Middlebury

February Celebration Address 2008.5

President Ronald D. Liebowitz delivered this address on January 31, 2009.

Good morning. It’s a pleasure to welcome, once again, all who have come to celebrate the achievements of the class of 2008.5 to Mead Chapel. I am delighted to have the opportunity to address you today—to help see many of you off—as you make your way from college to the next phase of your life.

Whatever the next phase may be for those of you who are indeed leaving, you should feel a sense of great accomplishment for all you have achieved in the past four years. You should also carry with you a great font of confidence because your time here has prepared you well to meet virtually any challenge these dynamic, and near-unprecedented times place before you. I will elaborate a bit on this message in a few minutes, but I want first to give you and your guests here today a brief profile of the class of 2008.5.

There are 123 in today’s celebrating class. Ninety-two (92) of you actually began your Middlebury careers as Febs, meaning there are 31 “regs” among you who have either accelerated or slowed down your studies to become “Febs”—a label that, many of us have learned, is as proudly worn by the Feb converts as it is by those who actually began their studies in February.

English was the most popular major in your class—10 of you majored in English, with geography, history, economics, and psychology rounding out the five most popular fields of study. Nineteen of you majored in a foreign language; 31 of you studied abroad, and several more went overseas before you began your studies at Middlebury.

More of you call Massachusetts home than any other state, followed by New York, Maine, Vermont, and Connecticut. Five of you have identified yourselves as international students, one each from Burma, Jamaica, Palestine, Kenya, and Turkey, and five more claim an attachment of one sort or another with Brazil, the United Kingdom, Japan, Russia, and Singapore.

As I mentioned last evening, the creative spirit of the Class of 2008.5 was evident to us from the very beginning. One of your classmates won the annual Beucher Concerto Competition the first week he set foot on campus.

Some of your classmates have played leading roles in theatre productions, including “Twelfth Night,” “Talking with Cinders,” and “The Heidi Chronicles,” and one had a significant role with the Potomac Theatre Project in New York this past summer. Another conducted the Middlebury College Orchestra performance of “Finlandia” this fall.

Nine of you participated in the annual student research symposium, and one Feb won the 2008 Doll Award from the Vermont Geological Society for the best student paper presentation. Another won an “Excellence in the Visual Arts” Award from the Friends of the Art Museum last spring, recognizing her significant contributions to the visual arts community. And one of your Feb classmates will take her training in art history abroad, after winning a competitive internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Not bad!

In athletics, too, you have excelled. Members of your class played on 20 varsity and club sports teams during their time at Middlebury. One of your classmates won the New England Intercollegiate Golf Association’s Guy Tedesco Award, awarded to the New England College Player of the Year.

Many in your class demonstrated a strong commitment to volunteerism and community service. Two of the 10 Public Service Leadership Awards presented this past spring by the Alliance for Civic Engagement went to members of the Class of 2008.5, and one of your classmates received the seventh annual Vermont Student Citizen Award for his efforts at the John W. Graham Emergency Shelter in Vergennes.

It would be hard to gauge the full extent of your service to the local community and beyond. Some of you have served on the local fire department and rescue squad, collaborated with environmental community partner Ecologia on corporate social responsibility, or led the Middlebury Alternative Break Trip for leader service to Zion National Park. Still others were active with the Roosevelt Institution, the national network of campus-based student think tanks, or served as an inspirational speaker for College for Every Student, a nonprofit that promotes early college awareness for at-risk students. And two students from the class of 2008.5 were Shepherd Poverty Alliance interns, which engaged them in work with children in Baltimore’s inner city and in social services in Virginia.

We are enormously proud of you. All of us here today salute you for your accomplishments. Congratulations.

* * * * *

If you took a poll of Vermonters and asked which month they liked the least, the vast majority would choose February. As Joseph Wood Krutch, one of the great literary naturalists of the early 20th century, said, “The most serious charge which can be brought against New England is not Puritanism but February.”

February is the year’s dark predawn—it’s cold and quiet. But most of you came to Middlebury in February, which says something about your character. It suggests that you are optimists—maybe a little nonconformist, willing to take risks … eager, as poet Robert Frost wrote, “to take the road less traveled by.”

Those are important characteristics that I think you share with your College. One thing that’s always marked Middlebury since its founding is a willingness to do things differently … to innovate … to take a calculated risk in order to accomplish something extraordinary. A College that began as an experiment in an out-of-the-way farming settlement has developed into one of the leading liberal arts institutions in the country—indeed in the world—largely because, like you, it has done things a bit out of the ordinary.

You have many reasons to be proud to be a Middlebury graduate, and, over time, I know we will make you even prouder. I am equally confident that all of you will continue to make your College—and parents—proud.

* * * * *

As you leave Middlebury, it is fitting to ask yourself what it is you will remember most about your time here, and what part of your college experience will make the greatest difference in your life post-Middlebury.

As a geographer, I would like to think it will be the place itself—the physical environment—that will exert the greatest and most durable influence on you. I agree with Wallace Stevens, who wrote: “His soil is man’s intelligence.” And it is hard to argue with Stevens: We learn from our environment, and the places that teach us things that truly matter are carried in our hearts as well as our brains forever.

