Messages of Celebration and Welcome

Jason Merrill ’90, Director of the Kathryn Wasserman Davis School of Russian, Middlebury, Language Schools, Professor of Russian at Michigan State University

Good morning, my name is Jason Merrill.  I am a graduate of the class of 1990 and a parent of a student in the class of 2019.  Since 2010 I have served as the director of Middlebury’s Kathryn Wasserman Davis School of Russian. I studied there in 1988 and taught there for five summers. 

I believe I speak for all of us when I say that it is wonderful to be present here on this important occasion, and for me personally it is an amazing honor to be able to speak on behalf of the eleven Language Schools, which are located on the Vermont and Mills College campuses, and their 37 sites abroad, located all over the globe.

Returning to the Vermont campus has always been refreshing and reinvigorating, a chance to connect with tradition and delight in Middlebury’s many innovations.  I have been coming here since I was a first-year student in the fall of 1986, at various times of the year, and over these almost 30 years some things have changed (such as me!) and of course some have not, but still acquire new meaning as time moves on. 

For example, where we are located right now - I recall ice skating here, studying under the trees over there (they were smaller then!), and, more recently, playing volleyball here in Russian, usually against an opponent speaking another Language School’s language.  My memories are in more than one language, but they all are part of the one Middlebury experience.  I am sure we all have meaningful memories of those parts of Middlebury that are special for each of us; if we could somehow weave them all together we might approach an understanding of what “Middlebury” truly means.

The Language Schools are a place where many thousands of students, from Middlebury and other institutions, once they take the Language Pledge, have been able to enter a unique world and experience the Middlebury magic.

It is not a coincidence that the Language Schools were founded at Middlebury, because the Language Schools are also a magical place where instructors and students work together intensively in small groups, inside and outside the classroom, to challenge commonly-held ideas, explore personal and group identities, and work toward cross cultural understanding, only we do it in 11 languages! 

My wish for the future is that we, by which I mean all of Middlebury’s programs, continue to lead by example in the spirit of innovation that led to the creation of the Language Schools 100 years ago! 

Congratulations to President Patton and the entire Middlebury community on this great celebration! 


Laura Burian, Professor of Translation and Interpretation, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

President Patton, Provost Baldridge, Chairwoman Whittington, and many other distinguished people who I do not have time to acknowledge in the 2 minutes I have to speak,

I am thrilled to be here today to represent the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, where we kicked off the inaugural celebrations a week ago with a speech by President Patton, followed by an engaging panel discussion much like the panels you held here at the College yesterday. In our symposium, we spoke about the transformational power of the act of translation – across languages, cultures, and disciplines – to effect social change. We spoke about some of the incredible work that faculty, students, and graduates of the Institute are doing – from interpreting at the top levels of international organizations such as the UN, to engaging in nuclear non-proliferation treaty negotiations, from designing and implementing curriculum for teacher-trainings in Haiti, to saving fisheries while helping fisherman to maintain a livelihood through sustainable fishing practices. The Middlebury Institute focuses on the translation of academic pursuits into real world social change, and Institute grads are known around the world for having both the drive (and moral compass) of idealists and the professional skills required to have a meaningful impact.

We at MIIS are delighted and honored to be the newest member of the Middlebury family, because we share so many values with our Middlebury colleagues here in Vermont and around the world. We all strive to educate global citizens who can bridge cultural, organizational, disciplinary, and linguistic divides to produce sustainable and equitable solutions to global challenges.

We at the Middlebury Institute are also thrilled to welcome Middlebury’s new President, Laurie Patton. Her integrity and intellectual heft are palpable, her passion for her work (and our work) is contagious, and her commitment to making Middlebury the best it can be is inspiring. 

Ron Liebowitz and Steve Baker had the vision a decade ago to see how Middlebury College and the Monterey Institute of International Studies could, together, provide new opportunities for our students and faculty, and could provide a bridge between critical thought and professional practice. We have come a long way in a decade, but there is still room for improvement in truly realizing this vision. Today, we are inspired by Laurie Patton’s leadership to do even better, to reflect upon what we’ve learned thus far, and to work hard to make the most of the synergies among the people and institutions that now make up the this wonderful and complex entity known as Middlebury, so that we can truly grow together to become greater than the sum of our constituent parts. Thank you.

Roberto Lint Sagarena, Director of the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity, Associate Professor of American Studies

I am Roberto Lint Sagarena, faculty in American Studies and International and Global Studies. I also direct the Anderson Freeman Resource Center and the Center for the Comparative study of Race and Ethnicity. 

