Laurie Patton’s Inauguration Address

October 11, 2015, Middlebury, Vermont

Good morning students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni, presidents emeriti and their families, delegates, citizens of the town of Middlebury, of Vermont, of New England, citizens of Monterey, of our nation, and of the world. We are delighted that you are here. I am particularly moved that you have come to celebrate on this joyful day the next chapter in Middlebury’s extraordinary history. Many of you have come a long way, from overseas and from states a great distance from Vermont. Others of you have made an extra special effort to get here.  Let me pause now to tell you that there is a Middlebury tradition of honoring one particular person who always makes a special effort to get to Middlebury events, and I would like to follow it now.  I want to acknowledge our Middlebury neighbor and friend, Butch Varno. There is a tradition where a Middlebury athletic team picks Butch up for events, and I’m delighted to say Butch has been picked up today by the basketball team to join us for this event. Butch, and his team, are you out there? Let me extend a special welcome to you and to all people who have made the effort to be with us today.

In the last three months, my husband Shalom and I have received a warm welcome that we have come to recognize as typical of you. Your welcome inspires me to continue our collective work of deepening our Middlebury traditions, as well as expanding Middlebury’s horizons.

You have greeted us with new ideas, with new arguments, with a sense of pride in this place and a sense of determined, engaged optimism about all that we can do together.   

That determined, engaged optimism is at the heart of who Middlebury is. People have remarked how challenging their courses are. Others are concerned about the effortless perfection that so many elite colleges seem to demand. And some have spoken of their disappointment in some decision the institution has made. But every single person I have met has simultaneously declared his or her great love of this place and its people.

Why do we love it so?  I think there are many answers to this question. As an outsider who has now chosen to be among you, I have the privilege of telling you your own stories in a different way.

Allow me today to describe that particular collective genius that has helped Middlebury endure—and in more recent decades thrive—for 215 years and has helped it to get to this particular moment on this wonderful fall morning, with all of us gathered to contemplate the next moments of transformation and hope. Allow me also to describe for us a future. 

Let me begin by turning to the mountains. I have learned from you all that it is helpful to do so. At Middlebury we live the words of poet Heather McHugh, who wrote: “If you live on the edge of an enormous mountain or an enormous body of water, it’s harder to think of yourself as being so important. That seems useful to me, spiritually.”

There is a tradition that I just learned about one recent September evening. The sun was vanishing in one of those sunsets that stops us in our tracks and wakes us up, even as our minds and hearts move toward the night. I have learned that when these sunsets happen one of the athletic coaches stops the action and says, “OK, everyone needs to stop for a mountain moment.” And the players stop to appreciate the moment.

But there is even more to these mountains than contemplation. A trustee with whom I had a long dinner last spring told me, “When I was a student, and I was in the middle of working on a big philosophical problem, my brain would be exploding and I wasn’t sure I could think it through. And then I would walk outside of class, and I would look up and there would be the mountains. And somehow the problem seemed smaller with the mountains there, and yet also even more important at the same time. And I somehow thought that the mountains could help me solve the problem.”

These mountains call all of us to be bigger in our aspirations and yet also to be smaller, linked to a larger cause.  Middlebury’s mountains give us a sense of place that is also a sense of community. The mountains help us find our place in the world, and even if we don’t find it immediately, we have a deep and abiding trust that we will. This is the strength of the hills.

And McHugh also reminds us that the ocean has the same effect. Now, with our campus in Monterey, we have both. In my several visits to Monterey I have already met students wandering down by the harbor, when I myself wandered there, in need of perspective and a sense of the larger picture.

That trustee dinner was also inspiring because we had a series of intense discussions about what made Middlebury special. And even though we talked about many wonderful educational traits that other liberal arts institutions can and should also claim, there was still that remainder that made Middlebury distinct from others: Is it the Adirondacks and the Greens? Is it our heritage of open-mindedness? Is it the aspirations that we have had all along, particularly the ones that have had such a lasting impact, like the Language Schools, Bread Loaf, and the Schools Abroad?  Is it our capacity to create a certain kind of exuberance? Our love of and care for languages and writing and sciences and society and arts and athletics all at the same time? Is it because we all seem to love dogs? 

