Ah, what could be finer than sitting on a sunny hillside in on a crisp autumn afternoon, smelling barbecued sausage and hearing the chanting of cheerful fans: “SIT, here comes the pain,” “Marlboro rules, SIT drools,” “kick him in the knee” and other things I can’t mention. Of course winning the soccer game against SIT on Saturday might have been finer, but everyone seemed very content with a 4-4 tie as well as the barbecued sausage. As with any other Marlboro event, the game was also a golden opportunity for the personal expression of students, who cheered their team on with a creative passion that makes Red Sox fans sound like cub scouts.
The game got off to a chilling start when SIT got two quick goals. Marlboro realized at this point that their opponents were not called SIT because they “sit” around a lot, after all. It became obvious, if it wasn’t already, that the School for International Training includes many hotshot ball-handlers from other countries where soccer is taken seriously by more than just soccer moms. Marlboro kicked into high gear, with sophomore Aaron Rucker making two goals and providing an amazing pass to junior Karim Lahlou, who made a third. The second half saw Marlboro lose their lead as SIT made two more goals, followed by one by Junior Garth Sutherland to tie the game.
Despite the chanting of “One more, Marlboro!” by Marlboro fans, answered by “Or SIT!” from SIT fans, the game ended in a tie. Raf Kelman ’09 gets the prize for making more spectacular “headers” than recommended for anyone still working on their Plan, and senior Ari Iaccarino gets the “best dressed” prize for his red cleats right out of Wizard of Oz. Rock-solid fullback and philosophy professor William Edelglass, who was helped on defense by math professor John Arhin, senior Isaac Lawrence, sophomore Kelly Ahrens and others, said “This was the friendliest team we’ve ever played.”
I always imagined that the framers of the U.S. Constitution were an elderly bunch; I blame it on those foofy powdered wigs they all wore. It turns out that George Washington and Ben Franklin were really the only well-aged cheeses among the “founding fathers,” and many of them were in their 20s and 30s, barely dry behind the ears. I learned this from a very entertaining Dr. Mark Stoler, professor emeritus of history at the University of Vermont, who addressed a packed Ragle Hall for a community-wide Dedicated Hour in honor of Constitution Day.
Mark’s talk was mysteriously called “If Men Were Angels,” which seemed to me to attract a disproportionate number of women. This was actually a quote from the Federalist Paper #51, a historic bit of propaganda written by James Madison to encourage New Yorkers to ratify the new constitution. “If men were angels no government would be necessary,” wrote our man James. Mark gave a sweeping history of the struggles of the first 13 states that led to the oldest written constitution in the world, struggles that make today’s economic turmoil look like a video game. I may be relatively ignorant, and judging by the astute questions students asked after the lecture I think that’s safe to say, but I learned a lot.
Along with learning that the founding fathers were actually mere youngsters, which of course went over very well with a college audience, I learned that Kentucky almost beat Vermont, by a nose, to being the 14th state. Kentucky statehood was blocked by the northern states, because they worried about the balance of power. Vermont’s bid for statehood was also initially blocked by New Hampshire and New York, who asserted that Vermont didn’t even exist because they both claimed parts of that territory. But that nonsense ended once Vermont threatened to secede from the union and start it’s own little piece of heaven in the green hills. Some things never change!
Chances are, you haven’t thought much about dying of starvation today, or even recently. Neither had I, until I went to history professor Adam Franklin-Lyons’ intro for his History of Famine class. Adam is one of the new faculty bopping around campus this year and he has a particular fascination with famine, which was the subject of his Ph.D. dissertation at Yale. It might sound like a less than uplifting topic to you, but for Adam it is totally the opposite, with opportunities to discuss lots of more uplifting interests like food sustainability, growing food and, always a shoo-in for me, just food.
History of Famine was just one of more than 100 intro classes offered last week, during two days of academic abundance that officially launched the new year at Marlboro. It was like an educational call-to-arms, an intellectual feeding frenzy, a confluence of frantic mental energy after a summer of relative calm. Groups of students shuffled from one short class to another, rumpled schedules in their hands and a glazed look in their eyes. Just like every other year, they swarmed over the campus like some kind of raging wildebeest migration in search of a season of fresh new grass.
