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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

From Febmester to Snow Bowl graduation, Febs celebrate unique traditions and experiences

<span class="photocreditinline"><a href="">Pia Contreras</a></span><br />Many students changed graduation years after taking a semester off amid the pandemic.
Pia Contreras
Many students changed graduation years after taking a semester off amid the pandemic.

Ever since 1971, a group of roughly 100 students has arrived on campus during the snowy month of February, joining the small community of Middlebury students and alumni with half year graduation dates. These students — called “Febs” after their unusual matriculation and graduation month — have often led slightly different paths than students who enter the college during the regular cycle. The college’s February Admissions page describes Febs as members of “a long tradition of adventurous students who aren’t afraid to do things a bit differently.”

But being a Feb has changed this year. Instead of traveling, many first-year Febs spent their Febmester in quarantine, while graduating Febs were unable to take part in the traditions they have looked forward to since orientation. While there is not one singular Feb experience, many described feeling especially close to their peers, the presumption of stereotypes — and even certain disadvantages of the program. 

Febs by the numbers 

For some, being a Feb is a starkly different experience than being a “Reg” — the colloquial term for those matriculating in September — for better or for worse. For starters, each Feb class is fairly small — around 90 to 100 students. This can be an attractive selling point for those who are interested in the possibility of a close-knit graduating class.

Eli Richardson ’23.5 said the program was a significant part of his decision to apply to Middlebury.

“I enjoy coming in with a smaller community of people,” Richardson said. “I have interacted with people different from me and grown as a result of it.”

But class sizes have shifted significantly in the past year. Many students elected to take a semester off amid pandemic precautions, health concerns and increased financial strain. As a result, some Febs have shifted back into a Reg class year, while some Regs have done the opposite — joining a Feb class with which they did not matriculate.

Richardson’s class currently sits at 90 students, the smallest of all the current Feb classes, according to the college’s email list. The senior Feb email list includes 200 students.

The Feb community 

Many Febs have found a kind of instant community among members of their class, bonding during the adjustment period when they first arrive on campus. Charlotte Cahillane ’19.5 noted that the experience of joining Middlebury a semester later than the Reg class had a significant impact on the friends she made.

Based on the nature of starting at the same time and not having easy ways to build community with other classmates, some of my closest folks were Febs from my year,” Cahillane said.

Despite initial apprehensiveness about their later start date, Cahillane said that the 2019.5 Febs eventually began to feel more connected to the class of 2019.

“You realize everyone is in similar boats and not that much farther ahead than you are,” she said.

First-year Febs participate in orientation trips and events each winter, led by Febs in the grades above. This year’s first-year Febs were the first class to have a fully remote orientation; they were also given the option of living together in Forest — where all the first-year Feb counselors (FebYCs) live — or being placed in random housing assignments.

Long after the initial orientation, many Febs maintain strong relationships with their smaller class.

“The greatest Feb tradition is the sense of camaraderie amongst a subset of students with a single shared experience that persists through your time at Midd,” Noah Fine ’20.5 said.

While most Febs do not feel like there is a clear divide between Febs and Regs, they do think there are certain Feb stereotypes that have persisted throughout time. 

“Febs were people who were enthusiastic, outgoing, a little bit weird, and people who didn't get in during regular admissions, which put a chip on our shoulders,” Colonno said of the stereotypes. 

Though she graduated a semester early — making her part of a Reg class — Colonno’s friends from Middlebury still call her by her nickname, “Febbie,” 16 years after graduation. 

Cahillane remembers her classmates being interested in a variety of hobbies and activities, but there were some commonalities that stood out. “A lot of folks were into hiking, being outside… a lot of geography,” Cahillane said.

“There's definitely a Feb stereotype that holds up to a certain extent, but there are a bunch of different personalities in my Feb class, and I don't really see a divide between Febs and regs,” Richardson said.

While there are no official college demographics for Feb classes, they have often been seen as more white and wealthy than the overall student population. This perception has become so ubiquitous that it is part of campus humor. In 2018, the college’s satirical newspaper, The Local Noodle, ran an article with the headline “Elizabeth Warren to Join Class of 2021.5, Creating Most Diverse Feb Class to Date” featuring Warren’s headshot photoshopped into a picture of students at the college rock climbing wall.

Some students described feeling the impact of Feb class demographics.

“It definitely shaped my social sphere. Febs historically have been white and upper middle class — not 100% — but those are the folks who can take a semester off,” Cahillane said. 

For Sophia Lundberg 21.5, the lack of diversity in her Feb class had a significant impact on her social life and mental health at the start of her college experience. 

“I felt like I tried very hard to be a straight, wealthy, white student for a very long time with varying levels of success before realizing that that’s really tiring and burdensome, and I should just try to embrace my identities and experiences instead,” Lundberg said. 

Niki Kowsar ’21.5 says that, as an immigrant, she felt out of place in North America — and coming to Middlebury was no different. However, she found her fellow Febs to be empathetic, allowing her to connect with her peers despite demographic differences.

“There are activities where wealth, privilege, and access come into play, specifically with traveling and outdoor activities like skiing, golfing, etc., but that's not just specific to the Feb classes, but more so toward the general Middlebury community,” Kowsar said.  

Lundberg, who is one of the two SGA Vice Presidents, hopes that the college pursues policies that diversify Feb admissions and create strong support systems for Febs throughout their four years at Middlebury.

