Alums return to CU to tell their stories, inspire

CU alumni return to campus to give a talk to current students. Photo by Makenzie McMullen. 

There wasn’t an empty seat in the Fine Arts Center Oct. 16 when the Alumni Panel brought together faculty, Soundings students and others who just wanted to hear from former Spartans.

Many students sitting in the crowd were potentially looking at their future selves. The panel brought four Castleton graduates back to their old stomping grounds and away from their busy and successful professional lives for a night.

The panel featured Megan Harris, Andrew Breting , Ike Bendavid, and, Jaklyn Van Manen and gave the current Castleton students an opportunity to hear from former students who were sitting in their shoes not too long ago and get a taste of their time at Castleton, as well as what post-graduation life is like.

The panelists, all from different backgrounds with different life experiences, shared one common theme – the strong sense of home and community they felt when they first stepped on campus at Castleton.

“I came up to Castleton for a visit and fell in love right away. I fell in love with the area and community. I felt welcomed,” said Breting, a Rhode Island native who owns the popular pizzeria in town, Third Place.

“The Third Place idea originated at the beginning of my senior year.  I started talking to Professor (Melinda) Mills after class asking her what she thought if I opened a place in Castleton where students, faculty, and residents could all meet and put aside differences of race, religion, and political views, leave them at the door and talk to each other like humans,” Breting said.

The idea stemmed from the thought that it could be a third place for people to get away  from their home and work lives.

Van Manen’s profession requires giving back and extending a helping hand.

“I help people who have dreams of creating businesses and non-profits. I help them realize their goals. All of this came from my experience at Castleton.  Making a difference while making a living is exactly how I live my life,” said the energetic Van Manen.

Bendavid, who is now a WCAX news reporter, came to Castleton as a transfer from Utica College.

“I was looking at other schools, but I knew right away that Castleton was it,” Bendavid said.

“I was in Renee’s (Renee Beaupre-White’s) office freaking out as I started my senior year.  I knew what I wanted to do, but I just didn’t think it was going to happen for me. She told me to stay focused, and it stuck with me. So, I just kept applying, and I got a call for an internship.”

Harris, who was a former Spartan newspaper editor, had some encouraging words for current students.

“If you come here with an open mind you really have the opportunity to have your path be shaped by the experiences you make,” Harris said. “When I graduated from Castleton, I had no idea what I was going to do, but then I got a call from the Vermont Democratic Party.”

And soon she’d find herself working for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

The panel closed with giving students the chance to ask questions of the panelists. Many students said the event was interesting and helpful.

“I felt the event was super informational. It was great to hear from past students and see what they’ve done and how they went about it,” freshman Caitlin Laird said.

Fellow Freshman Ricky Debernardo agreed with Laird.

“I fully enjoyed the experience because it was nice to hear from people who have already graduated. I’d like to see Castleton do this as a mandatory FYS event,” Debernardo said.

When asked who had made the most impact, Laird was quick to say Bretig and his Third Place.

“I really liked hearing from Andrew. I am a sociology major, and it was super interesting to hear about how he applied what he learned in school to what he does now,” Laird said.

Freshman Cooper Fleming was a fan of the event and also enjoyed the Third Place owner’s story.

“Andrews’s story impressed me.  He came in wanting to be a cop and graduated with a totally different degree, and now he owns a pizza shop. His story reassured me that you can do anything and don’t have to set your mind as soon as you get here,” said Fleming with a smile.


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