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Notes from the College: Could we put a name on it?

This week’s writer is Middlebury College President Laurie L. Patton. She contributes to these pages from time to time.
As I write this I am looking at the new park emerging at the center of Middlebury town. Although the decisions that created the park predate my arrival, I know the history that led us to this moment involved a lot of difficult discussion before a path forward emerged. The present-day effect of the park, however, is dramatic. And whether I am downtown getting coffee or walking across campus, the number of people, both from the college and from the town, who draw me aside to describe their hopes and wishes for the space are even more numerous now that the park is becoming visible. I delight in these conversations, as they are tangible evidence of the close relationship between the town and the college that started in the late years of the 18th century and continues today.
Bas Pedroli, the director of UNISCAPE, a European organization that focuses on landscape design and its effects on communities, has written that landscape both shapes our imagination and allows us to express our deepest values. With our new landscape, those values are indeed present. Suddenly, the college and the town can “see” each other more than ever before. And I think this is an appropriate metaphor for all that we have done together and all that we can do together in the future.
This past year, my first at Middlebury, the college and the town have collaborated on many significant projects — ones that were both affordable and ongoing. I view them as the epitome of our common values. We have established two new student internships at key cultural organizations: the Henry Sheldon Museum of History and the Town Hall Theater. We are delighted at the common educational conversations that have resulted! We have collaborated on a much-needed dog park, which is well on its way towards its fundraising goal. We have funded a long-term collaboration with Elderly Services as part of their capital fund drive. We hosted a meeting of the Vermont Futures project — a larger think tank gathering data in a number of counties to analyze and even jumpstart economic growth in the future.
And we are in ongoing conversations about longer-term common projects such as economic development on Exchange Street in Middlebury, the Trail Around Middlebury (TAM), and how Porter Hospital and Middlebury can best leverage their assets to work together in the future. I have been truly delighted at the community conversations I have had the privilege to attend — whether it is our regular meetings with the Middlebury selectboard, the Rotary Club breakfast, the Addison County Economic Development Forum, the annual meetings of our many cultural organizations, the Vermont Business Roundtable, EastView, or the Town/Gown group, among many others. These have given me a strong sense of the ways in which local businesspeople are ready to tackle the biggest challenges facing us, from the vitality of our beautiful downtown and accessible and affordable child care to the rail bridges project and Addison County’s visibility in the state. Some of these conversations are more difficult than others, but I am deeply impressed with our capacity to have them with respect, rigor and care.
As I think about the next steps for us to take together, I hope to build more of these ongoing, transformational partnerships. I also think it might be time for us to name all the things we do together as a single initiative with many branches. Our downtown landscape includes wonderful new historical markers, and my heart sang when I read the words describing the town-college partnerships on the marker next to the new municipal building.
So here is an invitation and a question. My invitation is: As we become even more visible to each other, please send us more of your ideas for transformational partnerships. I am invigorated by the work we do together. And my question is: As we continue to build affordable, sustainable partnerships, and tackle our big challenges, might we put a name on it? What would we name the particular “collective genius” that is Middlebury? I welcome your thoughts. You can reach me at [email protected].

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