Student leaders aimed to increase awareness about privilege, microaggressions, and anti-racism, among Febs by adding a JusTalks component to this year’s Feb orientation

“I think the inclusion of JusTalks was an exceptional first step, but broadly, it's important for Middlebury to admit more racially and socioeconomically diverse groups of students for future Feb classes to bring in different perspectives while ensuring that all students feel valued and accepted,” Kowsar said. 

The “Febmester”

The defining feature of being a Feb is the gap semester, referred to as a “Febmester,” that members of the class take before entering college. Many Febs are grateful for the opportunity to take time off between high school and college without the commitment of a full gap year.

Libby Scarpota ’24, formerly a member of the class of 2023.5, was one of the Febs who became a Reg this year, spending the spring working at an environmental nonprofit in Hawaii. But, as a former Feb who matriculated a few weeks before Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, Scarpotta was able to spend her Febmester working as an au pair in Italy.

“I would highly recommend taking time off school while you're young,” Scarpotta said. “In a sense, it's not like I had a ton of huge responsibilities, and I was able to gain skills and learned a lot as a person.”

But Scarpotta also acknowledged that Febmesters full of travel and work experience are not universally accessible.

And joining campus in the middle of the semester can also pose a unique set of challenges. “I knew going to Middlebury that I wanted to study languages, so it was really tricky that I couldn't study new languages in the spring… that was why I graduated early,” Colonno said. “I had to do summer school and hustle to get on track.”

To some, the lack of immediate access to some aspects of campus life are part of what makes the Feb experience unique. 

“Being a Feb can make it difficult to join clubs and other activities your first semester but there’s a certain sense of community that Febs thrive off of as a result,” Fine said.

Feb graduation

A beloved Feb tradition takes place on the day of their graduation: when students ski — or otherwise descend — down the Snow Bowl in their caps and gowns. 

“I'm not a great skier, so I'm genuinely scared for graduation, but even if you don't ski it is a huge bonding moment,” Melisa Gurkan ’23.5 said.

The night before graduation, the Febs are invited to a “Febs and sibs” dinner, where Febs and their siblings head to Atwater Dining Hall for a meal and a party. The morning afterwards, Febs don their caps and gowns to hit the slopes. While most choose to ski, some opt for more creative ways of getting down the slope — including canoes. 

Feb life during Covid-19

As the Covid-19 pandemic has shifted learning online and forced restrictions on campus social life, many students have chosen to “Feb” themselves and graduate a semester earlier or later than planned.

Lundberg knows students who have taken time off for reasons ranging from mental health to simply wanting to have a relaxing semester after a long year of isolation. 

“I think Covid has just shown many people that it’s OK to have a “non-traditional” college experience,” she said. 

Febs, once a close-knit identity, are now composed of a large number of Middlebury students, which has shifted what it means to be a member of a mid-year graduating class. 

“I think [identifying as a Feb] is becoming more irrelevant with the number of people Febbing themselves,” Scaperotta said.

Changes in graduation date have caused some to rethink their social circles given that new members of Feb or “Reg” classes may still primarily have friends from their previous class year.

“I am nervous about that last semester,” Scarpotta said. “My friends make fun of me that I will have to find freshman friends to live with, but I just hope to meet people in every class year.”

The traditional image of the close-knit Feb class has also faced new obstacles this year. Some members of the Class of 2024.5 have struggled to meet other Febs and first-years due to Covid-19 restrictions on campus. Unlike the first years who entered in the fall, class of 2024.5 Febs only had two to three days as Middlebury students before classes began.

“There's a sentiment that we didn't have a proper orientation. The regular freshmen had a week of getting to know each other and we were just thrown in,” Julia Lininger-White ’24.5 said.

But even without the traditional Feb Orientation and in the absence of typical social activities this year, first-year Febs have still found ways to connect with members of their residence halls or classmates in their first year seminars.  

The Class of 2020.5 also missed out on some traditional aspects of the Feb experience. Like the Class of 2020, they were not able to have a formal graduation ceremony. Instead, the Super Senior Febs joined a substitute celebration at Alumni Stadium organized by Julia Sinton ’20.5 and Ben Slater ’20.5. While the college has planned an in-person graduation ceremony for the Class of 2021 that remote seniors can attend, remote Febs were not allowed on campus to celebrate with their peers this February.  

Fine feels lucky that he was not in the class of 2020, self-named the “Class of 19.75,” who were sent home abruptly in March. Instead, he had the option of spending his final semester on campus, enjoying the friendships he had established over several pre-pandemic semesters.

Conversely, current sophomore Febs were forced to leave campus only five weeks into their college experience.

“The 23.5 class was really small, so right off the bat we were a very close grade,” Gurkan said. “And with Covid, people rushed to stick with the friends they made to have people to talk to over the summer and to go into housing with.”

But even without class-wide events and traditional social activities to bring them together, some Febs still feel a close bond with their peers. For Lininger-White, the level of camaraderie is closely connected to the small size of Feb classes.

“I think the best thing is having this smaller class,” she said. “When I see a Feb, I know I’ll like them.”

Lily Jones

Lily Jones ’23 is an online editor and senior writer.

She previously served as a Senior News Writer and SGA Correspondent.

Jones is double majoring in Philosophy and Political Science. She  also is an intern for the Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs and on the  ultimate frisbee team.