| by Laurie Patton

Students, Faculty, Staff, Fall 2021

Dear Middlebury Community, 

As we begin our fall semester, I want to thank all of you—our students, both new and returning, our faculty, and our staff—for all you have done to bring us to this moment.  

We are back together, learning with and from one another in a place we love. It is exhilarating. As we have welcomed students, faculty, and staff back to campus over the past several weeks, the excitement has been palpable. We are also back together at a time of urgency—around ongoing COVID-19 concerns, the deeper effects of climate change, international crises, and ongoing polarization in our political life, including over racism and income inequality in America.  

In the face of these urgent moments, it is important to remember that the great human project that is education involves evolving as a community. We cannot wait until the time when everything is “back to normal”—or “a new normal”—to get on with the profound work of learning, and of educating ourselves and others to face these challenges. Indeed, there may never be such a time. But there is no better opportunity than the beginning of the semester to ask, “Are our educational communities evolving to meet the challenges of our day? And do we have the courage to stay in communities, and build them, in the context of the challenges we see all around us?” As we transition into the academic year, I hope we all take a chance to think about what evolving community means for each of us: in our classrooms, our artistic and athletic pursuits, our community engagements, our studies abroad. I know each of us will answer creatively, in our own ways, and I look forward to hearing your responses to those questions. 

The beginning of the semester is also a good time to thank you for something else important: compliance with our ongoing COVID-19 safety protocols. We are all disappointed that we still have them. Unfortunately, the Delta variant surge has necessitated a return to certain protective measures as we follow all current public health guidelines. Yet, with its deep experience with, commitment to, and excellent record in addressing COVID-19, our extraordinary leadership team will continue to focus on keeping our community healthy, intact, and learning in person. We remain fortunate to be in the most highly vaccinated state in the nation. And, as these times dictate, we also have the capacity and plans in place to pivot if circumstances warrant.  

Even if it is not the COVID-free return that we had hoped for, I am excited that we are gathering again to explore the life of the mind, body, heart, and soul. Such exploration is the essence of a 21st-century liberal arts and sciences education. Even, perhaps especially, in challenging times, I believe we can discover anew our common educational purpose. I look forward to sharing this time together with you. Welcome back.  

Yours cordially, 

Laurie L. Patton