The natural beauty that surrounds us here is likely to be one of the things you will remember most about Middlebury. I am sure that many of you have experienced some unexpected moments of joy as you walked to class on one of those spectacular autumn days when the vibrant foliage on the mountains stands out sharply against the blue sky; or walking on that pristine white carpet across campus each morning during J-Term, left by the light snow that seems to fall each night; or seeing the multiple shades of green that burst across the landscape in the spring—even if spring doesn’t show itself until you are packing to leave for summer break. And of course, there are the breathtaking views of both the Adirondacks and Green Mountains from the College’s Snow Bowl … soon to be experienced in a slightly different way this afternoon.

These simple things have inspired a sense of adventure and creativity in generations of students who have studied at Middlebury, along with remarkably strong feelings of attachment. I hope you will take with you an appreciation for this corner of the natural world wherever you go, along with the sense of wonder that it inspires, and retain your ties to this College.

But when one speaks of “place,” one needs to include the human as well as the physical characteristics of that particular place when considering its overall impact on one’s life.

And when you think back on your Middlebury years, I am sure you’ll find that your memories of this place are, more than anything else, linked to its people—your friends, your professors, your teammates, your coaches, staff members, and your acquaintances in town.

Seated around you today are 122 fellow Febs—the real and the converted—many of whom are very likely to be your friends for life. Through the years, they will celebrate your achievements, reach out to you when you stumble, share your joys and disappointments, and always remain close to you.

Friendships like these, which began in the cold and bluster of a Middlebury 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 is hard to replicate in another environment. They have also given you an appreciation for the strength of community, which will influence how you engage and interrelate with others throughout your lives: in a more personal, caring, and actively engaged manner.

One of the great advantages of attending a small, residential College is the opportunity to work with faculty and staff outside the traditional classroom to make a difference in the life and direction of the institution. And many of you have, on multiple projects. To cite just one example: the College has undertaken many initiatives to minimize its impact on the environment—buying local foods, following sustainable building practices, purchasing local materials, lowering the thermostats in buildings during the heating season, installing a new biomass facility that will reduce our dependency on high-carbon-yielding oil by 50 percent, and committing, now 20 months ago, to be carbon neutral by the year 2016. These ideas and the energy and commitment to see them through came largely from Middlebury students, and have been supported enthusiastically by faculty, staff, administrators, and trustees.

Beyond the benefits that accrue to the College for this kind of engagement, these initiatives, and many others that involve student volunteer work at and around the College, are perfect examples of how a liberal arts education should work, and why a liberal arts education is the best preparation for life: we ask you to learn about a broad range of subjects in a formal classroom setting and then we challenge you to use what you learned to make a difference outside that classroom.

Crucial to our and your success is an engaged and dedicated faculty. Collectively, your professors represent one of the true gifts of your four years at this College. Great teachers inspire you by their intense and passionate interest in their fields, which, in turn, motivates you to engage material in a more personal way and to go beyond the standard learning of facts so that you can make important connections and understand the larger world around you.

The value of your liberal arts education is that it prepares you to live in a rapidly changing world that is likely to get more complex and less predictable in the coming years. The great American patriot and President John Adams, who played many roles in his long life, said, “There are two types of education, both crucial: one teaches us how to make a living, and the other how to live.”

But learning how to live—how to be active and productive citizens and draw satisfaction from life itself, will be different for you than it was for your parents’ generation, and even different from those who sat where you are now sitting just one year ago. The processes of globalization, and now the backlash or reaction to globalization, will require you to marshal all the skills you have learned at Middlebury to navigate an exciting, but uncertain future.

Over the past 20 years, globalization made the world feel smaller, brought closer together through the lowering of political, social, financial, and, to some degree, cultural barriers. Transactions occurred as if New York and Hong Kong were neighboring municipalities, and competition for jobs and other opportunities was no longer determined by where people grew up, where they lived, or what citizenship they held. The local had become the global, and global the local. What was happening in China, Europe, and Latin America, or just about anywhere in the world, affected us in this country, even in rural Vermont, as much as what was going on in many parts of the United States.

Though the processes that led to the so-called “flattening of the world” over the past two decades have not come to a halt, the worldwide financial meltdown of the past eight months has added multiple levels of complexity to the already significant changes brought on by globalization. They have resulted in problems whose solutions no two economists can seem to agree on, let alone explain why nobody, including all the economists, could see this train wreck coming.

The failure of our financial institutions and its impact on the global economy reflect the high level of interdependence and interconnectedness among the world’s national economies. Yet, despite this interconnectedness, we see separate and even divergent strategies and policies being implemented to deal with the financial crisis in many of the world’s largest economies: the U.S., U.K, France, Germany, Japan, and China. We see, and now must adjust to, or re-adjust to, the power of the individual nation-state to exercise its sovereignty and protect its own population, economy, and failed businesses by implementing stimulus packages and rescue plans as if it were 1909 instead of 2009.

You will soon be part of this wider world—a hyper-connected world now experiencing the aftereffects of being perhaps too connected too soon and facing the most challenging economic circumstances in almost a century. At the same time, each of you will have an opportunity to play an important role in that wider world.

And though it is perhaps daunting to think about your next chapter and how you will participate in all that is going on beyond the hills of Vermont, you should, as I noted earlier, take comfort in the fact that you are well prepared to jump right in. Because of your strong liberal arts background, and your deep appreciation for the power of relationships and community that was honed right here, you are in a great position to make a contribution that matters.

