Reflections from Old Chapel


By Laurie Patton

I am delighted to watch the campus transform itself from summer to autumn rhythms as the students return. I have been eager to dive in to the everyday life of the College. Many of you were here over the summer, and brought bread and vegetables and many other gifts of welcome. Thank you!

And many of you have been doing other extraordinary things. Here’s a report from the summer: Middlebury students joined Middlebury professors and alumnae for the inaugural nature writing course in Alaska. Another group spent a month in Ethiopia examining both the theory and practice of international development. We celebrated the centennial of the founding of the Language Schools, with panels and keynote speakers from around the world. 134 students con- ducted original research with their mentors, including developing a prototype device for detecting dairy cow hoof lesions that will be tested in farms this fall and analyzing genetic predispositions to alcohol abuse in mice. Our women’s lacrosse team was named a member of the academic honor squad—embodying the scholar-athletes that Middlebury is known for. And the team at MiddCORE, our program in entrepreneurship held at Lake Tahoe, was featured in a Forbes article naming Middlebury as one of the top entrepreneurial colleges in the country.

I share with you the news I happened to pick up last week as students, faculty, and staff returned from the summer. And next week’s stories will be equally inspiring—not because of the individual accomplishments, but because of the unique collaboration that helped those individuals to thrive. You can dip into any week at Middlebury—and find these kinds of stories. They exemplify the principles of a 21st century higher education: integration, adaptation, and innovation. In- tegration is finding a place for our knowledge in the world, as the participants of MiddCORE did. Adaptation is being able to turn on a dime in response to our circumstances, as our nature writers in Alaska did. And innovation is discovering and finding applications for new laws of nature and society, but also, most importantly today, for new laws of big data and information, as our summer researchers did.

And here’s another story I’d like to tell as we begin: the story of resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back after adversity, and a much-needed skill for meeting life’s challenges. Although I wasn’t here, I know that last semester was a challenging one for many reasons. And Middlebury students asked: how do we strengthen our community, even in the midst of setbacks?

In the coming weeks, look for a number of different initiatives that help to develop resil- ience. We will focus on: 1) building traditions (something I hear students want!); 2) listening to students to create better frameworks for a diverse Middlebury; 3) developing better forms of peer-to-peer support, and deepening other kinds of supportive communities; and 4) working on practices of mindfulness for all different groups at Middlebury. To discuss these issues, I’ll be coming to meet with you in the dining halls, and starting my office hours in the coming weeks. I’m looking forward to hearing your ideas. So stay in touch!