Convocation Welcomes Class of 2017
“I don’t think teaching is so different from studying,” music faculty member Nick Brooke told the incoming class in his Convocation address. “Teaching has that restless curiosity. At Bennington, the faculty is told to teach what keeps us awake. Truth is, I’m most alive when teaching what I’m on the cusp of knowing.”
Mariko Silver, the new president of Bennington College, wasn’t the main speaker at the College’s convocation on Monday but she got the biggest response, especially when an excited guest joined her at the podium: her 17-month old daughter, Kumi.
Silver was also the subject of a few gentle jokes because Kumi will soon have a younger brother or sister. Ken Collamore, director of campus security, pointed out that it was appropriate for the convocation to be on “Labor” Day.
Before introducing the convocation speaker, music faculty member Nick Brooke, Silver welcomed back returning students and told new students what they should expect.
“As I’ve already come to understand and I suspect you will too, Bennington is more than a physical place defined by buildings and academic programs. It is a place defined by people. … Bennington, I’m also quickly learning, is an adjective. It’s a way of being, the meaning of which might be really impossible to articulate on any given day but it’s easy to identify when it’s coming at you via Carnegie Hall and Broadway and Hollywood on stilts,” she said.
Silver was referring to the performance at the beginning of the convocation given by faculty members, Susie Ibarra, using percussion instruments, and Bruce Williamson, who played the saxophone while walking on stilts. That performance has become a tradition but this year, Ibarra succeeded Milford Graves, a retired music faculty member and one of her own teachers.
“I don’t feel like I’m stepping in to take that role, I feel like I’m continuing on with a legacy. I’m really honored to join Bruce who’s been doing this over 10 years,” Ibarra said.
Music and performance was also a theme for Brooke. Commenting on how he read his remarks from a piece of paper, Brooke compared it to the way musicians often read notes from a page but continued on to point out that some musicians move past the sheet music.
“Your next four years are a performance. Surprise us. There’s enormous leeway in what you’re about to do. You can read, sing, debate, derive, snorkle, hack, jete … bisect a fruit fly. The 1930 charter of Bennington cites education as a sensual, as well as ethical, experience and I love any sentence that uses both sensual and ethical,” he said.
Brooke joked about students who would “live action role play,” or LARP, around the campus dressed as Tyrion Lannister, a character played on the HBO series “Game of Thrones” by Bennington College graduate Peter Dinklage '91.
“You’re a cult, by the way,” he said to those students who do.
New students at the convocation Monday said they had chosen Bennington College so they could attend a small college and get a personal experience. Brian Barry, of Westchester County, N.Y., transferred from George Washington University when he found it wasn’t what he had hoped.
“It kind of felt like it was run more like a business than a university and also, the kind of people GW attracts are not my kind of people. After taking about a year and a half off and regaining my love for learning... I decided I would go back to school and choose the anti-GW. Bennington fits all of those requirements,” said Barry, who plans to focus on languages and environmental science.
Barry’s friend, Sarah Lavin-Burgher, of Chicago, had a similar experience. Lavin-Burgher, who plans to focus on creative writing, said she didn’t feel like an individual at a bigger school.
“I felt like just another person being shuffled through someone else’s idea of what an education should be and so I think here I’m really looking forward to being treated like a unique mind instead of just another person to talk at,” she said.