And you of course are not alone. President Obama, in his inspiring inaugural address, asked all of us to be part of the solution to the mega-challenges we face as a nation. One can’t help but feel optimistic that those challenges will be met, not only because such a wide swath of the political spectrum is willing to give support to our new leadership in Washington … or because of that new leadership’s commitment to bring together the disparate elements of our country and the world community. One must be optimistic, too, because you are part of a generation that, collectively, is pragmatic, believes in volunteerism, and has shown its desire to get involved. And I am confident that you, in particular, will make a difference.

The best advice I could offer as you answer our new president’s call to be consequential players in solving the large challenges before our country is rooted in the lessons our faculty conveyed to you by example during the past four years: learning is a lifelong endeavor ... it never ends. Just as the professors with whom you 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 journey.

As you put your intelligence, creativity, and good will to work for the common good, remember to exercise humility. You may think you have all the right answers and know how to engage people of all walks of life, but make sure to leave space for the reality that you have lots to learn, and can—indeed will—learn a great amount from others.

Your Middlebury days as students may have come to an end, but may all you have learned and experienced here serve you well throughout your lives.

We hope your fond memories of the days here stay with you, and that your bond to the College remains forever strong.

And most of all, we hope that over the course of your four years in this special place, you have learned, in Adams’ words, how to make a living, and how to live.

We wish you well, and look forward to welcoming you back to campus often.

Thank you.

February Celebration Address 2006.5

President Ronald D. Liebowitz delivered this address on February 3, 2007.

I am delighted to welcome all the guests who have come today to help us celebrate the achievements of the 115 or so soon-to-be alumni of this College. I am honored to have the opportunity to address you, the class of 2006.5, as each of you makes your way from Middlebury to the next phase of your life. Whatever that next phase may be, you should know, as I surely do, that your time here has prepared you well to meet virtually any challenge these dynamic times throw your way. More on that in a few moments, but first I wanted to give you a quick summary of who you are, collectively - aside, of course, from being the brightest, best looking, and most engaged class in the 207 history of Middlebury College!

There are 115 of you in today's celebrating class. 89 of you actually began your Middlebury careers as Febs, meaning there are 26 "regs" who have either accelerated or slowed down their studies to become Febs. Thirty-two of you double-majored, and more of you majored in English than any other discipline, with Economics, Environmental Studies, International Studies, and Political Science rounding out the most popular five fields of study.

Fifty eight of you studied abroad-that is 50 percent of the group- and several more went abroad between your high school graduation and beginning your studies at Middlebury. More of you call Massachusetts home than any other state, with Vermont, New York, and California close behind, and six of you are international students.

But much more than mere numbers, you represent an incredibly talented group-as talented as any Feb group on record-and all of us here today salute you for your accomplishments. Congratulations.

If you took a poll of Vermonters and asked which month they like the least, I think the vast majority would choose February. As Joseph Wood Krutch, one of the great literary naturalists of the early 20th century, said, "The most serious charge which can be brought against New England is not Puritanism but February." February is the year's dark pre-dawn-it's cold and quiet and too soon to be up and doing. But most of you came to Middlebury in February, which must say something about your character. It suggests that you are, at the least, optimists-maybe a little nonconformist, innovative...eager, as poet Robert Frost says, "to take the road less traveled by."

Those are characteristics that I think you share with your College. Something that's always marked Middlebury is a willingness to do things differently, to innovate, to take a calculated risk in order to accomplish something extraordinary. That has worked well for us. A College that began as an experiment in an out-of-the-way farming settlement has developed into one of the leading liberal arts institutions in the country. You have good reason to be proud to be a Middlebury graduate, and, over time, we will make you even prouder.

When you leave Middlebury, what will you remember most, and what part of your college experience will make the greatest difference in your future life? As a geographer, I suspect you'll find that it is the place itself that exerts the greatest and most durable influence. I agree with Wallace Stevens, who wrote: "His soil is man's intelligence." We learn from our environment, and the places that teach us things that matter are carried in our hearts forever.

By "place," I should add, I mean, as geographers do, the human as well as the physical characteristics of a location. When you think back on your Middlebury years, you'll find that your memories of this place are inextricably linked to its people-your professors, your friends, your teammates ...

Look around you. Here in this chapel are 115 friends who will, in a sense, always be with you. Through the years they will celebrate your achievements, help you when you stumble, share your joys and disappointments, and somehow always remain close, even when you are widely separated by time and space. Those friendships began in the cold and bluster of your first winter at Middlebury. Friendships grow strong in this climate and place; relationships are often more intense in a community that is small and somewhat sequestered, where there are fewer distractions to dissipate your social and intellectual energies.

The scale and relative isolation of this town and campus have enabled you to participate more fully in the life of the college and the wide range of academic and extracurricular activities it offers. Together with faculty and staff, you have created a vibrant community, where people are encouraged to develop their talents, explore their interests, and make a positive difference in the lives of others.

When you live in a small community, you learn quickly that your actions have a great impact on the people around you, for better or worse. You have opportunities to see how your acts of consideration and thoughtfulness benefit others. And if you act without regard for the needs of others, you cannot walk away from the consequences, because you will see your classmates every day-at breakfast, in class, at the field house, at dinner. I hope this kind of built-in accountability, largely on account of the scale and type of campus this is, has helped you to develop a moral compass that will guide you in the years to come.

