French Fries for Thought

The parking lots are empty, the rows of chairs in Persons are all folded up and put away and crews of cleaners are scouring the dorm rooms with Spic ‘n’ Span, vacuums, Brillo pads, putty knives, sand-blasters, flame-throwers, whatever it takes. But the parting words of the class of 2009 are still echoing around this quiet campus, like the “haloos” in a lonely canyon, after last weekend’s commencement. Most vividly I recall the words of Max Henderson, who was senior speaker along with Ryan Dolan, when he said, “We, like those farmers before us, are a sturdy group and we have tilled and we have plowed some medium of language that gets closer to the truth and sense of existing in the outside world.”

Okay, maybe he waxes a bit poetic, but you have to admit Max has something there when he uses the historic farming heritage of Marlboro’s land and buildings as a metaphor for the hard work of today’s students. It made even more sense to me when I thought about the lush and imaginative bounty of their harvest, as each graduate’s Plan of Concentration was read: from amazing works of art to insightful analyses of literature to cutting-edge models in ecology. If original ideas were potatoes, Marlboro could supply all the fast food restaurants on the eastern seaboard with French fries. Fortunately, original ideas are not potatoes, and Marlboro graduates make a much more significant contribution over a much greater geographic range, but you get the idea.

Max also wins the prize, perhaps for all time, of hugging the most people on stage. I’m not kidding, there was just not enough room on that stage to contain this young man’s love for his fellow human beings. To witness this hug-fest on video, learn about prize winners (besides most hugging), read transcripts of the speakers or order your own DVD, visit Commencement 2009.




The Secret Life of Examinees

There is no shortage of good-natured screams on campus this final week. Hoots, howls, brays, meows and whistles, a whole barnyard of noises ensues as seniors emerge almost hourly from their oral exams to the delight and hearty encouragement of their comrades. Groups of students line the hill in front of the library, the lawn outside the Serkin building, the hill next to the science building, waiting patiently for their friends to appear. Of course, this patience is made easier for many by lack of sleep, the warm early summer sun beating down and the fact that their semester is winding down to a close. Then the senior finally emerges, wide-eyed, uncharacteristically dressed up and with a good deal more attention to personal hygiene than in March. And the crowd cheers and descends on them with hugs and refreshing beverages as if they had just won the World Cup

Call me cracked, but the way students converge on the new examinee reminds me of honeybees. You are surely aware, as all former liberal arts students should be, that honeybees communicate to their hive-mates when they have found a good source of nectar by dancing. Not just any dance, but a particular, jaunty step called the “waggle” dance that communicates the nectar’s location and quality by the direction and vigorousness of its, well, waggling. The hive-mates pick up all this great information by encircling them and excitedly touching them with their antennae. Just add cheers and hugs and refreshing beverages and the bee could be an imminent graduate dispensing valuable information to her eager hive-mates about the location and quality of her academic achievements. Okay, okay, maybe the World Cup is a better analogy, but rest assured there is some dancing going on as well. Perhaps the bees come to mind because very soon after the students leave campus, actually in the nick of time, it will be yellowjacket season.




Fresh Air, Times Square

These last couple weeks of school, it feels like Marlboro has been transported from this idyllic little hilltop with trees and flowers and fresh air to someplace more cosmopolitan like Paris or Buenos Aires or Dubai or even Montpelier, Vermont. There is just so much going on, between senior Plan performances, art shows and other mind-boggling end-of-semester events, I don’t know how people find time to eat, let alone lounge on the fire pond “party barge.”

Yesterday afternoon I went to Rapid Reviews, where five community members each reviewed ten of their favorite books in a blistering ten minutes or less, and that set the pace for the rest of the evening. There was the opening of a group art show called “Constructed Realities,” a concert of the Marlboro College Jazz Ensemble with special guests, a lecture called “Are Supergirls Super for Girls? The Negotiation of Beauty Ideals in Girl Power Cartoons” and a film festival of short and quirky works by Marlboro students in Whittemore. The only thing missing were the bright lights of Times Square.

I had to prioritize, and was lured to the film festival of short and quirky works by the promise of footage showing freshman film student Melinda Tenenzapf bicycling into sewage. Well, it actually ended up being just a mud-puddle behind Hendricks, but still I was not disappointed. It turns out Melinda had never learned to ride as a child, and her movie, Transportation Transformation, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bicycle, documents her learning process this spring and the good-humored support of her Marlboro comrades. Between the joking and cursing and mud-sliding, it was actually quite touching. Other short and quirky works were similarly impressive, ranging from Gordon Jackson’s bizarre montage of a “peep” in a microwave and clips of King Kong vs. Godzilla to Juliette Sutherland’s documentary of turtle conservation in Vanuatu. The festival went late into the evening, and is to be continued with senior works on Monday. I’m just grateful I’m not a senior trying to find the time to prepare for orals.




Hunger Strikes

Did you know that 50 percent of the world population subsists on a diet as meager as rice and water? You would have found that out, perhaps much to your disappointment, at the “hunger banquet” held at the dining hall last Thursday to benefit Oxfam and the Brattleboro Area Drop-in Center. By the luck of the draw, only 15 percent of the folks there received a full meal, including hors d’oeuvres, steak, vegetables, and desert, served on white linen tablecloths. I was among the 35 percent who made do with rice and beans. The remaining half of the banquet-goers had to be content (or not) with eating rice while sitting on blankets on the floor, hence the “hunger” in the title.

Over the sound of grumbling stomachs, Melinda Bussino, director of the drop-in center, discussed how hunger issues and homeless populations have risen in Windham County this year. Politics professor Lynnette Rummel talked about the global perspective on hunger and biology professor Bob Engel talked about food production from, well, a biological perspective. I’m not sure how much of this vital information everyone absorbed, because most of them were still so hungry, but if Bob got one point across it is to not eat cows. At least he made me grateful I was not one of the unlucky saps eating steak on the linen tablecloths.

The point of the exercise, of course, in addition to raising some awareness, was to raise some money. On behalf of the Community Service Committee, I am pleased to report the hunger banquet brought in about $630, which will be split between Oxfam and the drop-in center. Lynnette also presented a check for $1011 to the parents of Noah Levinson ’05 in support of Noah’s non-profit, Calcutta Kids, raised in an earlier raffle. And for anyone who’s belly was still grumbling, there was a nice spread at the “Recitation” event later that evening, which is more than 50 percent of the world can say!