Written by Annalisa Meyer
As we all gathered in front of Dunbar at 8:30 this morning to the sound of makeshift drums and laughter, a light April snow settled onto wool hats and sweaters. Around our somewhat lopsided circle, people shuffled into their work crews for the day as the sign-up sheets were read off.
All College Work Day (ACWD), which takes place once every semester, is an integral part of life at Sterling. For six hours, we all put aside homework, classes, and regular Work Program jobs to pull on our boots and get busy in a different way. With on campus projects that range from sorting books to burning brush piles, and sometimes trips go off campus to work with local organizations or maintain trails in the area. It’s a pretty exciting day. So this morning, even the most tired arms were raised in a celebratory wave before we dispersed to our respective duties.
All College Work day isn’t just about getting some extra hours to put on a timecard. Staff and faculty participate too. Matthew Derr, President of the college, spent the day sorting through the cookbook collection of the late Judith Jones, a publisher that had worked with Julia Child. After Judith passed away last year, her entire collection was generously donated to Sterling College. Matthew and a crew of three students were hoping to use this semester’s ACWD to figure out how to make the collection available to the community. In particular, Matthew mentioned how some of the books might be used for the summer School of the New American Farmstead program.
Matthew spoke to the deeper meaning that he feels All College Work Day has for the Sterling community. “I think it’s a way for the community to sort out its priorities,” he shared. “We have things we hope to do in a year, things we hope to do in a semester, and ACWD distills that into a day. What do we need right now, and what do we want to be different tomorrow than it was yesterday? And we all come together about what those things are, and then we put our shoulder to the wheel and get them done. There’s a deep sense of camaraderie and accomplishment.” Matthew wasn’t the only one to draw attention to a feeling of accomplishment. Ian Statema, who was busy deconstructing a shed down on the farm, shared a similar sentiment when he said, “we get to see big projects done that could take the entire year pretty much knocked out in a day or so. It’s good just to get stuff done!”
A sense of camaraderie is definitely a key part of the day, too. When asked what a highlight of ACWD is for her, student Lily Hobbs was enthusiastic. “I think it’s really fun! Today I woke up and was like, ‘wow, the whole college is going to be at breakfast. I’m going to actually see everybody I know today!’ I get to interact with people that I don’t regularly interact with in my daily class life and in the work program. It’s just a lot of fun to see everyone doing work together!” In the kitchen, Grace Desrochers didn’t even take a break from preparing fried onions for the evening’s family-style dinner as she gave her perspective. “It’s just awesome, because it’s very easy to get in your own groove here, so I really love the opportunity to work with people who I wouldn’t necessarily work with [otherwise], and I think that’s my favorite thing about ACWD.” Overall, working with everyone can be pretty fulfilling.
Some step into supervisory roles to lead a crew on a project as well. Savannah Storch, who is finishing up their third year on campus, was melting wax to seal shiitake inoculum into logs so that there can be more mushrooms on campus (a job the crew laughingly dubbed “Farm Lab Time”). This was the second time Savannah had led an inoculation and they said that “it’s kind of nice to fine tune what I’m doing the second time over again. I’m really enjoying practicing my knowledge of how to do this stuff and be a supervisor.” The ability to step into different roles during ACWD can be a valuable experience, whether that’s serving as a supervisor or just trying something completely new.
When asked about favorite memories of All College Work Day were, a lot of responses centered around moments with the Cheerleaders; a work crew that spends the day bringing snacks and encouragement to the other workers. This year, the cheesecake brownies seemed to be an especially big hit. When the Cheerleaders arrive with cow bells ringing and music playing from the back of the Dean of Community’s car, students, faculty, and staff drop what they are doing to come together over hot chocolate and baskets of baked goods. More often than not, there’s at least one dance party before the day is over.
Walking around campus on All College Work Day, you hear a lot of different music and see a variety of projects getting done. But when it comes down to it, it’s all about coming together as a community. Denee Woods expressed how she’s noticed this in her time at Sterling, saying “with tonight’s special family style dinner, it’s become increasingly more community oriented and exciting every year, and I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like next semester!” Cheerleader Collin Tomlinson was even more succinct when he summed up the day in one word: Unifying.