Another crucial characteristic of this place is perhaps the most obvious one-the natural beauty that surrounds us. I am sure that all of you have experienced many moments of joy and excitement, just walking to class on a crisp autumn day when the mountains stand out sharply against the cobalt sky, or watching through a window as a winter storm blankets the campus, or observing the first spring flowers burst into bloom-even if spring comes later than you ever imagined and just before you are headed away from campus following your spring semester final exams. These things constantly urge us to get out and explore and engage the world around us. They have inspired wonder, creativity, and a sense of adventure in generations of students. I know you will take that appreciation for the natural world with you wherever you go, along with the sense of wonder that it inspires.

This environment has been important in shaping the college's development, too. I believe that it has inspired a culture of openness, enthusiasm, intellectual risk-taking, and innovation. To cite just one example, consider Middlebury's role as an environmental leader. In 1965, five Middlebury faculty members from five different disciplines established the first environmental studies major in the nation-before the environmental movement hit college campuses and before interdisciplinary study was in vogue. They viewed the region's forests, fields, lakes, and geologic outcroppings as an ideal heaven-sent laboratory for student and faculty research. They also recognized the threats to that environment, so they created a new way for Middlebury students to engage in the study of their natural surroundings.

Today Middlebury is modeling what it means to take responsibility for one's local community. The College has undertaken many initiatives to minimize its impact on the environment-buying local foods, following sustainable building practices and purchasing local materials and furniture, lowering the temperature in buildings, investigating new technologies like biodiesel and wood-fired heating systems. These ideas and the energy to see them through came from engaged Middlebury staff, faculty, and students, including many of you here today.

All these are perfect examples of how education should work. We ask you to learn about the world around you and then challenge you to use your learning to make a difference. Ralph Waldo Emerson once complained, "We are shut up in schools and college recitation rooms for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bellyful of words and do not know a thing."

Well, that's not how we do it here. We never wanted to shut you up, literally or metaphorically, and I am confident that you are coming out of Middlebury with much more than a bellyful of words. For that, we thank your professors

One of the great gifts of your four years at this College has been the opportunity to get to know faculty members as committed and caring advisers. Great teachers inspire you by their passionate interest in their fields, enabling you to engage material in a more personal way and to go well beyond the standard lecture. Working with faculty members who are truly committed to teaching gave you the opportunity to delve deeply into your academic subject matter and to find mentors in subjects or pursuits that particularly interested you.

Your professors forced you to learn how to reason effectively and to express your ideas clearly in writing and in speech. They pushed you to articulate your own opinions and to understand the roots of your convictions. They taught you to see across disciplinary boundaries and to understand that there are few absolutes. They prepared you to apply your knowledge, your analytical ability, your curiosity, and your passion to the many issues you will confront in our complex and fractured world. In sharing their own knowledge and their expertise in how to address, address again, and address many more times, unanswered questions and unresolved problems, they taught you perhaps the most valuable lesson of all: learning is a journey that takes your entire life.

That, of course, is one of the great values of a liberal arts education. It readies you to live in a rapidly changing world and deal with anything that life throws your way. The great American patriot and president John Adams, who played many roles in his 90 years, said, "There are two types of education. One should teach us how to make a living. And the other how to live."

That is what I wish for all of you. That from your Middlebury education you will take with you skills you can apply in virtually any profession tomorrow or in 15 years...but more important, still, is that, from your Middlebury experience, you will have learned how to live....

Finally, this morning, I'd like to comment on the value of being a Feb at Middlebury. Starting your education at mid-year, you took advantage of the time to undertake something valuable, and perhaps even remarkable, before you arrived on campus. Your experiences were as varied as you are. One Feb traveled for two months in a dugout canoe seeking handicrafts and artifacts along the Sepik River in Papua, New Guinea. Others of you trained as emergency medical technicians, attended university in another country, or tested your survival skills in the American wilderness. Some of you held your first full-time, non-summer jobs. Those experiences, no doubt, affected your time at Middlebury and will serve you well time and again in your lives.

Finding your own place at Middlebury is a little more difficult for Febs than for students starting in September. Febs have to jump with both feet into a relatively closed community that is already well into the rhythm of the academic year. A contingent only 121 strong when you began, you found yourselves in the midst of 586 peers who had already spent five months getting to know each other and the campus. You survived that, of course-in fact, you thrived on it. That challenge prompts Febs to bond quickly with one another and to develop the kind of exceptional friendships one can hardly help but notice while attending events like today.

Many curveballs will be thrown at you over the course of what I hope will be a long and fulfilling life. But your four years at Middlebury have given you a powerful array of skills, knowledge, values, and, I am confident, wisdom. It is impossible not to be confident that, just as you successfully parachuted into Middlebury in the dead of winter and the middle of the academic year, you will be successful in parachuting into life beyond this special campus and community.

All of you will soon be facing large and exciting changes. Who will you be, what will you be doing, what will you know five or ten years from now? It will be a thrill-for you and for us-to find out. The next time we see you-perhaps at a reunion in the not-to-distant future-you will be different. So I would like to leave you with an appropriate reflection on change and fulfillment by Robert Frost:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

As you go forth, know that you are ready to face whatever the passing of time may bring and to find fulfillment in it.

Know, too, that, as poet Mordecai Marcus has observed from this poem, Frost, like William Butler Yeats "thinks that man is in love and loves what vanishes." Your Middlebury days may have now vanished, but may your love for those vanished days remain with you and serve you well throughout your lives.

Thank you and best wishes.

