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Clippings: Middlebury should party like it's 1761

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Posted on July 28, 2011 |
By Ian Trombulak



I like to party.

That’s not exactly a hot scoop — at least not one you’re likely to see in any publication besides The Onion (College Male Reveals Fondness for Extracurricular Celebrations to Stunned Peers, Community).

But the goal of this column is not to set the world on fire with a revelatory story — Deep Throat and Julian Assange I am not. Rather, I’d like to reflect on the function of “partying” in my own life and in the broader community, to dig deeper into a social behavior that is rarely acknowledged to have much depth at all, and ultimately to ask the very real question: Why are we, as a community, not planning to celebrate the town of Middlebury’s 250th birthday?

I first found that I liked to party when it turned out that on one day every year, my friends and family would willingly put all the important matters in their own lives on hold and instead focus on me. They would bring me presents, make me cake, and sing songs wishing me happiness and well-being. As a bonus, I got to hang out with all my friends all day and do whatever I wanted. Who could ask for more?

Of course, my 10th birthday party bears few structural similarities to what I would now describe as a party, just as 10 years from now the words “pre-game,” “rager” “keg line” and “glaciering” will no longer be staples of my weekend vocabulary. But ultimately, how we party is less important than why we party.

Although early on I discovered that partying need not be relegated to special occasions such as birthdays (an ordinary “sleepover” becomes a “slumber party” with the addition of a third friend), I also began to observe that it usually feels better to party when it’s for a reason — a birthday, graduation, wedding, national holiday, etc. The human need to balance work and play will always take its course, but it’s a delicate balancing act, and rarely is the “work” ever truly done. Thus, our feelings of guilt about lingering responsibilities are assuaged to a greater degree when we are “supposed” to be partying, versus simply doing it for the sake of having a good time.

At the college, my friends and I are masters of finding reasons to party — I’ve heard everything from “because it’s Friday” to “because I went to the gym today” to “because I don’t have class tomorrow” invoked as the impetus for a night of partying. Often we need even less reason: “because we’re young and this is college” seems to be the implicit assumption underlying all the late night dance parties, Ridgeline keggers and dorm room debauchery that spring up like clockwork every weekend.

It can sometimes come as a shock to Middlebury College students when their town resident neighbors do not share their enthusiasm for blaring music into the wee hours of the morning. But they should not interpret a noise complaint as a vendetta against the idea of partying. Despite the town’s early bedtime, Middlebury residents like a good celebration as much as anyone.

From perennial events such as Festival on-the-Green and street dance, the Chili Festival, Field Days and next week’s inaugural Midd Summer Fest (they’re counting on it becoming a regular event); to one-off celebrations like last October’s Cross Street Bridge opening, there has been no shortage of celebratory joy in Middlebury’s history.

Except, it seems, when it comes to acknowledging and celebrating that long history itself.

Like many small New England towns, Middlebury actually pre-dates the formation of the United States — Addison County’s shire town was officially founded in 1761, and will turn 250 on Nov. 2. In Addison County alone, 10 other towns celebrated their 250th this year, and most of them acknowledged the milestone with a worthy celebration. As of now, there is nothing planned to separate Nov. 2, 2011, from any of the other 13,000 Tuesdays that have passed in Middlebury’s history.

Why is that? There is so much to celebrate about turning 250.

In the last quarter century, there have been some truly harrowing eras in which the continued existence our town and our country were anything but certain. We made it through.

Much has changed in Vermont since 1761, but to a lesser extent than in many other parts of the country, where the natural landscape is virtually unrecognizable amidst skyscrapers and highways. Here, it is almost possible, if you squint your eyes, to imagine what this place must have looked like before anyone constructed buildings or filled roads with cars.

The 250-year milestone also provides common ground on which the town and the college can stand together and be proud. Though the college is 39 years the junior, the town owes much of its development — most recently, a bridge project that was over 50 years in the works — to the top-notch institution for higher education nested on the west side of town. With the two entities so frequently at odds, wouldn’t it be nice to acknowledge and celebrate the long-term benefits and successes that have come from such a partnership?

Look around at where you live. Walk in the woods, swim in the rivers, gaze at the stars. And when you do so, know that you are part of a tradition that is older than the Constitution of the United States.

Isn’t that worth celebrating?

Summer reporter Ian Trombulak is a Middlebury native and will enter his senior year at Middlebury College in the fall. He can be reached at intern@addisonindependent.com.

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