Thoughts for First-Year Febs

By Guest Contributor

Dear first-year Febs,

I’m just a guy in his last semester that wants to welcome those in their first.  I want to be an example of one of the many friendly (and weird) members of your college community.  In the process, I would like to share a little about what I’ve learned and what treasures I’ve found while at Midd.

After 18-ish trips around the Sun, congratulations on finding your way to Middlebury College.  That’s over 10 billion miles!  Never mind 18 trips: the ingredients of you actually took about 14 billion years and traveled billions of light-years to form you and your arrival to college.  Take a deep breath.  Here you are.  Again, congratulations.

Your body made it here, but where will your mind go?  I recommend some consideration of this cosmos.  Courses in astronomy are offered in the physics department, and PHYS0101 (designed for the “non-science student”) covers some of the most fundamental aspects of nature.  In particular, Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman (both dead, but my best teachers) might help the universe and science enter your soul.

No, that’s not a banana, it’s a harmonica in my pocket — but I’m also happy to see you.  I take lessons from Mark LaVoie at the CFA. Music lessons at the CFA are half-price if you join a choir.  LaVoie occasionally performs in the Gamut Room and at 51 Main — both cool places to check out.  He has the biggest tone that you’ll ever hear from a harmonica; we’re lucky to have him teaching and performing on campus.

Meet (and perhaps befriend) Butch Varno.  The connection between Varno and the College (see ESPN features) is a tradition that has lasted over 50 years, probably because he is so charming, funny and loving.  Varno has cerebral palsy and lives in the Helen Porter nursing home.  Roger Ralph ’63 says Varno “makes you feel like a million bucks.”

If you want a free bike, and if you want to learn how to build it and maintain it, check out the Bike Shop underneath the Adirondack House.

Partner dancing, in general, is good exercise. It is also intimate, soulful and an important life skill.  Kind of like sex, except that having multiple partners in the same night and in the same room isn’t called an orgy: it’s called Swing Dance Club.

Check out the greenhouse on the sixth floor of BiHall. Plants are great friends, especially the Queen of the Night, whose flower is the most beautiful in sight and scent that I’ve ever encountered.  That it blooms at night for only one night significantly adds to its allure.  It blooms in the summer (yes, spend a summer here), and you might catch it in September.
Intend to go abroad?  I didn’t study abroad, but I spent a summer in Puerto Jiménez, Costa Rica, a place that I now consider home.  If you’re interested in extreme biodiversity and the rest of the “pura vida” culture, talk to me and/or check out

Miscellaneous words.  I don’t like the word advice; you have to figure things out for yourself. However, here’s some perspective I can offer for your college experience:  (1) Don’t pursue the practical over the passion — I learned the hard way. (2) Embrace community (e.g., get to know staff members, be an FYC [but only if you have the time and heart]).  (3) You can learn more from your peers than from your professors.  We’re limited to the number of classes we can take but not to the number of conversations we can have.

I hope to have many conversations with many of you.

Clear skies,

J. Putko

“[Astronomy] underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another — and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”  – Carl Sagen

Written by JOSEPH PUTKO ’13 of The Big Bang