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College welcomes the Class of 2016 at Convocation

September 10, 2012

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — At Middlebury College’s opening Convocation, President Ronald D. Liebowitz encouraged the Class of 2016 to delve “both deeply and broadly” into the academic curriculum during their undergraduate years.

Ronald D. Liebowitz, the 16th president of Middlebury College, giving the Convocation address.

“No matter how much you wish to extend it, the day is 24 hours long,” Liebowitz said from the podium at Mead Chapel on Sept. 9. “The workload at Middlebury is demanding, and so make sure that you leave enough time for all that you have to do in four — not one, two or three — classes.”

"View your time here as a way to study both deeply and broadly, for that is the advantage and indeed the purpose of coming to a liberal arts college, unlike what you would do at a technical or pre-professional school. Take courses across the curriculum, selecting classes in disciplines you might never have taken before or even knew existed. Those classes offer not only different content, but many will introduce you to different ways of knowing or thinking.”

Watch the Convocation video

As he spoke to the 602 first-year students gathered in the pews and arranged by Commons, the president also advised them to “resist the myth that more is better, that for example two majors are necessarily better than one, and instead take advantage of the strength of your faculty and curriculum by taking multiple courses in the arts, humanities, languages, social sciences and natural sciences.”

By doing so, he said, “You will graduate four years from now better educated and just as prepared to go on for a Ph.D. in any discipline or pursue any career you wish, as you would have been had you completed a double major.”

His third recommendation was to “strike a balance in what you study and what you do outside your academic work and what you do to create a satisfying social life. Contrary to how it might seem from afar, the transition to college is never seamless for anybody.

“Finding a significant connection to something here and finding it early — an athletics team, an improv group, a literary club, artists and entrepreneurs at the Old Stone Mill, or any of the college’s 150 plus student organizations — will provide the kind of social entrée that will make the transition here richer and easier.”

Flanked by the Class of 2016, the faculty march into Mead Chapel.

After five days of Orientation, the members of the Class of 2016 lined up along Storrs Walk for the start of Convocation, just as generations of other new Middlebury students have done throughout the years. They applauded as the faculty marched into Mead Chapel led by associate professors Juana Gamero De Coca and Larry Hamberlin, who served as this year’s faculty marshals.

As the college organist, Professor Emeritus of Music Emory Fanning, played the processional, the new students filed into the chapel according to Commons: Atwater, Brainerd, Cook, Ross, and Wonnacott Commons, each one named after a major figure in the college’s history and each with its own special traditions.

The Rev. Laurel Macaulay Jordan, a 1979 graduate of Middlebury and the college chaplain, gave the invocation, and President Liebowitz took a moment to ask the members of the first-year class to pass around Gamaliel Painter’s cane, an enduring symbol both of the college and of institution’s humble beginnings.

Timothy Spears, vice president for academic affairs, then delivered the official welcome in which he counseled the first-years on their use of time during their undergraduate years:

“The Internet offers access to resources that were unimaginable a generation ago transforming how we learn," Spears said. "But with these possibilities come challenges, not only in how we evaluate online sources and sift through information, but also in the amount of time we spend engaging the world through virtual means.

“I raise this last issue, not to suggest that we unplug our computers or turn off our iPhones, but to underscore the importance of mindfulness, of paying attention to how we spend our time. Because of all the resources we have at Middlebury, your time here is the most precious.”

First-year students filled Mead Chapel on Sunday.

After the vice president’s welcome, each of the Commons heads introduced the members of their Commons en masse to President Liebowitz and spoke briefly about what distinguishes their grouping. The members of the senior class who were elected last spring to Phi Beta Kappa were introduced, and Twilight Artist in Residence François Clemmons sang “Sure on this Shining Night” by Samuel Barber, with Professor Fanning’s accompaniment on the piano.

The president delivered his Convocation address and Rabbi Ira Schiffer, associate chaplain, delivered the benediction. The gathering then sang the Middlebury alma mater and recessed out of Mead Chapel, their formal introduction to the Middlebury College community now complete, save for the official class photograph which was taken on the lawn adjacent to nearby Hepburn Hall.

With reporting and photography by Robert Keren