By Gerald F. Sweeney
How did a pleasant weekend jaunt last year into the rolling Vermont hills turn into the development of a million brain cells? It all began with a plan to enjoy a relaxing weekend in a beautiful New England inn with the added attraction of hearing an academic recitation by one of my grandkids. What I wasn’t expecting was a mind-blowing experience. But I quickly felt the synapses of my brain firing up when I attended the Spring Symposium at Middlebury College.
This year on Thursday evening and all day Friday April 18 and 19, hundreds of young scholars will again be challenging me to learn. The undergraduates will present hundreds of mini-lectures on subjects that last year ranged from Deviance, Perception and Disorder to The Political Arena of War. My reward for attending will be to again confirm my fervent belief that the new generation will not only prosper but exceed expectations.
The Symposium began last year on Thursday night with multiple presentations of music, dance, and dramatic performances, these after a keynote speech by a recent school graduate who was heading up the auto bailout team for the Obama administration. In my day, Middlebury was renowned for its language programs. Now their reputation is spread across a dozen fields.
After a big country inn breakfast on Friday, there was a choice of attending any combination of forty morning and afternoon sessions broken down into fifteen-minute presentations by students on cultural, political, scientific, and environmental questions. Subjects ranged from Writing for Social Change to Gender in Practice: Roles, Laws and Stories. There were talks on art history, observations on China, and even a session on Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe, all thoughtful explorations of a variety of subjects across the intellectual landscape.
Meanwhile in the massive lobby of the academic center were forty additional student exhibits with broad viewpoints on questions relating to overfishing, renewable energy, and how to start a food business. The atmosphere was electric with the energy of hundreds of serious young men and women sharing their knowledge.
For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was surrounded by a real intellectual community.
I stopped at one point to have a conversation with one of the professors, exclaiming my sheer delight in the proceedings. I asked him how these fired-up students reached such an elevated intellectual plateau and he said that the school set high standards for individual achievement. Then he said, “When we see that they’ve reached their potential, then we set the bar higher.”
Places to stay:
Middlebury Inn: Charming inn with day spa, afternoon tea service, computer stations. Doubles start at $169
Inn on the Green: 1803 inn on the Historic Register. Doubles from $139
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