Now that the dust has settled, there’s one thing very different about this wildebeest migration from previous years. On top of the class discussions of assigned readings for History of Famine, ranging from Malthus and Marx to Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, Adam asks that his students participate in an online forum. Part of the new “Courses” web resource now made available to every Marlboro course, this forum will be a place for Adam’s students to continue conversations started in class, share relevant quotes from readings and generally shoot the breeze on the topic of famine at all hours. I get hungry just thinking about it.
At last night’s convocation, you know the event where all the new students are officially welcomed and all the faculty have to sit together in the stifling heat wearing their showy gowns and smiling benevolently, the theme was clearly change. In her convocation remarks Lisa Sprute ’05, now a doctoral candidate in psychology and brain sciences at Dartmouth College, spoke of how the campus “memory” changed, evoking images for me of Marlboro as this big brain on a hill, pulsing pleasantly. “People here can change the long-term memory of Marlboro,” she said, recalling the ill-fated cell phone ban a few years ago, when some were concerned that this upstart technology would undermine our democratic principles.
But the real shocker came when President Ellen, when introducing them to Marlboro, declined to ask new students “the question.” Many of you will recall that for the last 14 years there has been this tradition of asking each new student to state their name and then respond to a probing, provocative question, like: “what is your greatest hope for world?” or “what sage advice would you like to receive?” or “what body part of yours would you most like to change?” The question might have put some students into an uncomfortable or embarrassing spot, but also on occasion their responses were cleverly designed to embarrass everyone else. For whatever reason, Ellen wisely resorted to merely asking new students to state where they are from. This was less intimidating for most, unless of course they were really embarrassed of where they were from.
Reactions were mixed, this being Marlboro, from a handful of students who greeted Ellen at the dining hall after convocation with chants of “We want the question” to students who openly expressed thanks for sparing us all. One student likened the question to a Marlboro-esque version of “hazing.” Another diplomatically suggested that the question could be optional. At the very least, the latest change in Marlboro’s long-term memory meant we all got to the yummy community dinner sooner, followed by a foot-stompin’ contra dance.
I have to confess to you: I have a real problem bordering on an obsession with stories written in the present tense, as in “Margaret walks out on the verandah and sips her coffee while the wind blows through the catalpa tree.” Now, I always thought it had to do with the temporal confusion stirred up when Margaret then goes on to pet the purring cat, or next day when Margaret visits the plastic surgeon, or next year when she paints the verandah puce because Ralph breaks up with her. I mean, can it all conceivably be present tense? Give me a break! Renowned author and Sarah Lawrence faculty member Rachel Cohen, who spoke at Whittemore Theater last night, nailed it when she said the problem with present tense had to do with thinking. If we read that “Margaret thinks about painting the verandah puce,” it doesn’t make sense because it’s not a complete “thought” until she finishes thinking it. In other words, not until it is past tense.
In addition to setting me straight on the pitfalls of the present tense, Rachel Cohen talked to a spirited gathering of new students about her delightful book, A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists. This book was required summer reading for incoming students and enjoyed by many faculty and staff over the summer, which is saying something because summer in Vermont felt about a week long this year. Rachel’s appearance was the happy culmination of a series of activities that built upon A Chance Meeting, including peer group discussions and a writing placement exercise for new students based on the book.
A Chance Meeting is an intimate glimpse of relationships between several prominent literati who lived between the Civil War and the civil rights movement. Some of the brash and bright-eyed students assembled were little dismayed by what Rachel called “imaginative nonfiction,” but she very graciously engaged all pundits and reassured the audience of her good intentions and exhaustive research. If Rachel says the young Willa Cather might have smiled a particular smile at Mark Twain’s 70th birthday party, “one that suggested that, though she was present and enjoying herself, she was not quite of this clamoring world,” I have every reason to go along with her. After all, as if you need reminding, she hit on one of my pet peeves by described the rising pandemic of present tense as if it was swine flu.