I think it is all these things, and perhaps one thing more—our capacity to argue and be resilient in those arguments. As I have begun to learn about Middlebury’s history, I see we have argued well. Not all of our arguments have been pretty, and many of them have been petty, or even destructive. But when we have gotten those arguments right, we have done so in a committed and passionate and constructive way. 

And so allow me to describe a future. Here is my thought for you, today, and in the years to come: I challenge us to have more and better arguments, with greater respect, stronger resilience, and deeper wisdom.

The Jewish tradition has a phrase: “argument for the sake of heaven.” This is an argument worth having, where the goal is not victory, nor even the proof of one’s own intelligence. Rather, the goal has been a deeper truth for the common good. It is an argument where one wants the other side to have better arguments, because all arguments are in service of the common good. We want to learn from the better arguments, so that we can create a better and more capacious home for all of us to dwell in. These are the arguments worth having.  

What is more, the results of those arguments are not fleeting, but deep and enduring, and they help human beings to thrive. There may be times when we cannot discern whether an argument will result in an enduring good. And the outcome of the debate may not even be what we expected or hoped for. But we can still conduct ourselves in such a way that we hope for such a lasting result. In having these arguments, we do not become alienated from each other because one side has lost and another side has won, or because one side has proven itself more intelligent and sophisticated.  Rather, in having these arguments, we become even more committed to each other. 

I once visited a Tibetan monastery in Dharamsala, India, where I spoke with an elderly monk who had lost his oldest friend. The monk told me that he mourned the loss of his friend because he was the most vituperative and dynamic debate partner he ever had. “We had the most passionate arguments possible. And whenever he got the better of me and our elders judged him victorious, I would make him dinner and we would laugh and try to figure out the next topic that we would argue about.” This is a contemporary story, but it resonates with many periods of human history as well. In ancient India, when one has been vanquished in an argument, one brings the victor firewood and water as a way of honoring, nourishing, and warming the winner. It is a way of taking care of the person whose wisdom we now honor and respect.

Every single part of Middlebury has become the illustrious community it is through impassioned argument. Let me tell you this morning some stories about how we have been arguing all along.

Did you know, for example, that in the early 19th century, Middlebury townspeople argued about whether to build the campus on the east or the west side of Otter Creek? Or that the idea of a college in Middlebury was born in rivalrous competition for government funding with the citizens of Burlington, who wanted to be first to create an institution of higher learning—the University of Vermont? (I am delighted to note I learned, from my new friend Tom Sullivan, UVM’s president, that no such rivalry currently exists or might possibly be rekindled.) Or that the early leaders debated whether to send an illustrious and beloved faculty member to get further scientific training in Europe, in one of the earliest Middlebury instances of study abroad? (Only that time the student was also a professor.) Did you know that Middlebury’s beloved second president, Henry Davis, turned down offers from Yale and Trinity colleges to be their president, in order to stay at Middlebury to continue a debate about its larger educational goals?

We’ve always been having arguments about big themes. For example, we once debated about religion. Throughout the first decades of its history, Middlebury’s administrators, faculty, students, and townspeople survived several heated controversies about whether the nature of the College was to be religious—guided by the principles of the great religious revivals sweeping America—or secular and guided by the civic principles of the business people who founded it as “the town’s college.” At one point during those debates, enrollment dropped from 168 to 46, and all the faculty and President Bates resigned. It took President Labaree from 1840–66 to keep us alive, and until 1880, with the hiring of President Hamlin, to fully recover.

We’ve also been debating governance for centuries. In 1879, there was a very tough conversation about student governance. The entire student body voted to suspend itself in protest of a popular student’s dismissal. The administration suspended the students back in retaliation, except that the students didn’t care because they had already suspended themselves. It took a week of negotiations for both sides to agree to terms to end the revolt. 

