Monday, April 21, 1997

Opinion: Middlebury: So close to ideal

Published in the Mountainview

It is the time of year when seniors write reminiscences of their years at Middlebury. Usually published in the Campus, many of them are very happy with the circumstances and surroundings of their college education. Many of them, however, will no doubt have been open critics of the College at one time or another. Whence this frustration, and then these happy memories?

Perhaps it is because Middlebury is such a nice place, with so much to offer, that people are frustrated by its failure to achieve perfection. Clearly, Middlebury is not a perfect place or a perfect college. The people are not perfect, and the policies aren't either. But it is a fun place, a welcoming place. It's close to perfection, in a number of ways of defining the word. The mixed feelings may come from frustration of being somewhere so close to perfect, and yet finding it, too, has imperfections.

President McCardell puts a great deal of stock in "what it means to have gone to Middlebury." Perhaps this is because he knows that the college years are a hard time in young lives. Putting a lot of work into making "what it means to go to Middlebury" is as sure to disappoint some as current efforts disappoint others. What matters from the point of view of alumni relations and fundraising is that people remember Middlebury fondly.

Frustration is driven by lack of control, more than anything else. We have all laughed at the fridge magnet which reads "Teenagers, leave home now — while you still know everything!" And yet, when in college, we resent that stereotype and fight against it, just as in high school.

College is a time to grow and develop in a nurturing environment. Idealism remains, latent in the hearts and minds of intelligent youth. Realism must be enforced, the world says: the young must learn.

The young, then, learn about the world, but are told that they are not in it and are unready for it. Commencement may be the official term, but most seniors feel more ready to graduate than they are to commence; this is normal. College students wait for the "real world," failing to realize that Middlebury is actually a fairly good model of the world most Middlebury graduates will inhabit for their lifetimes.

People of a similar socioeconomic background, educational level, and interests will surround Middlebury graduates. Forces and people of control will not be easily seen or addressed. Other people's minds will prove difficult to change; more learning will always need to be done. There is some-times enough time for sleep, but then not enough for television.

Does, then, the contradiction of being both pleased with a place and disappointed with it develop from the confusing situation of waiting for the "real world" while it is just outside the door? Middlebury students are quite well off, as colleges go, and they know it. Nothing is perfect, this is true: perfection is an asymptote to life: however close you come, you're never there.

Or is this duality of opinion from another source: that odd contradiction which makes humans always wish for what we cannot have? Humans tend to forget bad memories, to leave them behind. As good feelings and memories come to life, as the world comes to life in spring, seniors feel a sense of longing for the good times they once had.

Perhaps it is not whence this feeling comes that is important; the feeling itself is worth quite a lot. Seniors will leave (some will stay in the area; others will leave but return) and remember this place and this college happily, and that is good. It is well that so many adults are happy with their youth- fill decision to attend Middlebury. Growth does occur here, and as frustrations and negative feelings melt with the winter snows, seniors prepare to leave to enter what they will create as their "real world." It is not perfect either.