Get Out Your Hankies

Okay, so most people know that the world famous Marlboro College is also the site of the world famous Marlboro Music School and Festival, which takes over campus like a swarm of Steinways in July and August. And some are familiar with “dog camp,” which will be barking up a storm here next week. But how many Potash Hillberts know that campus is transformed into an English folk dance bacchanalia on Memorial Day weekend? That’s right, those bawdy but very coordinated dancers wielding handkerchiefs and stout sticks—and pewter mugs—returned for another annual Marlboro Morris Ale last weekend.

Just when I thought that a joyful commencement weekend followed by a gala alumni reunion weekend was all the celebrating a mortal like me could take, these jolly napkin-wavers turned Persons Field into what looked like an Occupy Victorian England encampment. Nineteen troupes, from over the country as well as London, spent Saturday morning strutting their bell-jingling stuff in front of Persons before fanning out across the local area, stopping only to dance and refresh themselves at popular pubs. They had a grand finale on Sunday evening, and Richie in the kitchen reports they were still “jumping around a bit” after dinner.

Now, I’ve seen my share of this historic hop-skip-and-stomping before, but this was my first introduction to “rapper sword dancing.” I know what you’re thinking, but this has nothing to do with hoodie-wearing, gangsta-talking, gesticulating youths with swords. It’s a fast-paced form of Morris dancing from the coal-mining villages of northeast England, using flexible “rapper swords” and a whole lot of amazingly vigorous foot-tapping. Although I didn’t notice any gangsta-talking, rapper sword dancing seemed to attract a younger crowd dressed in decidedly un-Victorian tight jeans, shiny belts and skinny ties. I could even see some Marlboro students getting into this sort of neopagan fiesta, and sure enough there were a few alumni sightings among the dancers and musicians.


Wildlife Nostalgia

My favorite quote from last weekend’s totally epic alumni reunion was “…And all this time I thought the only wildlife was in the dorms.” That was during the wildlife-tracking walk with George Leoniak ’05, where alumni and future Potash Hillians age 8 to 80 were astonished to find signs of yellow-bellied sapsuckers, gray foxes, American robins and the ever-elusive white-tailed deer. I mean, I guess when they were students they had their noses in laptops or books or ancient papyrus scrolls, or whatever they had at that time, but surely they got out for bucolic strolls to ponder the significance of existential absurdism and dissect fox droppings. At least I know George was doing his part because the man really knows his way around a scat.

Of course the highlight of the weekend was all the schmoozing with old friends and new finds in the spirit of erudite intellectual stimulation, right? I thought maybe they would be all talking about Plato and Dostoyevsky and Kafka, you know, going on and on about post-modernism and conceptual art and anti-anti-art, but no-no-no. They wanted to recount lurid stories about who had a wicked crush on who, who parked a car on the dining hall stage, who snuck a basset hound into their dorm just in time to have puppies, then lowered the puppies out of the window in a basket, one-by-one, to do their business, and on and on. Oh, the stories I could tell, steamy enough to make a yellow-bellied sapsucker blush. But I won’t, to protect the innocent (puppies and cars, for example).

But there were many more dazzling diversions to keep these chinwaggers out of further mischief. There was cheese tasting with Wendy Levy ’97, learning about getting published with Deni Bechard ’97, making illustrated journals with anthropology professor Carol Hendrickson and looking for birds with biology professor Bob Engel. There was an evening of readings by alumni, faculty and staff and an open mic for the more musically inclined. There was the coolest photo booth, with hats and wigs to encourage alumni to realize their fantasy of being Michael Jackson or Bob Marley or Groucho Marx or a Vermont hick (my choice). All in all, it was a momentous 65th anniversary reunion, and one I will remember for a long time (because of the Vermont hick photos).

If you missed all the fun, it’s not too late to help with the Annual Fund


Dancing into Uncertainty

All three of my fans are probably wondering by now why I haven’t mentioned commencement. You know, that rite of passage for Marlboro graduates where they all wear hot, black robes and strange hats that look like black end-tables with tassels on them, then sit in Persons Auditorium for hours like they are on some sort of vision quest? Well never fear, because you are about to experience the highlights of this majestic ceremony in less than two minutes (never mind that it took over a week to create), through the miracle of video. Hang on to your black end-tables with tassels.

Now I’ve been to a few of these steamy, pomp-and-circumstance occasions, and I can attest that this year’s was the tops in my experience. The auditorium had never been fuller, the graduates never more distinguished-looking, their Plans of Concentration never more erudite-sounding. The music was sublime, and President Ellen had never been more huggable. Commencement speaker Bill McKibben, the high-profile author and environmental activist, totally rocked the house with his personable plea for students to help bring the earth back from the brink of climate disaster. “Solving global warming is going to take not just engineers and chemists, but every discipline—musicians and theologians and psychologists and economists,” said our man Bill. Clearly, he’d come to the right place.

Still, even with all that over-the-top, dignified, awesomeness, senior speaker Shea Witzberger stole the show with her catastrophic predictions about graduating in 2012, the year of the apocalypse according to Mayan prophecy. She said, “This is the least reasonable time in history to get a liberal arts degree, and I’m not talking job prospects and starting salaries, my friends. I’m talking Armageddon.” With comical effect, Shea argued that the rigors of a Marlboro degree, including drinking out of bowls and surrounding oneself with lots of camping equipment, is excellent preparation for the uncertain world ahead. You can see her in action, as well as every other precious minute of commencement, at the Commencement 2012 site. You can see my much less dignified, but shorter, version below.