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Thursday, Mar 23, 2023

A letter to the class of 2021.5

Middlebury has taught me a lot. After attending this elite liberal arts academic institution for eight semesters over four and a half years, I sure hope I’m smarter than when I started, and that you are all, too. 

But as I write this, there are still a lot of things I don’t know. I don’t know whether Gamaliel Painter’s cane is allowed as a carry-on, or how much it goes for on eBay. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do with that psych degree (and I’m still bummed they never taught me mind control in my senior seminar). I don't know what I’m doing after graduation, or which one of you I’ll drunkenly hook up with at our five-year reunion. 

However, there are some things I do know. I know that I require exactly one cup of Earl Grey tea for every page of an essay I write, and that apparently eight semesters at Middlebury was not long enough to learn how to finish my assignments more than five minutes before the deadline. I know for a fact that Proctor is the best dining hall, even though as a first-year I was certain that it was Ross. I know that getting tested for Covid-19 at Middlebury College requires no fewer than six hand sanitations, and I know that you should never, ever – and I mean never – try getting lunch at 12:15 on a Tuesday. 

I know that many of us aren’t exactly where we expected to be. Our time in college has looked different from what once imagined. Like most graduating classes, we’ve changed majors, or joined new clubs during our junior year, or taken surprisingly life-changing classes, sure. But many of us weren’t expecting to be Febs at all: some of us were unexpectedly admitted that way (maybe even involuntarily); for others, like me, this year more than others, we are here because other things didn’t go exactly as planned: we took time off for health, or a cool opportunity, or remember that time that global pandemic came out of nowhere? That was fun. 

I know that being a Feb is a strange and challenging experience, from always being one day behind on registration, to being routinely left out on emails sent from the Office of the President, to trying to explain to your great-uncle at Thanksgiving why no, you still don’t have a job, because no, you still haven’t graduated yet – and that’s normal, I promise

I know Middlebury College is hard. I also know that attending college in a pandemic is a strange and challenging experience, with remote classes and constant change. I know that with these unexpected changes came unexpected losses, from the discrete to intangible: of study abroad plans and internships, of loved ones, of graduating with the people with whom we started our Midd journeys, of turning 21 and being able to go out to a bar that isn’t locked down due to Covid (true story…). 

I’m also pretty sure that the experience of the class of 2021.5 specifically might be the strangest and most challenging of all. We are the largest Feb graduating class ever, with nearly 200 in our ranks, and many changes from the original Feb class. We have spent the second half of college in a pandemic (and those of us who febbed ourselves have spent nearly that whole time trying to remember the difference between senior Feb and super senior Feb). Even starting at Middlebury was uniquely challenging for the class of 2021.5: there’s no doubt that this experience is burned into the memories of those who underwent it, but for the rest of you reading, or for those who have repressed it, let me remind you that the class of 2021.5 moved in during a freaking blizzard — as if starting college wasn’t hard enough!  

I think it’s important to acknowledge how hard it has been for the class of 2021.5, and to mourn the losses of all that we thought might be. But I also think it’s important to acknowledge, despite everything, that we freaking made it. Not only did we graduate from Middlebury, as Febs, but we did it when the world was falling apart. We did it during yet another pandemic peak, and we did it after yet another massive snowstorm hit right before the ceremony–Mother Nature’s funny attempt at bookending, I guess.

We did it because we had to, but… we also did it because we are resilient, and brilliant, and flexible, and strong. We wrote essays, and took tests, and took covid tests, and we have battled strange and unprecedented times to make it here. We should be so proud. 

I wasn’t originally expecting to graduate from Middlebury as a Feb, but I am grateful. I am grateful for the college that brought us back in person for our final term; I am grateful to all of the wonderful souls at Middlebury who have shared their wisdom and encouragement with me over the years; and I am grateful to my fellow Febs who made it there with me and embraced me as a member of this class. 

I don’t know a lot, but…. if there’s one thing that I’ve learned at Middlebury, it’s that while our losses are real, our unexpected challenges have led to unexpected meaning. I have gotten so much from being a Feb and a member of 2021.5 that I never anticipated. Each hug I’ve gotten this semester has meant more to me than before the era of six feet apart, and each shared meal has tasted sweeter with company that I now value more dearly. I am grateful for the gift of an extra semester to spend with all of you, and I am prouder of our diplomas knowing what we faced to get them.

I hope we can look back at our time at Middlebury not with disappointment that our Proc crushes didn’t love us back, but with appreciation for this class, for ourselves and our perseverance, for all of the lessons that we have learned, and for the unexpected and serendipitous beauty that we have experienced. I know that our time at Middlebury may be ending, but I also know that we are young and at an exciting juncture in our lives. I believe that meaning is not finite, and that we now have a choice to make: as we leave Vermont, no matter how we choose to spend our lives, I hope we choose to make as much meaning as we possibly can. 

I wish you joy, success and fantastic five-year reunion hookups. Thanks, and congrats, class of 2021.5. Go live amazing lives. 

Tia Pogue is a member of the class of 2021.5