LeeCharles McNeil ’23 credits Middlebury with exposing him to “viewpoints and belief systems that…I never knew existed.” In this piece, he reflects on how coming to Middlebury has changed him for the better. LeeCharles is a recipient of the Barbara and John Tormondsen ’82 Scholarship.

LeeCharles McNeil smiles at the camera in front of a pond and lush green trees.
LeeCharles McNeil ’23 poses while catch and release fishing at a pond just off campus that he calls one of his favorite spots. (Photo by Devin McGrath-Conwell)

My name is LeeCharles McNeil, and I am a junior majoring in molecular biology and biochemistry. I would say I am a little different than most people who are at Middlebury for one simple reason: I am from Texas. 

Vermont is essentially the polar opposite of Texas in almost every way. Among these different aspects are climate, topography, surrounding politics, and, the starkest difference, all four seasons. However, this difference is exactly what I wanted.

LeeCharles McNeil dives over a defender on his way to score a touchdown during a football game.
LeeCharles rushes for a touchdown during a Middlebury College football game. He has been a running back for the squad since coming to campus. (Photo courtesy of LeeCharles McNeil)

Growing up, I was a big outdoorsman. I would camp, fish, hunt, and do all things outside. I grew up out in the country, and between my family property and neighbor’s, I was surrounded by cows, horses, pigs, dogs, and so on. This upbringing was stereotypically Texan, and I knew what Texas was and how impactful it was on who I grew up to be.

Outside of a couple of family trips to different tourist destinations in the United States, I didn’t really know what other places in the U.S. were about—the lifestyles and the demands associated with them. Therefore, I wanted to see, learn, and internalize something different, which is why I chose Middlebury. It had what I wanted as far as outdoor access and student body size while maintaining my primary goal of being totally different.

LeeCharles holds up a large green fish while holding his fishing rod in his mouth.
LeeCharles holds up a fish he caught before releasing back into the water, a regular occurrence at this pond that is his second home while at Middlebury. (Photo by Devin McGrath-Conwell)

The one hiccup in my plan with Middlebury, however, was cost. It is a small, private liberal arts college that comes with a high price. If it had not been for the generous financial aid package I was offered, I would never have been able to experience all that I have learned at Middlebury. 

The things I am exposed to on a daily basis at Middlebury teach me so much. Every semester, so far, I have taken some type of sociology class in order to put myself into situations that force me to see, learn, and internalize something different. The viewpoints and belief systems that are expressed within these classes are something I never knew existed living in rural Texas, which is a testament to a Middlebury education. Middlebury has made me book smart and life smart.

An orange and blue sunset hovers over a long stretch of road and grass.
Sunset over the road and field behind Bi-Hall that leads to LeeCharles’ favorite pond, as photographed by him. (Photo courtesy of LeeCharles McNeil)

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