MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Surrounded by cheering throngs of family and friends, 124 Middlebury seniors celebrated the completion of their undergraduate careers on Saturday, February 6, at Mead Chapel.

Middlebury’s “Febs” – so called because the majority of them started their college education here in February 2012 – will earn their official bachelor of arts degrees on March 1, 2016. The celebration weekend commemorates the graduates’ achievements.

President Laurie Patton, presiding at her first Feb Celebration, wove a lyrical homage to the seniors, opening and closing her talk with the Mary Oliver poem, “Starlings in Winter.” Drawing on the language and imagery of the poem throughout her address, she said the poem evoked the inspiration that comes from “colder sunlight and long hours in the dark.”

“As you gather here with your families, your friends, your professors, your advisors as witnesses to all your hard work over the past four years,” Patton said, “I want to tell you: there isn’t a line in this poem that doesn’t remind me of all the things that you are.”

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Patton pointed out many accomplishments of the 2015.5 graduates – varsity athletes, Solar Decathlon leaders, an Olympian, filmmakers, musicians, artists, language scholars, architects, teachers, political activists, to name a few.

“And here is the part that is much harder sometimes for the world to see,” Patton said. “You have fragmented, come apart and then become whole again. You wouldn’t be here with us, flying in leafless winter, if you had not struggled – if you had not come apart and then become whole again. Don’t ever forget those moments even though they might be difficult to remember.”

Earlier in the ceremony, student speaker Rebecca Goodman, a film and media culture major from New York City, gave the student address to her classmates. In her talk, titled, “Spending Time with Your Selfie,” Goodman mused about the irony of living in a “selfie” culture while failing to achieve self-understanding. The astounding technology that students love, she said, can also lead us to disconnect from our selves.

Starlings in Winter

Mary Oliver

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

“As egocentric as our society asks us to be, we don’t actually have to spend time with ourselves,” said Goodman. “There’s constant distraction; constant conversation and communication.” Ultimately, she noted, “the person who you’ll always end up with is you. Which means that you have to be friends with yourself…or at least you two should be on fairly good terms.”

Goodman, whose speech was sprinkled with self-effacing humor, said the most important thing she gained at Middlebury was a better friendship with herself. Her first two years of college were tough, she said. “As much as I wanted to blame it on my surroundings, a lot of that badness came from the barrier I put up between me and myself. The best times of my life came after I made the effort to really get to know myself.”

As parting advice to her classmates – and perhaps to all students – Goodman urged them to “put away your phone and computer and just sit there with the person you are. Take some time to befriend yourself, the one deep down, the one who will stick with you ’till your dying days.” Then, unable to resist, Goodman grabbed her phone turned her back to her classmates and snapped a selfie to their roaring approval.

Katy Smith Abbott, vice president of student affairs and dean of the College, presented the Jason B. Fleishman ’03.5 Award to Caitlin Duffy, a theatre major from Morristown, Vermont. The award, named in memory of Jason Fleishman who died shortly after his Feb Celebration in 2004, honors the Feb spirit of pride, academic passion and determination, excellence in leadership, positive attitude and care for others.

Each senior was called to the stage by Smith Abbott to receive a replica of Gamaliel Painter’s cane, an historic symbol of Middlebury College, handed to them by Wendy Russell Tracy ’95, vice president of the Middlebury College Alumni Association. The Febs then sang the traditional “Gamaliel Painter’s Cane,” led by their classmate Hannah Johnston.

The 2016 February Celebration continued at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl where members of the class participated in the traditional “ski down” in their academic regalia. On snowboards, skis, snowshoes and foot, the graduates descended the Lang trail, crossing over to Cameron, which took them to the cheering crowd below in one of Middlebury’s most-cherished traditions.

With reporting by Stephen Diehl; Photography by Todd Balfour and Yeager Anderson ’13.5