February Celebration Address 2008.5

President Ronald D. Liebowitz delivered this address on January 31, 2009.

Good morning. It’s a pleasure to welcome, once again, all who have come to celebrate the achievements of the class of 2008.5 to Mead Chapel. I am delighted to have the opportunity to address you today—to help see many of you off—as you make your way from college to the next phase of your life.

Whatever the next phase may be for those of you who are indeed leaving, you should feel a sense of great accomplishment for all you have achieved in the past four years. You should also carry with you a great font of confidence because your time here has prepared you well to meet virtually any challenge these dynamic, and near-unprecedented times place before you. I will elaborate a bit on this message in a few minutes, but I want first to give you and your guests here today a brief profile of the class of 2008.5.

There are 123 in today’s celebrating class. Ninety-two (92) of you actually began your Middlebury careers as Febs, meaning there are 31 “regs” among you who have either accelerated or slowed down your studies to become “Febs”—a label that, many of us have learned, is as proudly worn by the Feb converts as it is by those who actually began their studies in February.

English was the most popular major in your class—10 of you majored in English, with geography, history, economics, and psychology rounding out the five most popular fields of study. Nineteen of you majored in a foreign language; 31 of you studied abroad, and several more went overseas before you began your studies at Middlebury.

More of you call Massachusetts home than any other state, followed by New York, Maine, Vermont, and Connecticut. Five of you have identified yourselves as international students, one each from Burma, Jamaica, Palestine, Kenya, and Turkey, and five more claim an attachment of one sort or another with Brazil, the United Kingdom, Japan, Russia, and Singapore.

As I mentioned last evening, the creative spirit of the Class of 2008.5 was evident to us from the very beginning. One of your classmates won the annual Beucher Concerto Competition the first week he set foot on campus.

Some of your classmates have played leading roles in theatre productions, including “Twelfth Night,” “Talking with Cinders,” and “The Heidi Chronicles,” and one had a significant role with the Potomac Theatre Project in New York this past summer. Another conducted the Middlebury College Orchestra performance of “Finlandia” this fall.

Nine of you participated in the annual student research symposium, and one Feb won the 2008 Doll Award from the Vermont Geological Society for the best student paper presentation. Another won an “Excellence in the Visual Arts” Award from the Friends of the Art Museum last spring, recognizing her significant contributions to the visual arts community. And one of your Feb classmates will take her training in art history abroad, after winning a competitive internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Not bad!

In athletics, too, you have excelled. Members of your class played on 20 varsity and club sports teams during their time at Middlebury. One of your classmates won the New England Intercollegiate Golf Association’s Guy Tedesco Award, awarded to the New England College Player of the Year.

Many in your class demonstrated a strong commitment to volunteerism and community service. Two of the 10 Public Service Leadership Awards presented this past spring by the Alliance for Civic Engagement went to members of the Class of 2008.5, and one of your classmates received the seventh annual Vermont Student Citizen Award for his efforts at the John W. Graham Emergency Shelter in Vergennes.

It would be hard to gauge the full extent of your service to the local community and beyond. Some of you have served on the local fire department and rescue squad, collaborated with environmental community partner Ecologia on corporate social responsibility, or led the Middlebury Alternative Break Trip for leader service to Zion National Park. Still others were active with the Roosevelt Institution, the national network of campus-based student think tanks, or served as an inspirational speaker for College for Every Student, a nonprofit that promotes early college awareness for at-risk students. And two students from the class of 2008.5 were Shepherd Poverty Alliance interns, which engaged them in work with children in Baltimore’s inner city and in social services in Virginia.

We are enormously proud of you. All of us here today salute you for your accomplishments. Congratulations.

* * * * *

If you took a poll of Vermonters and asked which month they liked the least, the vast majority would choose February. As Joseph Wood Krutch, one of the great literary naturalists of the early 20th century, said, “The most serious charge which can be brought against New England is not Puritanism but February.”

February is the year’s dark predawn—it’s cold and quiet. But most of you came to Middlebury in February, which says something about your character. It suggests that you are optimists—maybe a little nonconformist, willing to take risks … eager, as poet Robert Frost wrote, “to take the road less traveled by.”

Those are important characteristics that I think you share with your College. One thing that’s always marked Middlebury since its founding is a willingness to do things differently … to innovate … to take a calculated risk in order to accomplish something extraordinary. A College that began as an experiment in an out-of-the-way farming settlement has developed into one of the leading liberal arts institutions in the country—indeed in the world—largely because, like you, it has done things a bit out of the ordinary.

You have many reasons to be proud to be a Middlebury graduate, and, over time, I know we will make you even prouder. I am equally confident that all of you will continue to make your College—and parents—proud.

* * * * *

As you leave Middlebury, it is fitting to ask yourself what it is you will remember most about your time here, and what part of your college experience will make the greatest difference in your life post-Middlebury.

As a geographer, I would like to think it will be the place itself—the physical environment—that will exert the greatest and most durable influence on you. I agree with Wallace Stevens, who wrote: “His soil is man’s intelligence.” And it is hard to argue with Stevens: We learn from our environment, and the places that teach us things that truly matter are carried in our hearts as well as our brains forever.

