Inauguration of college president to feature music, fireworks, panel discussions

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College will celebrate the inauguration of its new president this weekend with a bang — lots of them, actually, in the form of a fireworks display.
Plus the celebration of President Laurie L. Patton’s investiture on Saturday and Sunday will include an exciting lineup of live music, a provocative series of panel discussions, and a formal ceremony filled with all the pageantry that has come down from the halls of medieval academia to modern institutions of higher learning.
It looks to be a blow-out that draws together town and gown.
“One of our goals was to develop programming that brings together Middlebury’s many overlapping communities,” said Caitlin Knowles Myers, an economics professor and co-chair of the inauguration committee. “We hope that students, staff, faculty and friends from town will gather for honest and relevant conversations at the panels, and stay for an evening of family-friendly music and fireworks.”
Patton, who is the institution’s 17th president and the first woman to hold the position, took office on July 1. She was previously dean of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences at Duke University.
Students, faculty, staff and the public are invited to several events on inauguration weekend. Saturday will kick off with a liberal arts “Festival of Learning,” which will feature three panel discussions aimed at engaging people in timely topics related to the arts, sciences and humanities. Each of the panels will feature distinguished scholars and practitioners from a variety of disciplines, and will be moderated by a Middlebury College faculty member.
“There is a personal aspect to these panels because many of the panelists are friends and former colleagues of President Patton’s from previous institutions where she either taught or was a student,” Myers said.
Among the panels is one at 10 a.m. on race, gender and inequality that will feature three academic experts from Duke and Emory universities (the last two institutions where Patton worked), as well as journalist and writer David Simon, who created the TV show “The Wire.”
“I think the morning panel (is one to highlight), because it is likely to include both scholarly issues and popular issues that may have broader appeal; I know that David Simon is a draw for some,” said David Donahue, co-chair of the Inauguration Committee. “That said, I think the three panels explore really compelling questions.”
The activities will lighten up and move outside on Saturday evening. At 7 p.m. there will be a free family-friendly concert outdoors on the main quad near McCullough Student Center, followed by fireworks at 9:45 p.m. behind the Peterson Family Athletics Complex. La Bottine Souriante, the traditional French Canadian folk music group with a modern twist, will open the concert with what is expected to be a high-energy performance.
Brad Corrigan, co-founder of the band Dispatch and a 1996 Middlebury alumnus, will take the stage later with his distinctive indie rock style.
“We are also excited that we’ve been able to add a surprise guest, Taylor Watson, an up-and-coming country-pop singer to the Saturday night line-up,” Donahue said. “We hope that everyone in the community will feel invited to come to campus to enjoy the concert.”
Concert goers are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets to sit on. The rain location will be Virtue Field House at the Peterson Family Athletics Complex. The concert is a no-alcohol event.
The centerpiece of the weekend will come on Sunday morning, when everyone reconvenes on the main quad for Patton’s inauguration. A procession of dignitaries complete with regalia will line up at 9:45; the ceremony is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m.
“The procession is very similar to commencement,” Donahue said. “Part of what’s cool about an inauguration is that representatives of other institutions send delegates who process. It’s a neat tradition and helps add to the pageantry of the event.”
Among the speakersare Duke University President Dick Brodhead and Natasha Trethewey, a former poet laureate of the United States, who will share a poem. Selectwoman Donna Donahue will be representing the Middlebury selectboard at the inauguration, and former Gov. Jim Douglas (a 1972 Middlebury graduate) has been invited to make remarks on behalf of the state of Vermont.
Patton has spoken of her interest in being a scholar/president, and is determined to keep a portion of every day set aside for academic study and writing. In her recent address at convocation, she talked about the importance of “being who you are,” and about distraction, wisdom and resilience. She has also is a well-respected translator.
For Patton, a theme that has emerged, cutting across all of these subjects. is human beings’ ability to have difficult conversations, to argue and debate, but with respect and a recognition of what we have in common and our shared goals, Donahue said.
“I think this may be part of the theme we’ll see in her inaugural address,” he said.
Immediately following the ceremony, there will be a community-wide luncheon on Proctor Terrace. The rain location for the ceremony will be Virtue Field House.
College officials have been working on these inaugural activities since March, and are very excited to finally see them come together.
“I have to say this kind of weekend is absolutely a team effort.” Donahue said. “We think this weekend will be a great opportunity for the town and college to celebrate our community together, and for our friends and neighbors to meet Laurie Patton.”

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