Like moths to a flame: parents and students flock to 9th annual Cocoon

By Acadia Klepeis

The 9th annual Cocoon featured many of the constants that have marked its past decade. A faded paisley rug. A single microphone. A winged logo. And, once again, the gentle hum of a packed crowd.

Compared to last year’s heavily-modified Cocoon event, the energy in the lobby before Friday night’s show was electric. Students, professors, parents and community members were clearly overjoyed to be gathering in Mahaney Arts Center’s Robison Hall after so many months away from campus. For students who have been inside the Middlebury bubble over the past year, the sight of so many silvery heads in the audience was bizarre, given how accustomed they are to seeing only young adults. 

Despite the weight of this anticipation, Cocoon exceeded expectations.

The event was organized by the student organization known as Moth Up, led by co-presidents Alex Burns ’21.5 and Kristen Morgenstern ’24, who doubled as emcees. Inspired by the Moth Radio Hour, the evening features true stories told without notes in fewer than ten minutes. This year’s theme, “Rebuilding,” stands in contrast to the 2020 theme of “Downpour,” and inspired stories that generally ended on a hopeful note.

The evening opened with a lively story from journalist and community member Christopher Ross. His impeccable comedic timing drew lots of laughs from the audience, even if their smiles were hidden behind their masks. He told the story of his original move to Middlebury in the early 2000s, fraught with snow storms, locked doors and his least favorite song — “Hotel California.” The ten-minute tale had all the makings of a classic road trip comedy, and ended with a heartwarming speech about how, despite initial misgivings, he and his family grew to love the community they found in Vermont.

The second storyteller was Luna Simone-Gonzalez ’24. She shared how her relationship with music shifted from being taught to love music as a lifestyle at the performing arts schools she attended in New York City to loving it in her own right and on her own terms at camp and at Middlebury, her first non-music school. 

Senior Assistant Director of Admissions Steve Zatarain ’15 closed out the act with an emotional story about his evolving relationship with his younger brother, Bobby — whom he named after his favorite TV show, “Bobby’s World.” The two were close as children, but their parents’ difficult divorce pushed a wedge between them. The story ended on a sad note, as Zatarain explained how his brother had been a victim of gun violence twice. While Zatarain used humor throughout, this was definitely one of the night’s more somber stories, and gave audience members a lot to mull over during the intermission.

After the show’s intermission, Assistant Director of the Anderson Freeman Resource Center Janae Due welcomed the audience back with her moving tale about the links between her health and her hair. With intense honesty, Due recounted her experiences with precocious puberty as a child, undergoing surgeries as a teenager and suffering from premature menopause as a young adult. This story wasn’t always easy-listening, but Due’s powerful narrative left audience members with a compelling story of will and resistance.

Student Life Dean Scott Barnicle offered a good-natured, self-deprecating account of the ups and downs in his life over the past year and a half. He shared how the March 2020 lockdown left him sharing a home with his then-wife, with whom he was already in the process of getting a divorce after 29 years. When he eventually moved out, he overcame the relatable technological hurdles of Match.com and was lucky enough to meet a new partner. They celebrated their one-year anniversary last Saturday.    

The final speaker was Keziah Wilde ’24, who shared how she has been running at least one continuous mile every day since before her 10th birthday. Whether limping along on a strained hamstring or disguising her mile as a game of tag while at summer camp, she seems to view this challenge as an equalizer in her life, connecting who she is on a given day with who she has been on all the other days for the past decade. While she may not inspire every audience member to pick up the habit, she certainly left us thinking about what it means to be committed.

Missed the event? Catch a recording of the livestream from now until October 17 here.