And we’ve been debating the lives of men and women on this campus for an equally long time. There are many examples beyond the famous one, where Emma Willard set up her school across from Middlebury’s campus because the College was not yet prepared to admit young women.

There was even a debate about whether the trustees really meant to admit women as students, or just grant them privileges. It was only after May Belle Chellis finished her course work at the top of her class three years later that they decided they must have meant to admit them after all. 

And, in 1942–43, during the height of World War Two, the College lost most of its male students. It was only when President Stratton secured the V-12 Officer Training Program at Middlebury in 1943 that the campus became balanced again with male and female students. 

We argued about men and women again in heated controversies of the ’60s, when students advocated for relaxed curfews and allowing women in men’s dorms without chaperones. It sounds quaint now, but it sure wasn’t then. 

And in the early ’70s Middlebury debated its response to Kent State student deaths, when classes were suspended in order to, as one publication put it, pursue a “re-examination of our collective and individual directions and purposes.”

In addition to the College, the founding of our schools, too, were marked by many arguments that, while difficult at the time, led to lasting change. The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference is a compelling example. As David Bain and Michael Collier told me, the first five years of the Writers’ Conference, from 1926–1931, were colored by a mutual personal dislike between the New York book editor John Farrar, the first conference director, and Robert Frost, by then a celebrated Pulitzer-winning poet. Farrar created the conference model of published writers helping the unpublished in their paths, whether toward publication or just a slightly higher competence, and included not only working writers, but book and magazine editors and literary agents as faculty and guest lecturers. Frost gladly lectured and read at the new entity—the nation’s first writers’ conference. But after several sessions Frost began to call the conference “The Two-Week Manuscript Sales Fair”— his way of complaining that Farrar was favoring commercialism over art. For several years, the two admittedly thin-skinned literary figures catalogued their perceived bruises from remarks both public and private. Both left Bread Loaf to pursue other projects. By then the controversy had risen into the literary and critical columns. 

The Bread Loaf solution to the art versus commerce controversy eventually came in 1932 with the naming of the third director of the conference, Theodore Morrison. As a published poet and teacher, “Morrison had his feet in both camps of art and commerce. He also possessed immense diplomacy, so lacking in both Frost and Farrar. He succeeded brilliantly in combining the two missions, brokered a civil return for the two combatants, and launched what became an ambitious, far-reaching fellowship program that would recognize emerging writers and smooth their way into the literary world.” 

There also were important debates about language and policy in the history of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Dean Jeff Dayton-Johnson told me recently that in 1988, students in the policy and business programs were frustrated because the existing traditional foreign language offerings were not relevant to their degree programs. A major turning point came with the decision that year to submit a grant proposal to the Pew Foundation that facilitated the complete overhaul of the foreign language curriculum into a content-based format. The grant enabled language faculty to collaborate with policy and business faculty in developing a new approach to the curriculum that exists today.

Our environmental studies program, too, faced internal opposition when it was formed 50 years ago this year. And for years to follow, there was a sense of competition between geology and environmental studies. It took a long series of good negotiated conversations to create a healthy complementarity, and today, thankfully, both departments are thriving. As Nan Jenks-Jay told me, the elements that have helped environmental studies thrive and grow are perseverance and inclusion. This, surely, was an argument for the sake of heaven.

And lest you think there is a school at Middlebury that is controversy free, let me assure you that there is not. The Language Schools have debated over the years as to which language to adopt next, and whether one follows a moral or a market argument for adding that language. The Schools Abroad have argued in past decades about how their directors are appointed, and how they connect back to the Middlebury campus. And there were probably many arguments that have woven the fabric of who we are today that did not make it into the archives, but whose losers and winners have created the educational ethos and principles we hold so dear in 2015.

So you might be thinking now about how your own debates about Middlebury’s future will look when viewed by future Middlebury citizens 100 years from now when, perhaps, Middlebury will be inaugurating its 27th president. We should all be thinking that way, both for the sake of humor as well as for the chance to discern whether our current arguments are ones that will result in lasting change for the good. Whether they are arguments for the sake of heaven.

