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The three towering white pines on the UVM Green are a familiar, signature sight. They’re old trees, for sure, but not old enough to date back to the earliest days of the university. Still, I can’t walk past them without thinking about what the Green once looked like, a dense patch of forest on the hilltop in a shaggy frontier town.

As UVM history/folklore has it, two hundred and fourteen years ago UVM’s first president, Daniel Clark Sanders, stood with axe in hand looking up at a tree an awful lot like the one pictured above. Working side by side with UVM’s first students, he would clear the towering white pines then set to work using those logs to construct the university’s original building. Historic accounts describe the Reverend Sanders as a strapping, powerful man, a sort of nineteenth-century higher education action hero. (If Hollywood were to put UVM’s story on the big screen, I’m casting Liam Neeson in the lead role as president/man of the cloth/ass-kicker.)

In the year 1800, President Sanders wrote: “There was everything to be created and many shrunk away from the bold and arduous labor of founding a college in a wilderness.”

Think about it. Everything to be created.  A college in a wilderness.

As we walk the campus of the University of Vermont today, it’s all too easy to forget the faith, courage, audacity, and just plain “arduous labor” that went into creating this place in what at the time were the deepest wilds of this country. Easy to forget, but essential to remember. Just as those pines on the Green today very likely trace back to a pine cone that fell from a tree that fell to an axe swung by our hearty president, so too does UVM’s DNA include a healthy bit of bold Daniel Clark Sanders coding. Not only DCS, but also the handful of students who worked shoulder to shoulder with him and the many early Burlingtonians who nurtured the fledgling school.

Shared effort is a force of nature, and it runs deep in UVM’s character.

 

 

 

ON THE WALL

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Poet T.S. Eliot decried April as “the cruelest month.” It’s not so easy for painters either. But Sarah Rutherford ’06 hasn’t been too slowed by cold temperatures, some rain, and even a little snow this week as she’s painted a new mural on the wall outside of the Living/Learning Complex. Visible from Main Street, and long the place of the “El Salvador” mural, it’s a highly visible spot. And Rutherford is doing justice to it with impressive, colorful work that resonates both with the place and the artwork that preceded it.

Rutherford earned her bachelor’s in studio art at UVM, where professors such as Frank Owen and Bill McDowell were key influences. She was also a resident of Living/Learning and has kept in touch with the Pottery Co-op’s Joan Watson for years. Rutherford makes her living as an artist/illustrator in Rochester, New York. Murals are among her focuses. A recent project was for the city’s Highland Hospital. When Living/Learning Director John Sama was on the look out for an artist to create a new mural this spring, bringing an alumna back for a week in-residence was a natural fit.sarah

Before letting the spray paint fly, Rutherford spent time with current L/L students discussing possible themes for the mural. The result is a work that reflects the growth and emergence of the college years, a time when students find their voices and power to speak for what they believe, Rutherford says. With that, one can’t help but think of the “pan y educacion” banner that was an element of the El Salvador mural, and feel like that same spirit is still there.

Public art means public artists. Rutherford says she’s had lots of interaction with students and others walking past this week. As a tour of admitted students passed by, one young woman interested in an art major read the sign about the work in progress, saw that the artist is an alumna, and quizzed her about the Art Department.

“I think I convinced her to come to UVM,” Rutherford says. Her work here is nearly done.

SEEKING WILL THOMAS

SmithsBlisteinsThe old photo of six children seems to capture a perfect summer idyll—flopped down in a grassy field after a round of play, the family dog wagging happily behind them. It’s pretty much what Bill Smith, father of three of the children pictured, had in mind when he moved his family to Westford, Vermont in 1946. An African-American man weary from a lifetime of racial prejudice, Smith was looking for a new start, a place that could live up to his refusal to “accept less than the birthright of human dignity.”

Mid-twentieth century Vermont, where Bill, his wife Helen, and their three children, Anne, William, and Bradley, would be the only African-American family in town, would seem an odd choice. Even Smith couldn’t fully explain his decision, but said he was drawn by the state’s historical opposition to slavery and its proximity to Canada. Smith, an author who wrote under the name Will Thomas, told the story in The Seeking, an autobiography of his life, including the Vermont years, that was originally published in 1953.

Mark Madigan G’87, professor of English at Nazareth College, shared the photo of the Smith children last Thursday during a talk in UVM Special Collections about The Seeking, Will Thomas, and Madigan’s own scholarly work bringing the book back into print through University Press of New England. It was a homecoming of sorts for Madigan, who received his master’s at UVM, and began to find his scholarly path in the library’s Special Collections with a grad-student job creating abstracts of author Willa Cather’s letters to fellow writer Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Both writers have continued to be a focus for Madigan throughout his career.

Madigan knew about Thomas from his years immersed in Fisher’s papers in Special Collections. Fisher and Thomas had met when Thomas moved to Vermont, and the fact that the major tastemaker in literary circles in the day wrote an introduction to The Seeking surely gave the publication a boost. At the time of the book’s release, Thomas promoted his memoir with an essay read on Edward R. Murrow’s This I Believe radio program.