The natural beauty that surrounds us here is likely to be one of the things you will remember most about Middlebury. I am sure that many of you have experienced some unexpected moments of joy as you walked to class on one of those spectacular autumn days when the vibrant foliage on the mountains stands out sharply against the blue sky; or walking on that pristine white carpet across campus each morning during J-Term, left by the light snow that seems to fall each night; or seeing the multiple shades of green that burst across the landscape in the spring—even if spring doesn’t show itself until you are packing to leave for summer break. And of course, there are the breathtaking views of both the Adirondacks and Green Mountains from the College’s Snow Bowl … soon to be experienced in a slightly different way this afternoon.

These simple things have inspired a sense of adventure and creativity in generations of students who have studied at Middlebury, along with remarkably strong feelings of attachment. I hope you will take with you an appreciation for this corner of the natural world wherever you go, along with the sense of wonder that it inspires, and retain your ties to this College.

But when one speaks of “place,” one needs to include the human as well as the physical characteristics of that particular place when considering its overall impact on one’s life.

And when you think back on your Middlebury years, I am sure you’ll find that your memories of this place are, more than anything else, linked to its people—your friends, your professors, your teammates, your coaches, staff members, and your acquaintances in town.

Seated around you today are 122 fellow Febs—the real and the converted—many of whom are very likely to be your friends for life. Through the years, they will celebrate your achievements, reach out to you when you stumble, share your joys and disappointments, and always remain close to you.

Friendships like these, which began in the cold and bluster of a Middlebury 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 is hard to replicate in another environment. They have also given you an appreciation for the strength of community, which will influence how you engage and interrelate with others throughout your lives: in a more personal, caring, and actively engaged manner.

One of the great advantages of attending a small, residential College is the opportunity to work with faculty and staff outside the traditional classroom to make a difference in the life and direction of the institution. And many of you have, on multiple projects. To cite just one example: the College has undertaken many initiatives to minimize its impact on the environment—buying local foods, following sustainable building practices, purchasing local materials, lowering the thermostats in buildings during the heating season, installing a new biomass facility that will reduce our dependency on high-carbon-yielding oil by 50 percent, and committing, now 20 months ago, to be carbon neutral by the year 2016. These ideas and the energy and commitment to see them through came largely from Middlebury students, and have been supported enthusiastically by faculty, staff, administrators, and trustees.

Beyond the benefits that accrue to the College for this kind of engagement, these initiatives, and many others that involve student volunteer work at and around the College, are perfect examples of how a liberal arts education should work, and why a liberal arts education is the best preparation for life: we ask you to learn about a broad range of subjects in a formal classroom setting and then we challenge you to use what you learned to make a difference outside that classroom.

Crucial to our and your success is an engaged and dedicated faculty. Collectively, your professors represent one of the true gifts of your four years at this College. Great teachers inspire you by their intense and passionate interest in their fields, which, in turn, motivates you to engage material in a more personal way and to go beyond the standard learning of facts so that you can make important connections and understand the larger world around you.

The value of your liberal arts education is that it prepares you to live in a rapidly changing world that is likely to get more complex and less predictable in the coming years. The great American patriot and President John Adams, who played many roles in his long life, said, “There are two types of education, both crucial: one teaches us how to make a living, and the other how to live.”

But learning how to live—how to be active and productive citizens and draw satisfaction from life itself, will be different for you than it was for your parents’ generation, and even different from those who sat where you are now sitting just one year ago. The processes of globalization, and now the backlash or reaction to globalization, will require you to marshal all the skills you have learned at Middlebury to navigate an exciting, but uncertain future.

Over the past 20 years, globalization made the world feel smaller, brought closer together through the lowering of political, social, financial, and, to some degree, cultural barriers. Transactions occurred as if New York and Hong Kong were neighboring municipalities, and competition for jobs and other opportunities was no longer determined by where people grew up, where they lived, or what citizenship they held. The local had become the global, and global the local. What was happening in China, Europe, and Latin America, or just about anywhere in the world, affected us in this country, even in rural Vermont, as much as what was going on in many parts of the United States.

Though the processes that led to the so-called “flattening of the world” over the past two decades have not come to a halt, the worldwide financial meltdown of the past eight months has added multiple levels of complexity to the already significant changes brought on by globalization. They have resulted in problems whose solutions no two economists can seem to agree on, let alone explain why nobody, including all the economists, could see this train wreck coming.

The failure of our financial institutions and its impact on the global economy reflect the high level of interdependence and interconnectedness among the world’s national economies. Yet, despite this interconnectedness, we see separate and even divergent strategies and policies being implemented to deal with the financial crisis in many of the world’s largest economies: the U.S., U.K, France, Germany, Japan, and China. We see, and now must adjust to, or re-adjust to, the power of the individual nation-state to exercise its sovereignty and protect its own population, economy, and failed businesses by implementing stimulus packages and rescue plans as if it were 1909 instead of 2009.

You will soon be part of this wider world—a hyper-connected world now experiencing the aftereffects of being perhaps too connected too soon and facing the most challenging economic circumstances in almost a century. At the same time, each of you will have an opportunity to play an important role in that wider world.

And though it is perhaps daunting to think about your next chapter and how you will participate in all that is going on beyond the hills of Vermont, you should, as I noted earlier, take comfort in the fact that you are well prepared to jump right in. Because of your strong liberal arts background, and your deep appreciation for the power of relationships and community that was honed right here, you are in a great position to make a contribution that matters.