I hope we are all thinking about that, because I believe that Middlebury’s collective genius of warmth, optimism, rigor, and compassion can make us some of the best arguers in higher education—arguers who can think together with deeper respect, stronger resilience, and greater wisdom. 

Here are more thoughts on a vision for our future. Let me name the things I hope we argue about in our years together:

I hope in the future we can create real priorities, and argue productively as we clearly state what makes us excellent, and identify the places where Middlebury can particularly lead and distinguish itself even further.

To take a first example: We say we are global. But we said that 50 years ago and then it was unusual. Now everyone in higher education is saying it. So today, can Middlebury lead again, in what I call a literate globalism, one that takes time and effort and languages and cultural knowledge to achieve?

Can we ask ourselves whether such literate globalism is truly baked into our courses of study? Are we global in our thinking about math? About psychology? About the ancient world? How do those definitions of global differ in each case?

Second, I hope we can argue about sustainability and the environment in a way that helps us to be creative and multiple in our responses. We will be one of the first institutions in higher education to be carbon neutral. For all of us that is to be celebrated. But for some that will be old news. Are we moving together to identify and move forward with the next steps? There are new forms of alternative energy, green investments, ways of holding companies and ourselves accountable for conservation and lowering our carbon footprint. Are we moving together in a way that is constructive and creative, even if we occasionally disappoint one another by not moving fast enough or radically enough or in all the right directions?

Third, I hope we can argue about how we live together in a newly diverse Middlebury. Here, with the help of our staff at our newly created Anderson Freeman Resource Center, we need to listen to students as they live and describe their experiences. Theirs is an experience of diversity that older generations did not live through. We need to honor this new experience and create structures to reflect the powerful fact that diversity and excellence in higher education go hand in hand. One creates the other. And most importantly, we must find ways to live more wisely with the knowledge that diversity is not a problem to be solved. Rather, diversity is an everyday ethic to be cultivated, made richer and more vibrant. 

Fourth, I hope we can debate, in new ways, the relationship of our multiple identities as human beings. Can we find a way to think about intellectual, social, gender, economic, sexual, artistic, religious, athletic, bodily, and so many other identities, both our own and others, in new ways? Could we imagine ourselves as members of intersecting communities, all of which have something to contribute to the whole? Can we put aside some of the privileges of one of our identities in order to understand, empathize with, and work alongside of others that do not share that privilege? And here’s the biggest challenge: Can we do that even as, at the very same moment, we ourselves might be feeling falsely accused or unjustly stereotyped? 

Fifth, I hope we can argue about the nature of our newly complex Middlebury world. We are no longer a single unit, and we are constantly grappling with how plural or singular we might become. Research about us suggests that we like and are identified with our individual Middlebury units: the College, Bread Loaf, Monterey, the Schools Abroad, the Language Schools, etc. And I would encourage this identification as a good thing. At the same time, from our various corners, we now are witnessing the creation of an ecosystem of relationships across schools and programs. It would be a mistake to force a false integration. It would equally be a mistake not to recognize places where collaboration across our schools could result in mutual benefit. Like all great ecosystems, species interdependence and species differentiation go hand in hand. 

We will be launching a Middlebury-wide conversation in the spring—the first institution-wide discussion we’ve ever had on the topic of our intellectual direction—that will focus on who we are and where we want to go. The data we collect from this effort will form the basis of our strategic plan. Let me be clear: it would be unwise, indeed a risk factor, for us to become a university. And yet we are no longer only a college, even as the liberal arts glimmers and shines at the center of everything we do. We are leading in an as-yet undefined third space—and our challenge is to discover the features of that third space even as we live it. 