But few in Vermont, or beyond, remember Thomas now. As Madigan said at the outset of his talk, “Some writers, as the saying goes, need no introduction. Will Thomas is not one of those writers.” The impetus to bring his work to the attention of more readers came when Madigan stumbled on a vintage copy of The Seeking at the now defunct North Country Books in Burlington. “I knew it was important and needed to be re-issued,” Madigan said. Placing the book in New England literary history, he makes the case that it is “arguably the first long-form book written by an African American resident of Vermont.”

On a snowy day that closed the university for the morning hours, Madigan’s talk last week drew a circle of particularly interested citizens from Westford, the small village about twenty miles northeast of Burlington. Among them was Guy Roberge, a lifetime resident of Westford, who had the author’s wife, Helen, as an elementary school teacher and counted the Smith children among his playmates. Roberge’s memory of the acceptance of the family in Westford squared with what the author wrote in The Seeking.

For scholar Madigan, it was a nice surprise to have the opportunity to meet someone who knew the family directly and remembered them well. He’s corresponded with Will and Helen’s daughter Anne, and said she’d wondered if his talk at UVM would put him in contact with anyone who remembered them from their time in Vermont.

“It’s gratifying to bring this book back into print for readers, but also for the family—to do justice to this family,” Madigan said.

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The Seeking is available from University Press of New England. 

Semester break 1999-2000, and Bill Tickner was living the 19-year-old guy’s dream. Fraternity, season pass to Stowe, tons of free time, girlfriend, snowboard—sort of a Mountain Dew commercial come to life.

“I was seemingly having a great time,” he recalls. “But I realized this was as happy as I would ever be living the way I was. The time had come to redirect my life.” 

Bill Tickner during his student days when he was Student Government Association president in 2002-03.

Bill Tickner during his student days when he was Student Government Association president during his senior year in 2002-03.

The fact that the trappings of the undergraduate good life didn’t bring a deeper happiness, Tickner says, was because he was harboring an internal conflict, the rift in identity faced by a gay person living a closeted existence.

“Nothing bothers me more than someone putting a limit on me,” Tickner says. In fact, the UVM sophomore was putting serious limits on who he was, a realization that convinced him that it was time to come out.

Evidence of Tickner’s energy and force of will is clear from the flurry of activity that led up to and immediately followed his decision to come out. Within the space of a week, he helped lead the final steps of a UVM Student Government Association drive to deliver a unanimous resolution to Vermont legislators in support of the then-under-consideration civil union laws. He came out to his student government friends and colleagues, his fraternity brothers, and his family in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. Then Tickner withdrew from school, loaded his snow and surf boards into his Honda Accord, and set-off on a cross-country trip to spread the word about gay rights by delivering speeches and talking with student groups at other colleges and universities.

It would be easy to see hitting the road as a quick escape from turmoil brought about by his revelation. Talk to Tickner a while, and it becomes clear that it was more an embrace of a new identity than escape from an old one. Friends and family were accepting and supportive. In particular, Tickner was astounded and touched, by the reaction of his Fiji brothers. “You’re not leaving,” one brother told him. “You’re still a member of this fraternity.”

Tickner would spend the next three months on the road, logging 24,000 miles and visiting some forty colleges and universities with his gay rights message. Determined to be self-sufficient, the trusty Accord was his home on the road. Back seats folded down, he slept with his feet in the trunk. “It was warm. I had a stereo. What more do you need?” he says with a smile.

This year back at UVM, Tickner balances coursework in sociology (business minor), serving on the executive committee of his fraternity, working as a teaching assistant in Sociology I, and leading the Student Government Association as president. Building campus diversity and creating a safe climate for all remains a key concern for Tickner. He notes that it bothers him when friends tell him that with his Joe College pursuits he’s such a “normal” gay person and therefore acceptable.

“Difference makes us stronger as a community,” he says. “This would be a real boring campus if everyone was the same. I think we’re doing well at UVM, but I prefer not to compare us to other places. Zero discrimination should be the standard at the University of Vermont. We’re moving forward on that, but we’re not there and until we are, I’m not going to rest.”

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2002 edition of Vermont Quarterly. On the occasion of Bill’s visit to UVM’s Career + Experience Hub on February 25, 2014, to talk with current students about his career at Google and the corporation’s commitment to social responsibility, we wanted to share it again. 

NETWORKING IN A NUTSHELL

Writing a magazine article or editing an issue, leaving a fair bit of material on that proverbial “cutting room floor” is just a standard part of the process. Sometimes leaving stuff out hurts. Other times, not so much. In the case of Seth Moeller, a Class of 1989 alumnus I interviewed for an article on career services initiatives that will appear in the forthcoming issue of the magazine, it hurt.

Seth, who is president of KGA, a Framingham, Massachusetts based firm in the human resources business, has a long career in the field and a good deal of wisdom to share with current students and new grads as they enter the job market. He’s shared that wisdom with UVM classes and at career services events, and we also tried to pass along some of the same in the article for the next Quarterly.

