Last Words from the Class of 2013.5

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Last Words from the Class of 2013.5

By Guest Contributor

On Jan. 13, seven students from the class of 2013.5 auditioned to be the student speaker at their graduation at the end of the month. While only one student, Danny Loehr, will be delivering his speech at the ceremony, the following three students submitted their speeches to the Campus.

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It is not without a bit of irony that I write this. To be honest, I didn’t choose to be a Feb. I had barely heard the word until the admissions office called me during June of my senior year of high school, just a few weeks before my graduation. “We can let you in off of the waiting list,” I was told. “You’ll be a Feb”. “Great!” I said enthusiastically, and hung up the phone. Almost immediately, I realized that I had no idea what I had just done. “Wait…what’s a Feb?”

Over four years have passed since that day, and I still haven’t figured out the answer to that question—at least not in a way that I can present pithily to you now. I’m sure you all have your own ideas as to what the essential Febness is, but for every such conception there is an exception. At the 2010 Feb celebration, it was rather famously suggested that Febs are the people who show up late to the party and are then left at 3am, still dancing around the room to Michael Jackson, alone. I think the truth, for better or for worse, might be that not all of us quite fit that bill. Some of us got too drunk or too tired and went to bed. Some of us stayed in to do some studying or watch TV. Some of us turned off the Michael Jackson and put on Blink-182.

But, of course, to focus on that would be to miss the point. Setting aside all generalizations about what being a Feb is or isn’t all about, we will gather together in just over a week because we share a common experience. That simple act of taking an extra semester, regardless of how or when that semester was spent, means that by definition we haven’t quite followed that “plan” that is the standard operating procedure these days. It might seem insignificant on paper, but for us, there was a slight glitch in the plan. You had to explain it to your high school friends, to your aunt at Thanksgiving dinner, to the boss you bailed on after a few months of work. Perhaps understandably, no one really got it. Some probably felt sorry for you. One of my friend’s moms sent me a care package during finals week that fall just so I wouldn’t be left out. It was nice, but kind of weird.

Well, being a Feb is kind of weird. And I don’t necessarily mean weird in that cool, quirky—dare I say Febby—way that we love to talk about so much. I also mean it in a different way: uncomfortable, awkward, unsettling. As fashionable as it can be, showing up late to the party can also lead one to feel a bit out of sorts. I think almost my entire hall during that first semester knew me only as “The Feb”, though the closer friends at least called me “Mike the Feb”. I tried to embrace it, but was never sure of exactly what I was embracing.

But that’s all part of the Feb experience, isn’t it? We don’t discuss those particular aspects a lot, but there’s a reason that they come about. When you break from what’s expected, there are certain consequences. You might have to rely on yourself a little bit more than you were prepared to. You might have to go out of your way to make things happen, instead of waiting for them to come to you. I’m sure we’ve all felt that at some point or another during our college careers. Over the past month, reflecting on those experiences—everything from taking forever to make friends, to sitting alone in the dining hall, to constantly getting hosed on class registration—has made me realize how important they are in the context of today.

That is because February 1st, our college graduation, marks the end of that part of our lives whose structure was predefined. Everything up to this point has been more or less laid out for us. I do not mean to say that we haven’t worked to get where we are—merely, that most of us have been on a path through relatively charted waters. Most of us have always known that we would go to high school and college, and that we would probably do pretty well there. Few of us have had a concrete plan beyond that.

That last bit is equal parts exciting and terrifying, but what I want to point out is that our college lives were a bit more uncharted than most others. And therein lies the greatest thing about being a Feb, besides getting to ski down the Bowl with our caps and gowns on. That weirdness that I’ve talked about, as hard as it’s made things sometimes, it’s meant that Febs have developed a tendency to make their own way through Middlebury. That is invaluable preparation for whatever is coming next. Amidst all of those big, inspirational ideas about changing the world that we find in Ted Talks and Upworthy posts, our postgraduate lives will inevitably bring us a day-to-day existence marked at various times by uncertainty, ambiguity, banality, and loneliness. So let’s embrace it, just like we embraced our Febness for the last four years—without always knowing what we’re embracing or exactly why we’re embracing it. Let us welcome and even encourage discomfort. Life is about so much more than fitting in.

I don’t know an easy way to explain what a Feb is. I do know that the graduates that will sit in Mead Chapel on February 1 are some of the most intelligent, engaging, and challenging people I’ll ever know. I know that we came into this place at the same time and that we’re about to walk out, together, four weird years later. And I know that we’re ready. Wherever we go, let’s take a piece of this place with us. We are Febs, and we can do whatever we want. Let’s get out there and do it.

 MIKE GADOMSKI is from Moorestown, N.J.

