Middlebury College: Teaching Maturity Along with Liberal Arts

Middlebury College, slide from Admissions Office

I’ve often said that the best thing my parents ever did for me was to send me 3,000 miles away from home.  At age 17, I went from home in Washington State to Middlebury College in Vermont. And I grew up very quickly.

I hadn’t liked myself very well in high school. I was bookish and introverted, smart and embarrassed by it, short and unathletic. I wanted to change. Well, I knew I wouldn’t grow any taller, but I could change my personality, I thought.

Middlebury’s strong reputation as a foreign language school attracted me, as did its small size. But mostly it was the distance from home. If I went far away, to a college where no one knew me, I could change who I was. Or so I thought as a 17-year-old.

So I got my ears pierced (to make myself look older – a story for another time), and headed off to Middlebury.

For the first few weeks at Middlebury, I tried new experiences – parties, football games, dances, other things I hadn’t done much of in high school. Plus, in the mid-1970s, the drinking age was 18 in Vermont, and no one in town or on campus ever carded a college student. I wouldn’t say I went wild, but I was not the nebbish I’d been in high school (if a Catholic girl can be called a “nebbish”).

I pretty quickly realized what I was comfortable doing and what I wasn’t. Turns out, I am a nerd. I am introverted. And that’s all right. I don’t have to change.

By the end of September in my freshman year, I’d figured how who I was, and became comfortable with myself. That’s a pretty big lesson to learn at age 17.

Then I went on to have a wonderful college experience that paved the path for the journey I have taken in the 36 years since I graduated. I used my bookishness to graduate in three years and to get into law school, where I met my husband, who is from Missouri, and the rest is history.

If I hadn’t learned my life lesson so quickly, would I have graduated in three years, gone to Stanford Law School, and been in the same law school class as my husband? If not, my life would have turned out differently. The corollary of learning to be yourself is learning not to have regrets for the decisions you make.

I’m thinking a lot about Middlebury this week, because I’ve spent the last two evenings representing the college at local college fairs. I’m not a good salesperson (too introverted), but it’s easy for me to sell Middlebury. I had a wonderful three years there, and I can be authentic as I encourage other high school students to explore whether Middlebury is right for them.

Middlebury, VT, slide from Middlebury College Admissions Office

Not many people in the Kansas City area have ever heard of Middlebury College, though it is one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation. It’s in a small town, nestled in a valley near Lake Champlain between the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains. It’s cold in the winter (waiting to hitch a ride to the ski slope is another story for another time), but idyllic in its setting. I went there sight unseen as a 17-year-old, and was extremely fortunate to find a lovely campus with great professors and fellow students.

Sunset over Middlebury College, slide from Alumni Office

Yes, I got homesick. And when I did, I’d look west over the Adirondacks, and think of my family 3,000 miles away.

But the lessons I learned so far away from home not only gave me a strong academic foundation for my life, but taught me about myself as well.

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0 Comments

  1. Theresa, you sold me on Middlebury College. Do they have programs for senior citizens and financial assistance?

    College for me was an amazing experience which taught me life lessons that I might not have learned elsewhere. Even though I attended a university close to home, it was still far enough away for me to be on my own and discover more about myself.

    I can hardly wait for the ear piercing story and the hitchhiking story.

    P.S. I think you’re the perfect rep for the school

  2. Theresa, you sold me on Middlebury College. Do they have programs for senior citizens and financial assistance?

    College for me was an amazing experience which taught me life lessons that I might not have learned elsewhere. Even though I attended a university close to home, it was still far enough away for me to be on my own and discover more about myself.

    I can hardly wait for the ear piercing story and the hitchhiking story.

    P.S. I think you’re the perfect rep for the school

  3. A really nice piece, Theresa. I went to a small liberal arts college for my Masters, St. John’s in Santa Fe, but unlike you, it’s taken me most of my life to even understand myself slightly! Well done, at seventeen. That’s got to be a plus that I can only dimly see. I need to talk to you about being a rep at college fairs. I’d do that for St. John’s.

    • Janet,

      Contact your college’s Admissions Office to see if they have alumni representative programs. Middlebury doesn’t send its Admissions Office people very many places, but they send me all the materials needed for the college fair. It’s a cost-effective way for them to spread the word about the college.

      Middlebury also has alumni interview applicants in the students’ home towns, rather than do on-campus interviews.

      What’s neat is that I’m starting to see younger siblings of people I’ve interviewed. I still get lots of questions to the effect of “Middlebury . . . where’s that?” But I’m also seeing more people familiar with the college, so I can feel I’m making a difference.

      Theresa

  4. A really nice piece, Theresa. I went to a small liberal arts college for my Masters, St. John’s in Santa Fe, but unlike you, it’s taken me most of my life to even understand myself slightly! Well done, at seventeen. That’s got to be a plus that I can only dimly see. I need to talk to you about being a rep at college fairs. I’d do that for St. John’s.

    • Janet,

      Contact your college’s Admissions Office to see if they have alumni representative programs. Middlebury doesn’t send its Admissions Office people very many places, but they send me all the materials needed for the college fair. It’s a cost-effective way for them to spread the word about the college.

      Middlebury also has alumni interview applicants in the students’ home towns, rather than do on-campus interviews.

      What’s neat is that I’m starting to see younger siblings of people I’ve interviewed. I still get lots of questions to the effect of “Middlebury . . . where’s that?” But I’m also seeing more people familiar with the college, so I can feel I’m making a difference.

      Theresa

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