MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – The centennial celebration for the Betty Ashbury Jones MA ’86 School of French took on a dual meaning July 15-16 as members of the school reflected on the tragic events that took place in Nice, France, just a few hours earlier.

There was much anticipation in the French School of 2016 for seeing the “I Will Keep a Light Burning” illumination installed by guest artist Renaud Auguste-Dormeuil in the quadrangle nearest Le Chateau – the campus building long associated with the summer school.

As the French School gathered around the intense light of the installation, which was designed to represent the night sky over Middlebury 100 years into the future, emotions ran high. “The luminaria exhibition was intended to symbolize the enduring nature of the French School,” said Director Philippe France. “The idea was that the light of the school will always keep burning, but with what has been happening in France the installation took on a second meaning that wasn’t originally intended.”

The spectacle consisted of 800 powerful candles placed inside a circular, 75-foot-wide ring in the quadrangle affectionately known as Battell Beach. The candles were lit by Auguste-Dormeuil and his helpers as dusk fell on the Champlain Valley, and they burned throughout the night as members of the school celebrated until the wee hours of the morning.

The centennial celebration opened on July 15 – the day after Bastille Day – with a roundtable discussion in Le Chateau’s Grand Salon. The panelists included three former directors of the French School: Daniel Jourlait (1987-1997), Jean-Claude Redonnet (1998-2003), and Aline Germain-Rutherford (2006-2014). Professor emeritus and former director (in 2005) Edward Knox sent prepared remarks, which were read aloud by the current director, who gave a PowerPoint presentation about the first seven decades of the school.

The four directors (past and present) also spoke about the future of the French School with an eye toward the ongoing campus-wide “Envisioning Middlebury” planning effort. In addition, President Laurie L. Patton sent a message (in French) that was read by Director France at the panel.

The celebration continued on Saturday with a dinner prepared by Middlebury Dining Services and served buffet-style on the lawn in front of Le Chateau, which was bathed in bleu, blanc, and rouge light for the occasion. As the school’s 215 students (undergraduates and graduates), faculty, staff, family members, and guests gathered, the celebrants socialized as if they were outside a French café.

Philippe France asked for a minute of silence for the victims and families of the senseless attack in Nice before everyone enjoyed a late dinner of coc au vin with roasted shallots and mushrooms, rice pilaf with dried cherries, haricot vert with tarragon butter, and fresh berry Napoleon for dessert.

After dinner the French School assembled around the installation and reflected on how their school has thrived for 100 years and how it has always been deeply affected by events in the outside world.

With reporting by Robert Keren; Photo by Todd Balfour