While I have accumulated an increasingly long list of job titles during my tenure at the college, after 6 years I still consider myself something of a newcomer to Middlebury. As such, I am truly honored to have the opportunity to extend a warm welcome on behalf of the college, President Patton. We look forward to the years ahead with great enthusiasm and optimism.

During my relatively few years here, I have seen significant changes in the institution but my initial impressions of this unique place remain:

I know Middlebury to be a college with exceptional students, faculty, and staff who take great care in their work in and out of the classroom.

I know Middlebury to be a remarkably cosmopolitan college in a stunningly beautiful and pastoral setting.

And, I also know Middlebury as a place enveloped in whiteness much of the year. I refer to both the winter snow which will arrive shortly, and also the way that the demographics and culture of the college are often perceived internally and externally. 

Here at the college we regularly engage and discuss issues of difference, and as is common at peer institutions, we do so with well intentioned imperfection. We often value pluralism as an intrinsic good while often struggling in our efforts to navigate its daily complexities.

President Patton you have articulated ambitious and inspiring goals for the college. Under your leadership, as we increase campus diversity we will not simply be investing in the creation of an aggregate of people of various racial, ethnic, or socio-economic backgrounds, or genders, or religious traditions, or disabilities. Nor will we expect simple platitudes to result in folks in our community coming together and becoming celebratory about being different without deep reflection, commitment, and work. 

In the coming years we will work together to improve our community’s ability to face the critical moments that occur beyond the times when we can find easy commonalities - The occasions when difference is difficult to bridge. Our curriculum must provide students with the tools, not only to have a meaningful understanding of the world, but also offer opportunities to learn to treat others with open-ness and regard as even as we differ and disagree. We must transcend our provincialism and work to overcome our prejudices. To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but few think of changing themselves.” Wise words of caution for a college with a global outlook and reach. If we are to be expansive in our engagement abroad we must become truly inclusive here at home.

I believe that as we move forward, if we are to be resilient in the face of challenges and crises, we must be committed to taking up the responsibility of becoming all our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers. We offer you our heartfelt thanks for leading us forward [Sister] President Patton.

Priscilla Bremser, Nathan Beman Professor of Mathematics and Department Chair

As I was finishing graduate school, I searched for an undergraduate institution that valued teaching.  I found one, and I’ve been here ever since.    My first Winter Term, I took a faculty seminar on the Teaching of Writing, led by John Elder.  So I had early direct experience of excellent teaching, and also of a community of educators willing to dissect their own classroom experiences for the sake of better teaching.  In the years since, I’ve participated in many such conversations, and I’ve sat in on many classes.  We take teaching seriously here, and it shows.

It’s impossible to be serious about teaching without also considering learning.  It seems obvious that not all learning is equal, but cognitive science now offers precise language to distinguish among different types.  For example, we can say that a certain task has a heavier cognitive load than another.  Adding two numbers the usual way has a lighter cognitive load than explaining exactly what it means to “carry the one,” as some of my students observed last week.

Here’s another great thing about Middlebury College:  the students.  Ask them about the goals of a liberal arts education, and you’ll get a range of thoughtful responses, such as “to experience the freedom to learn.”  I asked, “What do you expect to remember in twenty years?”  and I heard, “NOT the details or the stuff you’re tested on, but how to figure out what’s relevant.”

At the September faculty meeting, President Patton challenged us to model civil arguments worth having about big questions.  I hope that some of those big questions concern the kinds of learning we want for our students and ourselves.

What levels of cognitive engagement will develop the intellectual capacities we value?  How does our own scholarship advance knowledge, and how does it improve our students’ learning?  How can emerging cognitive science help us honor our commitment to a liberal arts education as the best preparation for a meaningful life?

Yesterday, John Grotzinger referred to “the thrill of exploration,” which, I would argue, is not limited to NASA scientists.  My hope for Middlebury is that we conduct a perpetual Festival of Learning here.  I want our students to look back and remember how to figure out what’s relevant, but also remember plentiful, thrilling, exploratory, joyful learning, in community.  Judging from Laurie Patton’s first few months here, I think we’re well on our way.

Robert Sideli ’77, President of the Middlebury College Alumni Association

I am Bob Sideli, a member the class of 1977, parent of two Middlebury graduates, and President of the Middlebury College Alumni Association.  I am speaking today on behalf of my fellow College alumni.

As entering students, we encounter this powerful place and educational experience we call Middlebury College for the first time. Our very own College Professor Emeritus, John Elder, coined the term, “place-based education.”  It refers to one’s grounding in a particular environment and culture; and how a place informs the connections we make, in order to learn, to live, and to love. It is a relationship-driven model, where each person discovers a path, a living-learning journey, a life.

