A person in the Middlebury Panther mascot suit skis down a hill while holding a blue and white Middlebury College sign, flanked by graduates in robes ready to follow them down.

The life of a Feb at Middlebury is bookended by winter and its unpredictability. More than a few classes have moved in or out of their dorms in the middle of a February snowstorm. For the Class of 2022.5, Vermont had one last frigid surprise in the form of a record-breaking Arctic chill. With temperatures forecasted to dip to -35℉ with the wind chill, the traditional Feb Celebration culminating with a ski down at the Middlebury Snowbowl simply was not safe. In order to ensure that the Class of 2022.5 still had a memorable weekend, the College got to work.

A new plan emerged—instead of skiing at the Bowl after their commencement ceremony in Virtue Field House, graduates would head to the Middlebury College Chapel and zip down the chapel hill. Making this a reality required an “all hands on deck” spirit across College departments. 

For Mike Hussey, the Snowbowl manager, it meant a rapid shift from a practiced routine. “Our team leaders…all met to make sure we could facilitate the transition from the Snowbowl to Campus,” said Hussey. He added that “to a person, they were enthusiastic and accommodating.”

Four graduates, wearing black caps and gowns, pose together in a hallway.
Members of the Class of 2022.5 preparing to process into Virtue Field House for their graduation ceremony (Todd Balfour).

Come Saturday, over 500 friends and family members streamed into Virtue Field House. After welcoming remarks and invocations, student speaker Jacqueline “Jac” Blinoff addressed the crowd. Blinoff’s speech focused on what it means to be a student and closed with the hope that she and all her classmates could continue to learn and become those “the world needs.”

Vice President for Student Affairs Smita Ruzicka then took the podium to present the Jason B. Fleishman Award, named for a Feb who passed away the day after his commencement in 2004. The award is conferred on a graduating Feb who embodies Jason’s qualities, including Feb and college pride, academic passion, excellence in leadership, and care for others. This year’s recipient is Elissa Asch, and Ruzicka spoke of Asch’s “leadership, positivity, and passionate commitment to service and activism” as reasons for her recognition.

Elissa Asch, wearing a black cap and gown, poses between Smita Ruzicka and Laurie L. Patton, both in graduate hoods, with her Jason B. Fleishman award certificate.
Elissa Asch, the winner of the Jason B. Fleishman Award, poses with Vice President for Student Affairs Smita Ruzicka (L) and President Laurie L. Patton (R) after receiving her award (Todd Balfour).

Following the award, Melissa Hammerle, visiting professor of education studies, took the stage as the faculty speaker chosen by the Class of 2022.5. Hammerle focused on how we define a liberal arts education and the way that it encourages compassionate inquiry. She emphasized the love and gratitude that she feels for the Class of 2022.5 and her hope that they will leave Middlebury with those emotions held firmly in their hearts.

In the final address of the day, President Laurie L. Patton highlighted graduates’ wide-ranging accomplishments before reflecting on all the Class of 2022.5 had faced during their time at Middlebury. A word she returned to was “pivot,” a marker of the class’s ability to embrace challenges and change right up to the end of their college careers. Patton ended by telling the class that it was their “time to dance into the world,” but to always hold Middlebury, and each other, close.

Six skiers in black graduation caps and gowns zip down a snowy hill surrounded by a ring of parents and families cheering them on.
Families and friends gathered along the hill to cheer on the Class of 2022.5 during their modified ski down (Todd Balfour).

After the degrees were conferred and the class recessed to raucous applause from the crowd, buses whisked everyone over to the center of campus for the ski down. Graduates grabbed skis, sleds, and even a paddleboard in one instance, while their friends and families assembled up and down the hill. 

Led down by the Panther, the Class of 2022.5 leaned into their one-of-a-kind ski down with energy and excitement. “It felt more tight-knit and special skiing down right on campus,” said Anna Saviano, a graduating Feb. “It was great that we didn’t have to go all the way to the Snowbowl and back.

Two people in winter jackets and hats scream with delight as they ride a red toboggan down a snowy hill.
Many graduates opted for different modes of flying down the hill, including a variety of sleds and toboggans (Todd Balfour).

“The feeling of a shared Feb experience was a fitting end to a college career spent overcoming separation and adversity,” said Lyn DeGraff, associate director of Alumni and Parent Programs. “The laughter coming from the grads and the crowd was simply joyous,” she added.

Parents and family members took to the Middlebury Parents Facebook group to express similar sentiments, calling the events a “great day,” “a perfect celebration,” and “an amazing experience.” Whether or not the campus ski down repeats at future Feb Celebrations, the Class of 2022.5 and all involved at the College leaned into making the day a warm-hearted cure for the wintry surprise. 

Congratulations to everyone in the Class of 2022.5!

Members of the Class of 2022.5 inside the brown and white Middlebury Chapel toss their black graduation caps in the air

For a complete gallery of photos, visit the Middlebury College SmugMug.

The watch the complete Virtue ceremony and chapel ski down, visit the Feb Celebration webpage.

Alumni and Families
700 Exchange St.
Middlebury, VT 05753