And you of course are not alone. President Obama, in his inspiring inaugural address, asked all of us to be part of the solution to the mega-challenges we face as a nation. One can’t help but feel optimistic that those challenges will be met, not only because such a wide swath of the political spectrum is willing to give support to our new leadership in Washington … or because of that new leadership’s commitment to bring together the disparate elements of our country and the world community. One must be optimistic, too, because you are part of a generation that, collectively, is pragmatic, believes in volunteerism, and has shown its desire to get involved. And I am confident that you, in particular, will make a difference.

The best advice I could offer as you answer our new president’s call to be consequential players in solving the large challenges before our country is rooted in the lessons our faculty conveyed to you by example during the past four years: learning is a lifelong endeavor ... it never ends. Just as the professors with whom you 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 journey.

As you put your intelligence, creativity, and good will to work for the common good, remember to exercise humility. You may think you have all the right answers and know how to engage people of all walks of life, but make sure to leave space for the reality that you have lots to learn, and can—indeed will—learn a great amount from others.

Your Middlebury days as students may have come to an end, but may all you have learned and experienced here serve you well throughout your lives.

We hope your fond memories of the days here stay with you, and that your bond to the College remains forever strong.

And most of all, we hope that over the course of your four years in this special place, you have learned, in Adams’ words, how to make a living, and how to live.

We wish you well, and look forward to welcoming you back to campus often.

Thank you.

February Celebration Address 2006.5

President Ronald D. Liebowitz delivered this address on February 3, 2007.

I am delighted to welcome all the guests who have come today to help us celebrate the achievements of the 115 or so soon-to-be alumni of this College. I am honored to have the opportunity to address you, the class of 2006.5, as each of you makes your way from Middlebury to the next phase of your life. Whatever that next phase may be, you should know, as I surely do, that your time here has prepared you well to meet virtually any challenge these dynamic times throw your way. More on that in a few moments, but first I wanted to give you a quick summary of who you are, collectively - aside, of course, from being the brightest, best looking, and most engaged class in the 207 history of Middlebury College!

There are 115 of you in today's celebrating class. 89 of you actually began your Middlebury careers as Febs, meaning there are 26 "regs" who have either accelerated or slowed down their studies to become Febs. Thirty-two of you double-majored, and more of you majored in English than any other discipline, with Economics, Environmental Studies, International Studies, and Political Science rounding out the most popular five fields of study.

Fifty eight of you studied abroad-that is 50 percent of the group- and several more went abroad between your high school graduation and beginning your studies at Middlebury. More of you call Massachusetts home than any other state, with Vermont, New York, and California close behind, and six of you are international students.

But much more than mere numbers, you represent an incredibly talented group-as talented as any Feb group on record-and all of us here today salute you for your accomplishments. Congratulations.

If you took a poll of Vermonters and asked which month they like the least, I think the vast majority would choose February. As Joseph Wood Krutch, one of the great literary naturalists of the early 20th century, said, "The most serious charge which can be brought against New England is not Puritanism but February." February is the year's dark pre-dawn-it's cold and quiet and too soon to be up and doing. But most of you came to Middlebury in February, which must say something about your character. It suggests that you are, at the least, optimists-maybe a little nonconformist, innovative...eager, as poet Robert Frost says, "to take the road less traveled by."

Those are characteristics that I think you share with your College. Something that's always marked Middlebury is a willingness to do things differently, to innovate, to take a calculated risk in order to accomplish something extraordinary. That has worked well for us. A College that began as an experiment in an out-of-the-way farming settlement has developed into one of the leading liberal arts institutions in the country. You have good reason to be proud to be a Middlebury graduate, and, over time, we will make you even prouder.

When you leave Middlebury, what will you remember most, and what part of your college experience will make the greatest difference in your future life? As a geographer, I suspect you'll find that it is the place itself that exerts the greatest and most durable influence. I agree with Wallace Stevens, who wrote: "His soil is man's intelligence." We learn from our environment, and the places that teach us things that matter are carried in our hearts forever.

By "place," I should add, I mean, as geographers do, the human as well as the physical characteristics of a location. When you think back on your Middlebury years, you'll find that your memories of this place are inextricably linked to its people-your professors, your friends, your teammates ...

Look around you. Here in this chapel are 115 friends who will, in a sense, always be with you. Through the years they will celebrate your achievements, help you when you stumble, share your joys and disappointments, and somehow always remain close, even when you are widely separated by time and space. Those friendships began in the cold and bluster of your first winter at Middlebury. Friendships grow strong in this climate and place; relationships are often more intense in a community that is small and somewhat sequestered, where there are fewer distractions to dissipate your social and intellectual energies.

The scale and relative isolation of this town and campus have enabled you to participate more fully in the life of the college and the wide range of academic and extracurricular activities it offers. Together with faculty and staff, you have created a vibrant community, where people are encouraged to develop their talents, explore their interests, and make a positive difference in the lives of others.

When you live in a small community, you learn quickly that your actions have a great impact on the people around you, for better or worse. You have opportunities to see how your acts of consideration and thoughtfulness benefit others. And if you act without regard for the needs of others, you cannot walk away from the consequences, because you will see your classmates every day-at breakfast, in class, at the field house, at dinner. I hope this kind of built-in accountability, largely on account of the scale and type of campus this is, has helped you to develop a moral compass that will guide you in the years to come.