“The Strength of the Hills is His Also”……  At its best, the College, the Town and the Vermont landscape provide a powerful natural setting for learning. The Middlebury experience teaches us to reach with our minds, no matter our field of study, to reach with our hearts as we connect with each other, and to develop lifelong relationships that inform us about who we are, and who we may become. 

Ever since it was founded by Ga-male-iel Painter in 1800, the College has been changing. However, over time, it remains a place where challenge, risk and rigor, provide opportunities for stretching oneself beyond the comforts of privilege.  Making mistakes, confronting dead ends, and deepening resilience, are all part of the College’s learning process. There is no easy way, and no free ride, on the way to adulthood.

Today, marks a milestone...  Under Laurie Patton’s leadership, my hope and aspiration for Middlebury, is that the tradition of connecting people to this place, endures and strengthens. From Vermont to California to our sites around the Globe, may the educational opportunities that Middlebury provides, influence generations for years to come.


Brook Escobedo, President of the Middlebury College Staff Council

Good Morning. My name is Brook Escobedo. I am a 2004 graduate of the Spanish School. I serve as the President of Staff Council and work in the Language Schools as the Associate Director of Recruitment and Admissions . I am starting my ninth year as a staff member.

President Patton, we are thrilled to have you join us and many congratulations on all that you have accomplished in just a few months.

As you know, many of the staff have been part of the College, Schools, and Institute for as long as we can remember. In fact, one staff member in dining has been employed for over sixty four years! Others are new to the family-- and that is what it is—truly a family, something you do not find at every educational institution. We are grateful for the opportunity to work at Middlebury. Many of us consider Middlebury not just where we go to work, but our community, and for some, our home, whether we work here year round or during the summer, in or out of Vermont.

In the meetings that we have had with you, we have appreciated active listening, the opportunity to make choices, and your commitment to increased communication with all of Middlebury. As we move to the next chapter, we aspire to become an even more cohesive entity, overlapping our varied ecosystems in more creative ways, and drawing inspiration from each other, students, and faculty. As we strive for the inclusive community, we offer our institutional history, our energy, our talents, and our new ideas. Please call on us, test your ideas with us, and continue to include us in the conversation. Communication will help us be the heart and soul of the operations here at Middlebury.

Whether we are on the day or night shift, in the background or the forefront, working  directly with students, serving food, sorting mail, recruiting, counseling, healing, coaching, cleaning, keeping the heat running, or shoveling snow, we all work with pride. We strive to keep the College, Schools, and Institute a thriving community that will only increase in prestige and excellence under your leadership.

So on behalf of staff, I welcome you, President Patton. We are excited to embark on this journey with you.

Donna Donahue, Town of Middlebury Select Board

Good morning! President Patton, distinguished guests, faculty, staff and students. I am Donna Donahue and I have the honor of representing the Middlebury Select Board and the Town of Middlebury at this joyous occasion. 

More than 200 years ago a few Middlebury citizens decided that the Town could not prosper without an institute of higher learning. They set out for Yale and persuaded Jeremiah Atwater to become Middlebury College’s first president. It was a momentous decision. Now 2 centuries later Middlebury College is a world renowned institution and the relationship between the town and college still flourishes. It is a great source of civic pride.

This  inauguration provides us with an opportunity to give thanks and to acknowledge some of the many contributions the college has made to the town. Most recent examples are the public private partnership that resulted in the financing and construction of the Cross Street bridge, the current construction of a new town office building ( the first net zero municipal office building in the state of Vermont), construction of a gymnasium and recreation facility , a planned public park where the current town offices stand and development of commercial space behind Ilsley Library.

In an era exemplified by polarization, these are shining examples of collaboration for the common good, of the concept of “we”, of what “we” can accomplish thanks to the college's philosophy that what is good for the town is good for the college. Daily our children enjoy recreation fields the college has made available to us because we needed them. Students at the college contribute thousands of hours in community service. “We” are indeed fortunate. We stand committed to one another as individuals; we stand together committed to our respective responsibilities and to our very important shared community goals to advance social justice, to develop affordable housing, to create economic opportunity and to act as responsible stewards of the environment.

In the spirit of today's celebration, I would like to cite from Hindu poet Kalidasa’s poem Look to this Day

Look to this Day
For it is Life – The very life of life.
In its brief course lie all
the realities and truths of existence,
the joy of growth, 
the glory of action
the splendor of beauty.

Quoting from President Patton’s comments upon her arrival, “We will become together who we are meant to be.” 

On behalf of the Town of Middlebury I extend  to you President Patton our  best wishes for a long, happy and productive tenure.  Thank you.