Part of that complexity is not only our relationship with other units and campuses far away from us, but with those close by—the town of Middlebury and the state of Vermont. You heard me refer to the “town’s college” earlier. Indeed, if it were not for all of the townspeople who met to determine the early school buildings, the early presidents, the faculty who held the College together when there was no president—if it were not for these local stewards of that dream, there would be no Middlebury. Our history suggests that we are truly the town’s college, and that we are also a community that is the mirror of the Vermont traditions of civic engagement and local democracy. We should think together about the shape of the commitment Middlebury has to its local and state communities in 2015, and what rich, long-lasting partnerships between college and town can be born from that knowledge.

So in all these ways I challenge us to have more and better arguments, with greater respect, stronger resilience, and deeper wisdom. Exemplary sustainability. Leadership in global literacy. The everyday ethic of diversity. An exploration of privilege and identity. A newly complex and vibrant institutional life. 

And finally let me describe the conditions of our arguments for the sake of heaven—conditions about which we should have no argument: greater respect, stronger resilience, and deeper wisdom. All three of these things will help our arguments become arguments for the sake of heaven. 

Greater respect does not mean that we will never be disrespected nor disrespect others. We will all have both experiences, sometimes unexpected and unintentional. Just last week I inadvertently disrespected a group of students by moving too fast in support of their efforts. But respect is about what the Buddhist tradition calls right effort. Respect is the effort to imagine, before we speak or act, what it would be like to be on the receiving side of our speech or action. 

And what is stronger resilience? Resilience is a word whose meaning we think we know, but we may need to think more deeply about. Resilience can mean to return to health after an injury or period of hardship. The scientific meaning of resilience involves an object being restored to its original shape after it has been bent or distorted. In everyday language, it can also mean an object that has adopted a new shape, but stronger than before. 

In a newly complex Middlebury, we embrace resilience—the capacity to develop a respectful dignified response when we are injured, and the strength to return to shape. By resilience we do not mean “to power on” or “to power through” at all costs. Rather, resilience is about making the space to reflect and recover. Our students are helping lead in this effort, and we as a community should join them in developing the programs and places where resilience can grow. 

And what is wisdom? Middlebury wisdom means the capacity to take the long view, understanding the breadth and depth of our world even as we passionately pursue a single cause. We are not wise if, as Middlebury educators and educated citizens, our only focus is the accumulation of profit and not the creation of value. We are not wise if we do not take time to contemplate the implications of an idea and its impact on the world. Wisdom is knowledge in context. 

Exemplary sustainability. Leadership in global literacy. An everyday ethic of diversity. An exploration of privilege and identity. A newly complex and vibrant institutional life. 

Here is my dream for us: What if Middlebury became a place where we had our best arguments about these aspirations? What if our arguments at Middlebury created affection and devotion between opponents, united in the service of the common good? What if at Middlebury we were like Tibetan monks, where we mourned the loss of our debate partners because we no longer had their help on the path to wisdom? What if through our arguments we became the place the world turned to, as a model of public engagement and respect?

I believe in our unique combination of warmth and optimism and compassion and rigor—we have the disposition, and the collective genius, to become that place. I believe we can become the place known to have arguments for the sake of heaven. 

I believe we can do this with the exhortation and help of the mountains all around us, and now too our ocean at Monterey. These mountains will help us find our place in the world, even as we wander in our deliberations. This is the strength of the hills. 

And, as a way of beginning on this path, I further invite us to argue about all of the points I have made here today, and do so with respect, resilience, and wisdom. 

Since my arrival we have already started on these arguments for the sake of heaven, or Middlebury—whichever comes first in your mind. I can’t wait to continue them in the years ahead. Those are my dreams for us, and they can begin now. 

Thank you.

Richard Brodhead

Remarks by Richard Brodhead, President, Duke University, at the inauguration of Laurie L. Patton as Middlebury’s 17th president, October 11, 2015.

I am honored to have a chance to say a word on this deeply significant occasion. Today we solemnize the union of a great college with the new president who will lead Middlebury on the next stage of its journey. I knew you both before you knew each other—Laurie Patton was my colleague before you carried her off to your mountain fastness. Allow me to say how these acquaintances began.