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A little over a year ago, I was sitting in my car outside Munroe, hands shaking on the steering wheel. It wasn’t because of the temperature, although it was bitterly cold. I had just returned from a semester abroad in Australia and had last seen Middlebury amid the greenery and blooming trees of May, during the two weeks out of the year when the campus becomes alive before we disappear for the summer. It wasn’t that I hadn’t talked to my friends since then – in the world we’ve grown up in, the people we talk to on a daily basis are decided not by geography but rather by choice – but nonetheless, I was nervous, unsure of how it would feel to be back at this place, experiencing the lives of my friends and vice versa without the filter of carefully curated pictures uploaded onto the internet. At the time I was working at home, and I figured that I could catch up with what I had missed while still setting aside some time to do work. Needless to say, I was terribly wrong.

I was wrong both about the work and about being able to catch up on what I had missed. The amount that goes on here over J-term is really incredible for a place that we tend to often complain is isolated and sleepy. I went to talks about energy and to Two Brothers, panels about Divestment and parties at Palmer. I skied at the Snow Bowl and sang “Like a Prayer” at Karaoke night and enjoyed the best that the dining hall had to offer: taco day (Please, President Liebowitz, if you do nothing else in your remaining months at the helm, make the dining halls have more taco days. For the sake of the febs who will follow us). I had the best of the Middlebury experience in a week, and so of course I did nothing productive. I was too busy “seizing the day” and “only living once” and so on and so forth.

But that week could have been very different, as far too many are.

I know that I am not alone here in saying that I have lost entire weeks of my life to absent-minded scrolling through information that is not relevant to either my success or personal happiness. On good days you might click through the New York Times” and the Atlantic, but more often than not it ends up being “23 Goats Who Cannot Believe They’re Really Goats,” “17 Animals Who Just Found Out Columbus Was A Terrible Person,” and “36 Things That Are Going to Make You Feel Ancient.” Did you know, for instance, that “Mean Girls” came out more than a decade ago? And those are all just from a single site whose name I am sure you could guess.

The defining challenge of our age is the constant flow of interrupting information and the ease with which we can satisfy our every curiosity and need for entertainment. This is certainly less of an obstacle than attacks by saber tooth tigers, mass starvation, or global thermonuclear war. It is, at its core, a “first-world problem.” But the fact that new information is constantly beeping its way into your head at every moment of every day is still an important phenomenon. Where our parents once had to hunt for information on shelves and through pages, for us the trail never goes cold. The challenge is not that we have too few variables, but far too many. After all, it is easier to watch somebody hit a massive ski jump on television that it is to learn how to do it yourself; easier to read every blog post on the subject than to actually talk to the proverbial Proctor crush. The challenge is to know when to stop taking in new information and to jump.

Especially in the freezing days and the never-ending nights of winter, this presents a dangerous trap. One of the greatest things about Middlebury is that the quality and even the quantity of the real distractions exceed the virtual ones. But in other places where the alternatives might be harder to find and the people further away, the temptation to stay inside and scroll can become overwhelming.  With the internet, you have on your computer or in your pocket every word ever written down by Thucydides or Hawking, Shakespeare or Fitzgerald. You have the words of every great leader, the movies of every great filmmaker, and the sounds of every great musician. But you also have Rebecca Black, Ylvis, and every season of Scandal. It is not as much that we struggle to manage our time as it is that distractions spring up to make us forget that it exists until it has already slipped away.

The reach of ideas has never been further and the rewards of success have never been greater. One of the most amazing realities of this time is that the spread of a song, a speech, or a slam poem that makes us feel something in our core is constrained only by the speed with which we are able to pass it on to those with whom we believe it will resonate. But, like the Harlem Shake or The Fox, this success often proves fleeting. And the punishment for an accident or an ill-considered action forever stick to your name, plastered across Google for all to see: the future employer or the potential girlfriend, the angry young men in their armchairs at home or the grandmother who just signed up for Facebook and likes every single thing that you post. We live in a world without a delete button, in a giant town square where humiliation has become more public than ever.

This is not to say that technology is evil or that pop culture isn’t worth your time. But it has become incredibly difficult to separate what is actually meaningful or useful from the cascade of interruptions and quick alternatives. It is hard to muster the presence of mind to read a whole book when your pocket keeps buzzing with snapchats, text messages, and emails from Bob Smith about intermural sports. In the competition between the information that improves our lives and that which merely satisfies our brain’s addiction to dopamine, the trivial content has a home field advantage.

So what is there to stop us from giving into the temptation to binge watch another season of House of Cards instead of making the changes we fantasize about? Mostly, I think, our overpowering fear of missing out, or, as it was labelled during orientation, “FOMO.” FOMO is a powerful force, and not necessarily a bad one. It is what gets us out of bed and to that party that friend is having. It is what drives us to the mountain despite the bitter cold of the polar vortex. It is what compels us to plaster the names of our crushes on the walls of Proctor, if just for a few days.