Another crucial characteristic of this place is perhaps the most obvious one-the natural beauty that surrounds us. I am sure that all of you have experienced many moments of joy and excitement, just walking to class on a crisp autumn day when the mountains stand out sharply against the cobalt sky, or watching through a window as a winter storm blankets the campus, or observing the first spring flowers burst into bloom-even if spring comes later than you ever imagined and just before you are headed away from campus following your spring semester final exams. These things constantly urge us to get out and explore and engage the world around us. They have inspired wonder, creativity, and a sense of adventure in generations of students. I know you will take that appreciation for the natural world with you wherever you go, along with the sense of wonder that it inspires.

This environment has been important in shaping the college's development, too. I believe that it has inspired a culture of openness, enthusiasm, intellectual risk-taking, and innovation. To cite just one example, consider Middlebury's role as an environmental leader. In 1965, five Middlebury faculty members from five different disciplines established the first environmental studies major in the nation-before the environmental movement hit college campuses and before interdisciplinary study was in vogue. They viewed the region's forests, fields, lakes, and geologic outcroppings as an ideal heaven-sent laboratory for student and faculty research. They also recognized the threats to that environment, so they created a new way for Middlebury students to engage in the study of their natural surroundings.

Today Middlebury is modeling what it means to take responsibility for one's local community. The College has undertaken many initiatives to minimize its impact on the environment-buying local foods, following sustainable building practices and purchasing local materials and furniture, lowering the temperature in buildings, investigating new technologies like biodiesel and wood-fired heating systems. These ideas and the energy to see them through came from engaged Middlebury staff, faculty, and students, including many of you here today.

All these are perfect examples of how education should work. We ask you to learn about the world around you and then challenge you to use your learning to make a difference. Ralph Waldo Emerson once complained, "We are shut up in schools and college recitation rooms for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bellyful of words and do not know a thing."

Well, that's not how we do it here. We never wanted to shut you up, literally or metaphorically, and I am confident that you are coming out of Middlebury with much more than a bellyful of words. For that, we thank your professors

One of the great gifts of your four years at this College has been the opportunity to get to know faculty members as committed and caring advisers. Great teachers inspire you by their passionate interest in their fields, enabling you to engage material in a more personal way and to go well beyond the standard lecture. Working with faculty members who are truly committed to teaching gave you the opportunity to delve deeply into your academic subject matter and to find mentors in subjects or pursuits that particularly interested you.

Your professors forced you to learn how to reason effectively and to express your ideas clearly in writing and in speech. They pushed you to articulate your own opinions and to understand the roots of your convictions. They taught you to see across disciplinary boundaries and to understand that there are few absolutes. They prepared you to apply your knowledge, your analytical ability, your curiosity, and your passion to the many issues you will confront in our complex and fractured world. In sharing their own knowledge and their expertise in how to address, address again, and address many more times, unanswered questions and unresolved problems, they taught you perhaps the most valuable lesson of all: learning is a journey that takes your entire life.

That, of course, is one of the great values of a liberal arts education. It readies you to live in a rapidly changing world and deal with anything that life throws your way. The great American patriot and president John Adams, who played many roles in his 90 years, said, "There are two types of education. One should teach us how to make a living. And the other how to live."

That is what I wish for all of you. That from your Middlebury education you will take with you skills you can apply in virtually any profession tomorrow or in 15 years...but more important, still, is that, from your Middlebury experience, you will have learned how to live....

Finally, this morning, I'd like to comment on the value of being a Feb at Middlebury. Starting your education at mid-year, you took advantage of the time to undertake something valuable, and perhaps even remarkable, before you arrived on campus. Your experiences were as varied as you are. One Feb traveled for two months in a dugout canoe seeking handicrafts and artifacts along the Sepik River in Papua, New Guinea. Others of you trained as emergency medical technicians, attended university in another country, or tested your survival skills in the American wilderness. Some of you held your first full-time, non-summer jobs. Those experiences, no doubt, affected your time at Middlebury and will serve you well time and again in your lives.

Finding your own place at Middlebury is a little more difficult for Febs than for students starting in September. Febs have to jump with both feet into a relatively closed community that is already well into the rhythm of the academic year. A contingent only 121 strong when you began, you found yourselves in the midst of 586 peers who had already spent five months getting to know each other and the campus. You survived that, of course-in fact, you thrived on it. That challenge prompts Febs to bond quickly with one another and to develop the kind of exceptional friendships one can hardly help but notice while attending events like today.

Many curveballs will be thrown at you over the course of what I hope will be a long and fulfilling life. But your four years at Middlebury have given you a powerful array of skills, knowledge, values, and, I am confident, wisdom. It is impossible not to be confident that, just as you successfully parachuted into Middlebury in the dead of winter and the middle of the academic year, you will be successful in parachuting into life beyond this special campus and community.

All of you will soon be facing large and exciting changes. Who will you be, what will you be doing, what will you know five or ten years from now? It will be a thrill-for you and for us-to find out. The next time we see you-perhaps at a reunion in the not-to-distant future-you will be different. So I would like to leave you with an appropriate reflection on change and fulfillment by Robert Frost:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

As you go forth, know that you are ready to face whatever the passing of time may bring and to find fulfillment in it.

Know, too, that, as poet Mordecai Marcus has observed from this poem, Frost, like William Butler Yeats "thinks that man is in love and loves what vanishes." Your Middlebury days may have now vanished, but may your love for those vanished days remain with you and serve you well throughout your lives.

Thank you and best wishes.