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Vermonter-At-Large:
Rites of Summer
June 26, 2001

The opinions expressed herein are those of the writer, which do not necessarily reflect those of Virtual Vermont Internet Magazine's publisher or advertisers.

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It's that time of year: photos in the paper of teary teens in caps and gowns on the podium ritualizing the end of the third phase in their lives. Naturally, I started thinking...

This is a happy time, but also a sad one, because it also marks the beginning of the time of migration. I recall my arrival, years ago, in Scotland. The Scots approach all strangers lightly, but once you open your mouth and they discover that you're not English, they open up. They'll invite you to dinner and over a few drinks will regale you with news of relatives they have living in Canada and the U.S. They'll talk with pride of folks like Andrew Carnegie and Alexander Graham Bell - Scots who helped shape the world, albeit a different world. It is the world of expatriates.

Despite what it may say in the almanac, like Scotland, Vermont's number one export has always been its children. That's just the way of the world. Over the next few months, a high percentage of these smiling, teary faces will be moving on. Some will be off to Universities, some to the service, and others will just move on in search of something else. That's the sad part.

The happy part is that they will do well. I recall working in the nerve center of a sophisticated intelligence cell in Europe during the height of the Cold War. It was an analysis center, and some of the stuff we were putting out was astounding in its complexity and insight. There were a lot of hard-working folks there, but there were four guys who were doing ninety percent of the original work, setting everyone else up. It was a group of four New Englanders: an Irish-American Chief from Providence, Rhode Island and his "French-Canadian Mafia" consisting of one guy from Boston, one guy from Manchester, New Hampshire and myself.

A few years later, I went to work at the National Security Agency. Its a fascinating place, full of technological wonders, but I recall that my first observation was that there were more cars in the parking lot with Vermont plates there than you're likely to see in the parking lot at Killington on a weekend in January. Years later, as a lecturer there, I would mention my Vermont heritage as a matter of introduction to the class. I do not recall a single class where someone didn't come up to me afterwards either with an, "I'm from..." or, "Do you know..."

I suppose it's Vermont's gift to the nation. Our children, the best and the brightest, will venture forth and they will do well. Many of my UVM friends moved on, became doctors and lawyers, dabbled on Wall Street. Some went into government too, although those inevitably seemed to be second-tier intellects.

From my talks with these folks, there are two things that stand out for which we should be eternally happy. The first is an intense pride of where they're from. Expatriate Vermonters find, with experience, that they cannot get Vermont out of their blood. They find that every place else is, to some degree, inferior to where they came from.

The second thing I've noticed is that Vermonters always seem to maintain their independence. They don't blend into things, and tend to become innovators rather than followers. No matter where they go or what they do, they do it well and they do it their way. It's not always the easiest way, but it works.

So this is the time of the great human harvest, as many of our children begin a slow, meandering exodus from their home. It's a bit sad, but be happy knowing that they will do well and will always, no matter what happens, remain Vermonters-At-Large.

Jim Bennett
Vermonter-At-Large

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March 21, 2009