July 1, 2015: Warmest Greetings from Middlebury

July 1, 2015

Dear Members of the Middlebury Community,

I write to send warm greetings on my first day as Middlebury’s new president. The glorious Vermont summer weather has matched the excitement I feel in coming to work with such an extraordinary community! As I was driving northward in late June, I brought along the works of several Middlebury writers to inspire me on the road. Upon arrival, I have already used sign language in an effort to respect the Language Pledge. It’s wonderful to begin life as a Middlebury citizen!

Since the announcement on November 18, I have had the good fortune to make several visits to both the Middlebury and Monterey campuses. During those visits, as well as others in New York and Durham, I have had the opportunity to meet with members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, students, staff, alumni, and donors.

Several things have struck me as I learn more about what makes Middlebury unique. The first is that Middlebury citizens have a wonderful practice of dynamic reflection about their own intellectual goals and the goals of the communities in which they participate. Whether the topic is the next phase of student life, faculty aspirations, staff perspectives, or new conversations amongst the trustees, there is a palpable sense of commitment to thoughtful deliberation in building intentional community.

The second is that Middlebury’s long traditions of global education could—and perhaps already have—define a new global sensibility. I have talked with Middlebury folks working in all parts of the world, from Moscow to Kabul to Durban to San Francisco to Boston to Bristol. Everyone with whom I have spoken has that special something that exists in whatever region they happen to find themselves. As I understand it, that special something consists of resilience, creativity, and perspective—the power to change where they are by engaging the people and resources that are around them.

The third is that Middlebury citizens know and engage the power of place. The mountains figured prominently in my conversations in Vermont, and the ocean figured prominently in my conversations in Monterey. And those conversations highlighted a palpable tradition of long-term, integrated, reflection—this time about our environment, both in the past and for the future. As one student put it to me, “You can’t be at Middlebury and not think about the place where you live. You just have to think about it.”

In short, this has been a dream transition, thanks to the organizational intelligence and generosity of spirit of so many. Getting to know and learn from Ron Liebowitz has been a great privilege. (We even spoke of collaborating together on a presentation: “The Good Leadership Transition”!) And two people in particular—Chair of the Board of Trustees Marna Whittington and Vice President for Academic Development Tim Spears—deserve praise for their guidance and wisdom as I made my way northward, both figuratively and literally, over the past few months.

Robert Frost, whose spirit still wanders the woods just up the road from my new office in Old Chapel, wrote that “freedom lies in being bold.” On this first day of our years together, I am confident that Middlebury can be bold in its vision of global liberal learning. By deepening the spirit that already inhabits its people and its places, Middlebury can be a beacon for all who seek to define the essentials of a 21st-century education.

Yours cordially,

Laurie L. Patton

Office of the President

Old Chapel
9 Old Chapel Road
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753