By Megan R.C. Calla, Forum Contributor
Winter is hard. There is no need to explain that. Even if this is your first winter, it’s almost March, and you get it. Law school is hard. You can just take my word for it. But at least we all have each other! We really do. Hear me out. I have a vision.
I am a woman of two worlds. I am a law student, but I am also a local. I joined the South Royalton community at the impressionable age of 12. I graduated from SoRo High in 2003 (Go Royals!) and then left for college. Moving back after more than a decade was surreal. Walking through town was like seeing in double vision, the past superimposed on the present, memories sneaking up on me from in front of my face. Eventually, the memories paled. As I settled in, I had new experiences and made new memories with new friends, even while I reconnected with old ones. I was getting the best of both worlds, and it was wonderful… but only for a minute. I didn’t move; I didn’t change; the world around me did, and I started to understand what was happening.
My SoRo/VLS experience is not unique, but it is far from typical. However strange and life-changing it was for me to leave my old life and come to law school, the transition to small-town life on top of law school is stranger and more difficult for most of my fellow students.
VLS students come from all over the country and all over the world. Some of them have never been in the United States before. Some of them have never seen snow. Some of them are unnerved by how quiet the woods can be (or how rudely loud the train is). For some people, the phrase “culture shock” is inadequate, and this experience is especially acute for our students of color. For some, the adjustment period can take as long as it takes to secure a semester in practice and leave again. Of all of our students, few of them stay in Vermont, though some of them even stay right in town, but most of them leave. The very nature of having a law school (with its impending graduations) nestled in a small town (full of tightly knit friend and family histories) raises challenges that echo through the cohorts.
The Town of Royalton just celebrated the 250th anniversary of its original charter in 1769. Roots go deep. The local community has been hosting the law school since 1972, and there has been coordination and compromise between the school and town since the beginning. Some of our professors have even been here for that long. However, the nature of student turnover is disruptive. Some students never make connections within the community, but some who do then break the hearts of their friends when they leave. With this in mind, it is understandable that the community members might not feel compelled to reach out again.
And this is where my vision was born. Let’s break the ice!
In January of 2020, the Town Relations Committee hosted the first annual Ice Breaker, a mixer for the community to be hosted by the school. A roaring success of a pot luck, where people were able to share their favorite recipes, mingle, and meet their neighbors. The timing of the event was also important to the committee: a month after the holidays, with winter in full force, but not too close to midterm exams. We wanted to offer a moment to bring people together. This event was conceived of as an opportunity for the school to open its doors to do that.
We made this a collaborative event, pulling in support from all around town. When I presented this idea to the Royalton Selectboard, it was immediately welcomed with encouragement and excitement. The turnout was great, and I saw many familiar faces. In a touching gesture, Sandy Conrad, the Chairwoman of the Selectboard gifted the school with a framed copy of Vermont House Resolution 12, recognizing South Royalton’s charter, mentioning Vermont Law School. Megan Tarr of Fine Fettle Farm prepared and donated multiple roasts from her local organic meat farm that were judiciously devoured. Upper Pass beer was on tap, and WFVR Royalton Community Radio donated the sound equipment for the music. We also had some live music collaboration between students and community members.
This is the vision. Our intention for this event is to break down barriers between the school and community, between generations, between races, between differences in culture. If we can connect over food and music, we can connect as people. If we can build a party, we can build connections. Yes, students will still graduate and most will still leave, but if they leave fondness in their wake, they nurture hope. As I said at the event itself, “So many students come through the school that don’t get a chance to understand what a wonderful town we actually have.” And when the community, in turn, welcomes new students and gives them a chance to share, we all grow and learn.
Our school’s motto is lex pro urbe et orbe: law for the community and the world. But let’s add to it. Consider yourself invited to Ice Breaker 2021, festum pro urbe: party for the community!