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Molnar: Town And Gown

(Host) Commentator Martha Molnar, a public relations professional and freelance writer, says if you want to be entertained, challenged, and made to feel younger, just pay a visit to a college near you.

(Molnar) Here's my prescription for a happy life, especially a happy retirement: live in or near a college town.
This bit of wisdom gleaned through personal experience was mainly due to dumb luck. When we were planning our move to Vermont, we didn't look beyond the long views we craved. To us, every town, when there was one, seemed charming.

So it was only by chance that we happened to find our dream place close to both Green Mountain College and Middlebury College - and just up the road from Castleton College. It was summer when we found our property, and the Castleton campus was mostly empty. It wasn't until late August, when the commotion of orientation week was unleashed, that we began to understand how lucky we were to be living so close.

The students animate the town with their youthful energy. Unfortunately, this sometimes spills over into noisy rowdiness, prompting justified complaints from neighbors. But during the day, I enjoy seeing them gathered in lively groups or rushing to classes. I like meeting them as they work in local businesses or volunteer in the community, or as they cram across the desk at the excellent library. They provide me with endless entertainment as they slosh through melting snow in flip flops on the first warm March day or happily shiver in their shorts in the chill of mid November.

Most colleges insist,as they should, on broadening students' experiences, bringing them culture in the form of music, dance and theater. And we neighbors also benefit from these professional performances, as well as from student productions, which make up for polished professionalism with raw enthusiasm.

I love having a concentrated source of brain power in our midst. There are lectures open to the community on subjects ranging from nuclear power and the Mayan calendar to death and dying. When we launched a popular Science Pub lecture and discussion series in town, Castleton College faculty members were our first presenters. Castleton's new pavilion is ready to host the town's famed concerts on the green, another good example of town/gown collaboration. The college and the community are invested in each other, to the benefit of both.

And here's the best news: Vermont is number one in the nation in the number of colleges on a per capita basis. All over the state - in Bennington, Burlington, Brattleboro, Castleton, Colchester, Craftsbury Common, Plainfield, Poultney, Johnson, Putney, Lyndonville, Marlboro, Middlebury, Montpelier, Northfield, Royalton, Randolph and Rutland - universities and colleges contribute to the life of their communities. They're not for students only. They're a rich resource for all of us.

Martha L. Molnar is a public relations and freelance writer who moved to Vermont in 2008. She was formerly a New York Times reporter.
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