Seth Moeller ’89

Seth Moeller ’89

One thing I didn’t have space for in the print version of the magazine, though, was Seth’s response to how a new grad should tackle that sometimes scary word “networking.” Here, with a little editing and, unfortunately, without Seth’s impassioned delivery over the phone, is what he had to say:

The seniors I meet with are interested in doing what I’m talking about. They understand the need to—they just don’t know what to say, they don’t know how to make an approach. Getting them over that hump is ridiculously easy. There’s nothing complicated about this other than putting it in motion.

They need to have some targets, career targets of interest. ‘I think I want to go into healthcare. I think I want to be in finance.’ Whatever it is. Career targets of interest with the understanding that those will evolve, they will be refined, there will be learning and those will dramatically change. But to enter the discussion you need to have some basic career targets of interest and you don’t need to be worried about whether or not they are the absolutely best target for you. That will evolve.

The next step is doing the basic homework around who is available to talk to. Reaching out to an alumni network, asking that that be made available, going back to the alumni you already know, or talk to the friends of family that you have in your life. The supporters are out there. It is about taking the initiative and identifying who you’ll talk to.

Third, it is about having a very simple story and a very simple request. The very simple story is saying ‘this is what I’m interested in and this is what I’m trying to learn.’ Elevator pitch—I hate those words. People try to pack too much into it, and it becomes too complicated for people. You don’t need to be in a time box to do it. It’s a couple of sentences, and then a request. Can I meet and talk with you about this because you’re in a career that’s relevant? Who do you know that perhaps I should speak with? Can you make an introduction?

That alone cracks open 80 percent of the networking process. Having a little bit of a story, identifying people, and then introducing yourself with a bit of a mission and then making clear requests. Everybody wants to help, but you can’t assume that they know how to help you. You have to help them do that.

There is networking within a nutshell.

Read more about Seth, multiple young alumni who have recently cracked a tough job market, and the new face of career services at UVM in the spring 2014 Vermont Quarterly, in the mail March 1.

Larry Damon training in Italy before his first Olympics in 1956.

Larry Damon training in Italy before his first Olympics in 1956.

As Larry Damon ’55 points out his head (third from the wall) among many heads in a photo clipping of the opening ceremonies for the 1956 Winter Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, he reveals the true test of Olympic competition. “Standing there for hours and hours was the hardest, most disagreeable part,” he says.
As for the race, Damon flashes something between a smile and a wince, “I remember having a lot of butterflies. I went out like a terror, way too fast, even started to catch the Finnish guy who went before me…” In the end, it wouldn’t be the Burlington native’s best race, but it was a milestone for the University of Vermont, the first time an alumnus competed in the Winter Olympic Games. An NCAA champion skier during his college years, Damon competed in four Olympics as a skier or biathlete and his impressive running career included a tenth place finish in the Boston Marathon.
A veteran instructor at the Trapp Family Lodge Cross Country Ski Center (and a jazz trumpeter on the side), Damon is a modest, patient teacher for many clicking into skinny skis for the first time, unaware they’re about to learn the sport from a four-time Olympian.

This piece originally appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of Vermont Quarterly. Read the entire article on UVM’s proud history in the Winter Olympics. 

BARBARA ANN’S GOLD

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In first place after the first slalom run at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan, Barbara Ann Cochran ’78 knew she needed to calm down. Her lead over the next skier was a slim .03 seconds, and, as heavy snow fell on the course, the second run of the day loomed ahead.

She gave herself a pep talk. “No matter what happens, you won the first run at the Olympics and not many people can say that. If the French girls can win, you can win.” Then she thought of what her father, Mickey ’48, had said to her a year before between runs in a similar situation at the world championships.

“He had a nice grin, a little twinkle in his eye,” Barbara Ann recalls. “He said, ‘I always thought that you were the cool cucumber in the family.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, I guess I am.’”

She skied to the Olympic gold medal that afternoon, February 12, 1972. Mickey was half-a-world away, watching the games on TV with wife Ginny ’50 in the Richmond farmhouse where they had raised four kids who would all hone their skiing on the hill out back and go on to the Olympics. Marilyn ’76 and Bobby ’76 MD ’81 were on the 1972 team with Barbara Ann. Lindy ’82 would compete for the U.S. team at the 1976 Innsbruck Games.

The Cochran family’s ski glory includes the Olympics and then some — world cups, national championships. The old family homestead is packed with trophies, plaques, mugs, cowbells, and keys to cities (New York and Richmond) with the Cochran name etched into them.  Standing in the midst of it all, Barbara Ann reflects, “I don’t think my dad had any idea that we’d all turn out to be Olympic skiers. He just wanted us to learn the lesson that to do well in something you had to train at it.”

Pictured: The skiing Cochrans back in the day: Dad Mickey, Bobby, Marilyn, Mom Ginny, Lindy, and Barbara Ann.

This piece was originally printed in the Winter 2006 edition of Vermont Quarterly. Read the whole story on UVM Olympians. 

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