On the Campus newspaper, we like to joke about how we come up with the headlines for our editorials. If you are one of the dedicated few who glanced at more than a couple during your time here, you might have noticed that they all follow the same format: don’t do this thing, do that thing instead. So here’s my version of that template: don’t get over your fear of missing out. Do the things that you’ll remember later. Don’t give in to information paralysis; take in the facts that you need and then move on. Don’t give into clickbait and mindless scrolling. Take advantage of the fact that we live in an era where knowledge is free and unfettered.

For when you are at a party and it is two a.m. and “Like a Prayer” comes on, there is no time to sit back and think about whether you have worked out recently or how many layers you are wearing, or whether it is actually an appropriate occasion. If you spend too long thinking about it, the song will be over. But here is what is great about Febs: That song is ancient; it was big when our parents were in college; it is practically Bach. But every time it comes on, it’s as if it is the first. So you tear your eyes away from your phone and your fingers away from the keyboard. You join your friends in the excitement of that moment, with that same grin on your face that each and every one of us had on day two of orientation running around in the February sun at the snow bowl. You jump, and that is the moment that you never forget.

ZACH DRENNEN is from Canandaigua, N.Y.

Picture 16I will always remember the day I got my acceptance letter to Middlebury in the mail. I was so excited it took me about a week to realize I had been accepted as a Feb. To this day, I believe I checked the September only box. When I realized I was accepted as a Feb I felt semi-rejected. You can imagine my surprise when I arrived for orientation only to learn that most people specifically check the February-only box. Little did I know that I would soon come to realize how accepting to be a Feb was the greatest decision I could have made in my academic life. Having just lost my mother the summer before my senior year of high school, my aunts were very concerned with my future going in the direction she would have wanted. They feared I would go away somewhere, fall in love and never come back. This may be because my mother often went places, fell in love and was only convinced to come back because a sister was getting married. I am definitely my mother’s daughter, but I knew that college was not something to give up, no matter how in love I thought I was during my Febmester.

At orientation I was overwhelmed, I found out I had pneumonia the night I arrived and I had a cast on my hand. Not the best setup for a winter orientation. I remember hearing stories of people traveling in Senegal, trekking the Himalayas, teaching photography classes in Rwanda, living in Paris, adventuring in Laos, or working at home—wherever that was. I was amazed by how different the past three to six months had been for all of us, but how together we managed to feel— how together we wanted to be. That night as we walked from Ross dining hall through the candles of our Feb leaders into Mead Chapel I ended up alongside a girl who would end up being my best friend for the next four years.

After just a few days of orientation we had begun to form the bonds we were told we were destined to create. Within two weeks of being on campus we were skinny-sledding down the mead chapel, taking our shirts off every “Like a Prayer” we heard, and I learned the words to “Wagon Wheel” real fast so I didn’t feel so left out when everyone decided to start singing it. They say that the great thing about coming in as a Feb is that you create an instant community that follows you throughout your college years. I think that while our Feb class has gained a few members and lost a few—while we have all explored different social groups on this campus and made new friends along the way—at the end of the day a Feb is a friend you can always count on. Just like family, there will always be the cousins with whom you get along best, or the siblings with whom you feel you can share the most, but regardless you have a fundamental love that will always be there for one another. I believe that even though many of us have drifted in our own directions, it is just a reflection of us truly trying to find ourselves here. I can still look around this room today and say genuinely that there is not one of you I wouldn’t want to be there for.

I came to Middlebury as this young girl from Tucson, Arizona. I’d had one snow day in my life and it lasted until 10am. I had never experienced daylight savings because we don’t do that in Arizona, it wouldn’t make a difference. I knew cold as 60-degree weather. And although I still don’t know what is going to happen when I attempt to ski down at the snow bowl today, in my four years here I have done more than my fair share of streaking in mid-winter, I have cross country skied from the Mill to the Bunker, I have gone swimming in a frozen over pond at the snow bowl, and gone sledding down Mead Chapel every year, and I have my fellow Febs to thank for all of that.

Another great thing about being a Feb is although we feel pretty old by the end, we experience the greatest amount of people leaving and coming in to this school. We know things that no one else here knows but us. We were here for the very first screening of the Midd Kid music video. We lived the days of Asian carp and avocados, language tables in Atwater, and take-out cups from proctor. We know about MiddTwit, and know the founders of Middbeat. We know what the real Purple Jesus tastes like and we know how good a DJ Officer Chris is. We brought Dominique Young Unique to campus before she became a big deal. We knew Frank Sweeney before The Real World. We started spontaneous percussion during midnight breakfast and choreographed an amazing flash mob for the Hunt. We have lived through the ADP apocalypse, which has been more traumatic for some of us than others. I personally really enjoyed dancing in those window-frames.

