s social and intellectual energies.

“Your four years here have helped you develop the kind of relationships that are hard to replicate in any other environment,” the president noted. “They have also given you an appreciation for the strength of community, which has shaped how you will relate to others throughout your lives.”

The faculty convey important “lessons by example” that learning is a lifelong endeavor, Liebowitz added. “Learning never ends. Just as the professors with whom you’ve studied learn more and more each year through their research and teaching, you too will learn more and more as you research your way through life’s long and challenging syllabus.”

The president's remarks, which were delivered inside Mead Chapel where nearly every pew was filled with family members and friends taking pictures and shooting video, was just one portion of the 2014 February Celebration.

Political science major Daniel Loehr ’13.5 delivered the student address, a dexterous piece of oratory in which he connected three elements: the marble that forms the walls of Mead Chapel with what he learned in his Classics class about Sparta with what it means to be a Feb at Middlebury.

Loehr said: “We [Febs] have invented our own identity and here is what it looks like: We are wildly fun. We are loving. We are happy, so happy. It is actually almost painfully happy sometimes. We can’t stop smiling. I once complained about the rain, and it might have been the last time I ever complained about the rain, because a Feb said to me, ‘Danny, how could you complain about the rain? If it didn’t rain the trees wouldn’t be so beautifully green?’ That is Febby!

“But we do not limit ourselves to wonderful emotional states. We also work in the bike shop. We translate at the clinic. We provide powerful critiques... At its core it seems Feb culture is about courageous acts, deep community, and heaps of love.”

Dean of the College Shirley M. Collado presented the Jason B. Fleishman ’03.5 Award to Cayla Evans Marvil, a mathematics major from Yarmouth, Me. The award embodies Feb college pride, academic passion and determination, excellence in leadership and involvement, a positive attitude and care for others, and it honors the late Jason Fleishman who died shortly after his Feb Celebration in 2004.

One by one each senior was called to the stage by Dean Collado to receive a replica of Gamaliel Painter’s cane, an enduring symbol of Middlebury College, handed to them by the vice president of the alumni association, Robert Sideli ’77. Then the Febs took part in the traditional singing of the song “Gamaliel Painter’s Cane,” led by Francois S. Clemmons, the now-retired Twilight Artist-in-Residence who returned at the class’s request.

The class marched out of Mead Chapel, the place where many of them first met four years earlier (as noted by student speaker Loehr), to the strains of “Postlude in D” played on the Gress-Miles organ by Emory M. Fanning, professor emeritus of music.

February Celebration continued at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl where members of the class participated in the traditional “ski down the mountain” on the Allen Trail. On snowboards and skis, on snowshoes and on foot, and even a few on sleds, the graduates descended Worth Mountain – amid the cheers and screams of their family members and friends – in one of Middlebury’s most-cherished traditions.

The classmates had one final opportunity to exchange hugs, say goodbye and wish each other good luck at the family luncheon back on campus in Proctor Dining Hall on Saturday afternoon. Then it’s on to internships, travel, jobs, graduate school or job-hunting for the Feb class. Every member of the class is invited back in the spring to participate in the formal Commencement exercises on May 25, 2014.

-Story by Robert Keren