Honorable James H. Douglas ’72

October 11, 2015

Remarks by James Douglas ’72, the 80th governor of the state of Vermont, at the inauguration of Laurie L. Patton as Middlebury's 17th president.

What an exciting day for our College and our state: a beautiful fall morning, anticipation in the air, and a large assemblage to welcome our new leader as we begin the latest chapter in the storied history of this great school.

Vermont was a very different place more than 2 centuries ago. It was a community of farms, mills and small villages. It had no state capital: the legislature met in various locations, alternating its sessions between the east and west sides of the Green Mountains. How nostalgic to contemplate a government so small and uncomplicated that it could pick up and move.

In 1800 the Assembly came to Middlebury, meeting in several buildings, among them the Congregational Church at the head of the village green; it’s among the few structures still standing where our legislature has convened. Construction was incomplete that year and a portion of the roof collapsed. It snowed on the lawmakers as they completed their work. Modern-day solons have no idea what a comfortable life they lead.

We celebrate the diligence of those early legislators, for, on November 1, they enacted the charter for Middlebury College.

Middlebury’s survival was far from assured. This was the frontier, lightly populated and not easily accessible from major cities. But Middlebury College not only survived; it thrived. Middlebury has become an institution with an international reputation that reflects well on the state that gave it birth.

While its influence has expanded globally, at the same time the College has become even more important to Vermont.

Not only does Middlebury attract the finest teachers and scholars, but many graduates choose to make this state their home. They enrich our communities through their entrepreneurship, their service and their generosity.

As traditional industries have struggled, higher education has become among the most significant sectors of the Vermont economy.  Our College is now the largest employer in Addison County. Therefore, it is essential that Middlebury remain strong, not only for its own success, but for that of our state as well.

There’s another way the College can contribute. Vermont is confronting a demographic crisis: we’re the 2nd oldest state, we have the 2nd lowest birth rate and our workforce is declining as our working-age population continues to shrink. Vermont high school graduates leave their home state for college at a higher rate than anywhere else. As we know, many never return. If we don’t act, our vitality is at risk.

Education is not simply a building block, but, in fact, the very cornerstone of economic success.  Higher education fosters the independence, personal growth and drive to excel in the highly-skilled, highly-motivated workplace that is so vital to securing Vermont’s economic future.

Higher education allows Vermonters to expand their opportunities, increase their marketability, demand higher wages and gain personal fulfillment.  So I hope Middlebury will find ways to attract more Vermont students; we need to persuade them that there’s a higher education jewel right here in their own back yard.

Our new President will likely display her modesty by insisting that Middlebury has a talented team to design and execute a strategy for success. That’s true, but leadership matters. We need leaders who are people with vision and perspective, with energy and talent, folks who can motivate others and keep things running smoothly, those who can respect different views and encourage everyone to move forward in the best interests of all. President Reagan observed that “The greatest leader is not…the one who does the greatest things, [but] the one [who] gets [others] to do the greatest things.”

I’m confident that we have such a leader. Welcome, President Patton. Congratulations. Best wishes as you carry on the legacy of the College’s founders, the townspeople who were determined to start a college and those chilled lawmakers who chartered this  institution on a blustery November day so long ago. May their vision and ours endure for centuries to come.