Harley Meyer is the newest admission counselor at Sterling College. At the start of her second week on the job, Harley wrote this blog post reflecting on her path to Sterling, and how she approaches her work with prospective students.
The snow arrived in Craftsbury Common today, at the beginning of my second week as an Admission Counselor at Sterling College. The snow adorns the campus in just the same way as it did two years ago, when I was a Sterling student.
Living and working in a rural agricultural town isn’t exactly where I saw myself landing when I was looking for colleges as a high school senior. But the trail I took to Sterling College makes sense now, and makes sense in vital and unexpected ways.
I started my post-high-school life at Sarah Lawrence College stretched between a desire to be a professional drummer and a deep, magnetic draw towards academic scholarship and the study of race, class, gender, and power. I sustained an injury in my first year that kept me from drumming and when, after a year of angst, I went back to it, something didn’t quite fit. By the time I graduated, I was seriously committed to the Human Geography department and fascinated by the ancient relationship of humans to land.
My senior papers covered sexual violence against women in the context of mineral conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, land ownership and food security in Appalachia, and critical engagement with the place of body and trauma in the poetic works of disability justice and trans leader Eli Clare. I was looking for cracks in the narrative of marginalized bodies and land where nourishment could (and did) get in.
After simply researching and writing these papers, I felt lost. I floated through a lonely post-graduate year in Chicago, in which I enthusiastically badgered grumpy farmers at farmers’ markets about their potato and lettuce varieties. I started reading books about compost while working at a local plant nursery, where I spouted generally misinformed gardening instructions to locals. I believe I sent one gentleman home with enough cabbage starts to feed about twenty people.
I moved from Chicago to Vermont in one complete gesture. After three days of driving, I landed at Blue Heron Farm in Grand Isle, and was grateful to discover that they did indeed have work, a tent, and meals for me just like they said they would. I finished my first day of farm work with the late afternoon sun in my face and my senses blown wide open by wood thrush and veery calls.
Two farm work years later, I heard about Sterling from an alum while we were both working at Butterworks Farm in Westfield. He had just graduated and was obviously missing his friends and community at Sterling. I also heard about another alum, who I had missed by a week, who had recently completed her Sterling internship at Butterworks. I decided that I needed more tools and resources if I was going to start my own farm, and I decided that I needed to have a look at Sterling.
I wrote about poetry and farming in my admission essay. I wrote about body knowledge and compassion. I wrote about the poetic priority of grieving deeply for the losses witnessed by environmental stewards. I believe that I wrote from a place of real contention with what it meant, and means, to be a young person. Grappling with loss and trauma, hooking into work that is real, finding true nourishment – this is the raw labor of emerging into young adulthood.It is important to have good food, good company, and good books when you have to undertake such a labor. I found all of these, and more, at Sterling. I designed a major titled Human Geography of Seeds, composed of two seasons of seed saving, a study of plant evolution, and oral history interviews with seed savers. The Sterling curriculum encouraged me to locate my agricultural work in a cross-disciplinary analysis of conservation, ecology, and environmental stewardship. I moved on to work at High Mowing Organic Seeds before I finished the degree, but the learning and planning of it is still with me.
Now I work in the Sterling Admission office, and I still have good food, good company, and good books all around me. I have put down roots on a 126-acre historic farmstead in East Calais, and am finally starting the work that comes with being grounded. I talk to prospective students, young and older alike, every day about Sterling. We work on figuring out whether it is the right place for them as they work on bringing their own journeys home safely. I get to be their co-pilot for a little while, relaying messages from this snow-jeweled place up on a hill, hoping they will bring some of their light, and struggle, to share with us.