"That feeling of community"

A conversation with Scott Buckley '02
Last winter, W. Scott Buckley ’02 attended a Vermont Academy alumni event in Burlington, Vermont, where he reconnected with Dr. Jennifer L. Zaccara, who is not only our head of school but was also Scott’s etymology and semantics teacher at a summer session at Phillips Andover in 2000, just before Scott came to Vermont Academy.

“I probably have Dr. Zaccara to thank for my SAT scores for the verbal section, because of the Latin word roots that she taught,” Scott said. In the spring of 2018, Scott visited campus to catch up more with Dr. Zaccara.

Here are Scott's reflections on his experiences at VA:

I came to Vermont Academy in 2001 as a postgraduate from West Virginia. My mom had just passed away the year before that, so it was a tumultuous time in my life, to say the least. Going to a boarding school—you just didn’t do that in the community I was from.
I had done Hockey Night in Boston for a few years, and I was exploring the idea of playing in college.

As it turns out, I was neither good enough nor smart enough to do both hockey and school. I started out on the varsity hockey team at VA, and then realized that the guys on the team were really incredible players, and that maybe I should stick with academics.

VA meant that I discovered hockey was a wonderful game to play— and something I would leave to the guys that were really good at it. It also meant that I had an exposure to the idea that there were a multitude of colleges out there that I hadn’t thought about, and that I now had the possibility to actually attend, with all of VA’s support.

I knew I wanted something more.
I remember I was eating a blueberry muffin in Shep during Parents’ Weekend, and Jim Frey ’66 was talking to my dad about how he wanted me to help out in his physics class. He wanted me to do a physics project. My dad was like, “Scott? He’s not the best in math. Are we talking about the same person?” Jim said, “I want to push him a little more in physics.”

Coming up to VA from West Virginia, I knew I wanted something more. Bill Newman in Admissions talked to me about this school called Middlebury, and I thought to myself, “Great, I’ve come up to VA, and my plan was to work on my SATs, work on my grades, really boost my chances of getting into a great school. I’m putting in another year of school just to go to some college I’ve never heard of. I’m not going to get into a great school, after all this.”

Life was moving forward; I was making good decisions. It was an incredible feeling, and I know I wouldn’t have gotten in without VA. I had applied to other colleges before VA, but none were a good fit for me. If it weren’t for VA, I absolutely wouldn’t have had the chance to go to Middlebury. I’m ever grateful for that opportunity.

I needed a Plan B.
I studied neuroscience as a pre-med at Middlebury. I was pretty sure I wanted to be an emergency room doctor.

Then one day I was driving an ambulance for Middlebury Rescue as a volunteer, and a driver crossed left of center and hit the ambulance I was driving. The people in the back of the ambulance were severely injured, and the other driver was killed.
I spent a lot of time in the hospital and recovering. I was in a wheelchair for a while. I still have plates and screws in my pelvis. After that I decided that I didn’t want to be a doctor.

For me, the medical profession had lost the glistening artifice, the glow that I had thought was there. I had always wanted to help people, and I had thought being a doctor was the ultimate way to do that, so I needed a Plan B.

I decided to go into the environmental field. I did a summer internship for an environmental consulting and engineering firm in West Virginia. Then I got a job as a field technician and worked my way up to general manager of Vermont and New York for ENPRO Services.

“Man, these Northern people are crazy.”
I have so many good memories of Vermont Academy. I loved John Bohannon’s class. We read about how to “get to yes” without giving in. We went to mock trial in Boston. I was a bright-eyed kid from West Virginia—I had no idea what the T was.

I took up cross-country skiing, and I explored the trails around the VA campus. It was just gorgeous. I knew I had come to the right place.

There was a pie-eating and wood chopping contest up at Chivers. And we did this thing I’d never heard of called yoga. I thought, “Man these Northern people are crazy.” I remember telling my dad about it, and he had no concept of what I was talking about.

I guess I didn’t realize what VA meant to my life. The small community here was super supportive for a person who wasn’t quite ready to jump into college. It allowed me another year of maturity. At the same time, I didn’t feel it was smothering.

It really built a huge sense of community, having teachers and staff who took an interest in me and in my personal growth and development. I don’t think you’d find that at a bigger institution. That feeling of community gives you a strong base to be able to explore.

Being able to look back with a different lens makes me a lot more appreciative that I was able to come to VA. I guess I didn’t realize what VA meant to my life till now. I wouldn’t have gone to Middlebury, I wouldn’t have met my wife. VA really changed my life.