We, as Febs, are thrill seekers and passionate believers. We may have felt a semester behind at times, but we have lived so much more than everyone else that showed up on time. And for those of you who have joined us along the way, you too have made choices in your life to redefine the path of what we are taught college is supposed to look like.

Now we get to redefine what the path of post-college is supposed to look like. Graduating from an institution like Middlebury gives us all a great responsibility to do something meaningful and successful with our lives. However, that does not need to be as stressful as we are pushed to believe. Whether you end up at Medical school, consulting in DC, bartending in San Diego, starting a farm in Vermont, or opening up a cupcake shop, success is about so much more than your starting salary or lack thereof. If I have learned anything these 22 years, it is how painfully short life can be, and how beautifully intense love can feel. Once we understand these things, we understand that a fulfilling life comes from choosing how we built it rather than just reading a manual.

For me, success is always living the adventure. Success is giving yourself fully so your loved ones know how much they mean to you. Success is looking yourself in the mirror everyday and always smiling back. Mostly because “we woke up like this” but also because no matter what happened the night before or what awaits us tomorrow, we have been doing the most we can to do our lives justice. For me, we make a difference through the people we choose to love, sing, laugh, and dance with. We are successful when we know ourselves well enough to be so fully there for the world around us.

I think that Middlebury, along with giving us a degree from one of the top liberal arts schools in the country, has also given us the opportunity to figure out who we are and what we want most. We have been given access to professors, who are not just great because of how they do their job, but because of the people they are and the life of knowledge they carry. We are more than just the grades we earn, the internships we’ve had, the important people we’ve met or attempted to meet—we are kids in our twenties who began this adventure of college in our own way. We are friends, and lovers, and family, and what we have learned from each other is just as valuable as what we have learned in the classroom.

Today I want to leave you with part of a poem from spoken word artist Anis Mojgani. This poem reminds us that whether we initially “chose” to be Febs or not, whether we identify today as a Feb or not, no matter where we begin or end upon leaving this college, we must never forget that we are Febs. For above all, we have learned that feeling set apart from others is not at all a negative experience, but rather a thrilling gift that opens us to all the endless possibilities which lie ahead. We must remember that sometimes the uncertainties presented to us by life, are the beginnings of the best adventures we’ve had yet.

So in the words of Anis Mojgani:

“You have been given a direct order to rock the (fuck) out.

Rock out like you were just given the last rock and roll record on earth and the minutes are counting down to flames.

Rock out like the streets are empty except for you, your bicycle, and your headphones.

….

Rock out like you’ll never have to open a textbook again.

Rock out like you get paid to disturb the peace.

Rock out like music is all that you got.

Rock out like you’re standing on a rooftop and the city’s as loud and glowing as a river flowing below you.

Rock out like the plane is going down, and there are 120 people on board, and 121 parachutes.

Rock out like the streets and the books are all on fire and the flames can only be extinguished by doin’ the electric slide.

Rock out like your eyes are fading but you still got your ears. But you don’t know for how long so rock out like 5 o’clock time, meant pop-and-lock time.

Rock out like you got pants full of tokens and nothing to do but everything.

Rock out like you are the international ski-ball champion of the entire universe.

Rock out like you just escaped an evil orphanage to join a Russian circus.

Rock out like your hero is fallen and you are spinning your limbs until they burst into a burning fire of remembrance.

Rock out like your dead grandfather just came back to take a drive with you in your new car.

Rock out like the walls won’t fall but, (dammit), you’re going to die trying to make them.

Rock out like it’s raining outside and you’ve got a girl to run through it with.

Rock out like you’re playing football! Football in the mud and your washing machine is not broken.

Rock out like you threw your window open on your honeymoon because you want the whole world to know what love is.

Rock out like a shadow of a man passes behind you, drops you to your knees. You’re buckling in sweat, cold metal’s pushed to your forehead, the trigger’s pulled and the gun jams.

Rock out like you got an empty appointment book, and a full tank of gas.

Rock out like the mangos are in season. Rock out like the record player won’t skip.

Rock out like this was the last weekend, like these were the last words, like you don’t ever want to forget how.”

Thank you all for loving, singing, laughing, and dancing with me these past four years. I know that no matter what our respective futures hold, we will find success in the earth beneath our feet, the music in our eyes, the hope in those around us, and the stories we hold in the palms of our hands.

Middlebury Class of 2013.5

Let’s Rock Out.

BELLA TUDISCO-SADACCA is from Tucson, A.Z.

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