Archive for the ‘Graduation’ Category

From Russian to NPR: Language Study Matters
August 16, 2010

Well folks, we’re back in a Ghost town.

This past Friday, all of the language school students (finally) left, leaving a 1,500 person sized vacancy on our huge, leafy campus. For (almost) the entire summer, the few, the proud, the English have been surrounded by foreign language school students, so to have them gone feels very strange.

Not to mention that the cute French children have also left.

To celebrate the end of the Language schools, the college held a commencement ceremony this past Friday to honor those students who were receiving Masters or Doctorate degrees in Foreign Language. It was held in Mead Chapel, which was a nice throw back to the days of Convocation (I mean, who didn’t love touching the cane?). For the ceremony, the school brought in Vivian Schiller, the president of NPR, to speak. Besides being such a powerful woman (she’s not only run NPR but also the Discovery Channel and CNN), Ms. Schiller earned her Masters from Middlebury in Russian almost exactly 25 years ago in 1985.

As to be expected, her speech focused primarily on language acquisition and education. As an undergraduate, Ms. Schiller earned a degree in Russian, obtaining her Masters in Russian later on at Middlebury. You might be wondering, as a lot of us in the audience were, how she could have possibly ever ended up pursuing a career in journalism. She discussed how she receives that question a lot of the time, people prodding her to figure out why on earth she studied Russian. She responded, saying that she studied Russian because she loved it and it is because of her study of Russian that she became the journalist that she is today. She went on to say that she could ‘trace a straight line’ from her decision to study Russian to her current work with NPR.

Wow.

As a student fascinated with languages (I’ve studied French, Italian and Spanish, and am thinking about jumping on the Portuguese train), it was empowering to hear that so much success could come from pursuing a foreign language passion. I sometimes find myself struggling to validate my intense focus on language study, both because it is incredibly time consuming and because, at least on the surface, it doesn’t seem very practical, but Ms. Schiller has seemingly defied that notion, and in her speech she spent a great deal of time urging all those in the room to not only study a language, but to become immersed in the culture of that language. In America, she went on to say, we have lost touch with what it means to be aware of other cultures and that only through language study can we ever hope to regain a sense of knowing what it means to be citizens of the world.

Her speech brought me, if nothing else, immense clarity about what I want for myself. I want to study languages, yes, but I also want to become an active participant in bringing together those parts of the world that seem so lost in translation.

I guess Middlebury isn’t a bad place to start.

Listen to Ms. Schiller’s speech here: http://middmedia.middlebury.edu/media/atolbert/VivSpeech.mp3″

And a rousing rendition of Gamaliel Painter’s Cane (led by François Clemmons, tenor): http://middmedia.middlebury.edu/media/atolbert/GamalielPainter.mp3″

Ciao/Adios/Au Revoir,

Cody

“I keep thinking that it’s not goodbye, it’s a time to fly.”
May 23, 2010

Whenever I think of graduations, my mind automatically goes to Vitamin C, the singer of the cheesy “Graduation Song” that we all loved and listened to a decade ago. (Whoever thought that was a good idea?) As the class of 2010 walked across the rather impressively-constructed-tarp-like graduation stage this morning, the air was thick with nostalgia and humidity.

Seriously though, it couldn’t have been hotter.

While we listened to speeches and attempted to see the stage around one mother’s large, lime-green umbrella, we reflected on the impending end of our collegiate career at Middlebury. But we’ll save the sap and reminiscing for later (well three years, May 2013). For now, a rundown of today’s commencement:

Student speaker: Peter Baumann

Short, sweet, and to the point, Peter’s speech mixed real-world issues (the economic recession) with personal anecdotes (a story about how two students, during the time lapse photo every class takes after convocation, ran from one side to the other, discussing how maybe we should stop trying to ‘run out’ of situations and learn how to ‘run back in’) in an effectively non-boring way that was both compelling and hilarious.

I don’t know who chose him to speak, but they made the right choice, because as much as we love Ronnie Liebs, it was great to hear a student speak honestly about his experiences and what he hopes his fellow students will accomplish as they go out into the vaguely-constructed ‘real world.’

Props to Peter and will someone please tell me where I can snag a copy of his speech?

Commencement Address: Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

While not exactly on the level of David Foster Wallace at Kenyon in 2005 or Ellen DeGeneres at Tulane in 2009, this power couple gave an entertaining and mildly inspirational speech. The tag-team approach was unique and the two complimented each other very well (probably why they’re married…). It was just the right mix of personal narrative and inspiration and advice. In short, the speech had two main messages:

1. Discomfort. “If you’re enjoying every moment of life, you’re not growing enough.” They challenged today’s graduates to leave their comfort zones, whether it be by traveling to a foreign land or by taking a risk. We have “won the lottery of life” by being fortunate enough to obtain an education at such an institute as Middlebury. Their message was for us to break away from the warmth and fuzziness of college and to not be afraid to go out and make ourselves uncomfortable.

2. Use these experiences to give back. Every liberal arts grad wants to save the world. According to Kristof and WuDunn, we all can. They referenced the cliche Hawaiian story of a little boy who attempts to throw back all the starfish that wash up onto the beach. When a man comes by and tells him his work won’t make a difference, that there are too many starfish, the boy throws another back and says, “Well it made a difference for that one”. Making a difference doesn’t have to be as grand as achieving world peace or solving global warming, it can be done everyday through the smallest acts of kindness.

The speech was cute and Kristof’s horrible Chinese accent was even cuter. Overall, the ceremony seemed to go off without a hitch and ended with a wonderful luncheon outside between Proctor and Mead Chapel. (Midd sure knows how to pull off an outdoor picnic, just sayin’.)

Other exciting things:

  • Beth Robinson, whose work as a leader of the freedom to marry movement in Vermont resulted in the passage of a bill extending the right to marry to same-sex couples, was awarded an Honorary Degree by the college. The entire crowd erupted into applause, definitely a very cool moment.
  • Warner was completely decorated with the flags of all the different countries represented by the 2010 graduating class, a reminder of the wonderfully rich diversity on campus.
  • The random beating of Painter-cane-replicas (remember the cane that we were all forced to stroke during convocation?) on the stage during the ceremony made us feel like we were about to fight the Huns, à la Mulan.
  • The most touching point of the ceremony, for us anyways, was when the entire audience (graduates and families alike) began to sing the Midd Alma Mater and the graduates embraced one another, swaying and singing the song together. We almost lost it completely.
  • We’re starting an “Ellen DeGeneres for Commcement Address 2013” campaign. Care to join?

A bittersweet day for all, we’re sure. Congratulations to the Class of 2010 and we wish you the best of luck!

Audrey and Cody