I lived in New England for most of my life but had virtually no knowledge of Vermont until one fall day, in graduate school, my wife and I set off for a ride. We had no fixed destination, and, beguiled by the beauty of New England October, we just kept driving and driving. Toward evening, we came to a place of rest: Middlebury. We spent the night and, the next day, walked this campus, then drove up to the see the Bread Loaf School, whose name was known to everyone in my field. At both spots, I felt a total, unreasoning certainty that this place would figure in my life.

And lo, it came to pass. Soon after, I was invited to teach at Bread Loaf, which was such a happy experience that I came back, and back, and back, and after a hiatus, back again, for eight summers in all. What was so magnetic? You know. This school has a setting of heart-piercing beauty, an environment so palpable that one never forgets the primal fact of the environment, joined to a community where teaching and learning are engaged on terms both deeply serious and deeply joyous.

And now to how I came to know Laurie Patton. When Laurie  was a professor at Emory, she agreed to be considered as Dean of Arts and Sciences at Duke. She looked great on paper—a pedigree from top schools, a record of influential scholarship, prize-winning teaching, active and creative citizenship. On paper, other candidates looked good too. But once we met Laurie, there was nothing more to discuss.  A dozen or so faculty on the search committee shared their impressions before the provost and I met the finalists. People who had seldom agreed on anything agreed that Laurie has an amazing gift for interpersonal connection. One said something I’ll never forget. She said, “Laurie learned as they day went on, such that things she had heard in early meetings had become part of her own thinking as the day unfolded.”

When I first met Laurie, and in working with her over four years, this is the very thing I found to be true. This is an active and continuous learner. When you are in Laurie’s company, her way of engaging you animates you, such that your thoughts become more interesting. She actively listens, takes your ideas in, and allows them to release thoughts of her own, in a free-form synthesis that’s always opening new vistas. Couple this with her endless energy—now that you have Laurie Patton, it’s all right that Vermont Yankee is shut down—her endless interest in others, her passion for teaching and learning, and her sheer joy in the drama of education, and Middlebury, you have met your match.

And that’s a good thing, because higher education needs leaders now. We live at a funny moment. The desire to get into elite schools has deepened into real desperation in recent years. For a selective college, this is of course very flattering, but it’s also a bit disquieting, since higher education, long considered as the great equalizer of opportunity, is now being pursued on terms that would steepen inequalities even further. Plus a strange negativism has gained ground, an odd willingness to believe that—even as one desperately seeks it—college really isn’t worth the value that’s being attached to it, and however rich the experience, really has just one aim: landing a good job.

None of these challenges is trivial; none can be finessed; some of them require changes in long-running institutional habits; some require speaking up for values in danger of being lost. Getting all that right requires a tough mix of skills. Then, a further complication, leadership works very differently in a college or university from the way it works in other settings. In higher education, you can’t make things happen by command. The fact that you hold a title signifying that you are in charge makes surprisingly little difference to students or faculty. In colleges and universities, leaders only exert real authority to the extent that they palpably embody the mission: to the extent that they visibly love learning,  exude a passion for asking questions and thinking them through, a passion that can unleash and give expression to the best energies of the community.

Laurie Patton is a skilled administrator, but her real claim to the office entrusted to her today is that she is a natural leader in this sense. Building on your best thought, she will help a great liberal arts college make a profound case for the liberal arts, without being afraid to try new things or adapt to a new circumstances. Let’s be frank: she has one downside, and you have probably already discovered it. Whatever you do, she’ll work twice as hard as you. A half-baked remark from you will receive a super-thoughtful reply from her; and she will still be up answering messages long after you have folded your tent. The consolation is that with Laurie Patton around, you will never doubt that education is a source of energy, inspiration, fellowship and fun.

Dean Patton, President Patton, the Duke nation is better for you and will never forget you. Middlebury, Duke’s loss is your gain. I wish you joy in this glorious union.

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.

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.