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Making a Commitment to Positive Change


Senior Rachel Ochako reflects on the "Midd experience" and the many opportunities she and other Davis Scholars have had to grow intellectually and as leaders. Ochako urged students to follow Shelby Davis's motto of "learn, earn, return" in their own lives.

Listen to Rachel's speech.

What is the "Midd Experience?"  It is not surprising that it has diverse components. For me, it is the active student and the global outlook that stand out.  This "Midd experience" is powerfully evident among us today.

I know some of you have attended a concert by Middlebury’s celebrated a cappella group, Stuck in the Middle. You cheered with the crowd at the end of a Hindi song, which was taught to them by a Davis Scholar. In this room, there is a Slovak student who has been greatly involved with the Solar Decathlon team since last semester. You may have met this energetic student tonight. It’s easy to identify him: He talks about Solar Decathlon incessantly and passionately. In this room, there are students who have been involved in boards of a multitude of organizations on campus, ranging from academic to cultural organizations.

However, more important, in this room I see a diversity of education that we, as international students, bring to this campus. Just this semester, I can recall a Hungarian in this room questioning an argument presented in my Economics Development Seminar, based on a conflicting observation she had made from her home country.

A Sierra Leonean student, who is also with us tonight, recently presented the results of a study he conducted in West Africa last summer, after being awarded the prestigious undergraduate summer research travel grant. He studied the rise in religious radicalism in West Africa: a question of ideological attraction or economic deprivation? This is indeed not only a captivating topic within Middlebury, but also outside of Middlebury in the international affairs field.

In this room, there are students who have explored academia beyond the expected—for example, the thesis on environmental psychology—which has nothing to do with how plants think—by a German Davis Scholar. The academic achievement among Davis Scholars is outstanding.

In this college I have found a community that remained warm even in the long, long, long winters. Here, I have developed academically inside and outside of Middlebury’s classrooms. For instance, I researched fisheries and development in Senegal and studied development project management at the Monterey Institute. Here, I have grown as a leader and grown intellectually with a greater appreciation for critical thinking and multidisciplinary approaches to learning as well as a dialogic approach to leading. This is what has enabled me this semester to undertake an independent research on management of Lake Malawi even without a specialization in environmental studies. I could never have learned or done as much for this research without the constant support and persistent sharing of thoughts, books, and documents by my professor.

Like some people here, I often look back and remember my days in high school as I waited for a government scholarship and private sponsors to come through for my school fees. I remember the anxiety of waiting for my acceptance letter from the local universities and the feeling of hopelessness at the realization that I would have to return to the same incessant search for funding.

We have come a long way. Our families and communities realize this too. For me, just knowing how proud my mother would be if she could see me walking up the hill on graduation day and how excited my siblings would be to meet the friends I have made here helps me understand just how far I have come over these four years. The impact of UWC and the Davis scholarships on our lives is not ephemeral.

My experience is just one of many examples of the achievements of Davis Scholars in this room. Our “Midd experience” provides a critical continuation of personal and intellectual growth as we remain committed to engage in positive change.

This is all possible because of the unending efforts of Shelby Davis and Phil Geier.  It is no wonder many of us refer to Shelby Davis as our “Papa Davis” because, like any “papa,” he is committed to provide for us, his non-biological children.  Phil Geier has demonstrated his unceasing support for the program, and he is indeed our “Papa Phil.” Even though there is still room for progress through financial and non-financial support to the program, it is indisputable the Davis Program has opened the doors for future leaders—and those leaders are us.

I would like to end with a message to the Davis scholars. Shelby Davis urges us to “learn, earn, and return.” We tend to think that both the “earn” and “return” parts will come some time in the future, when there is a considerable higher amount of money in one’s bank account as compared to earnings from a student campus job. Yet, we often forget that we have already "earned" celebrated scholarships to study at UWC and "earned" the exceptional tuition grants from the Davis Scholars Program. We have already "earned," and it is never too early to "return."

To the seniors, congratulations on getting this far, and though the future might still seem uncertain for some, I strongly believe and hope that time will soon reveal that we are far from the end of our success stories. To the rest, live your "Midd experience." To our guests, especially the board of trustees, we are immensely pleased you could join us today.

Thank you.