My First Term at Bennington (Winter 2013)
As we welcome in the New Year, I wanted to take a moment to share with all of you some of my first term reflections.
First and foremost, I want to say thank you. Thank you for welcoming me and my family. We have so quickly come to feel Bennington truly is home.
It has been a rich, amazing, diverse, and inspiring term.
Since we arrived in August, I have been working closely with members of the Bennington community—faculty, staff, students, parents, and alumni—to surface and articulate the fundamental aspects of a Bennington education, and to develop programs that will foster and support a healthy, engaged campus community. We also are exploring multiple ways to develop our campus infrastructure to better support our work.
I look forward to continuing these conversations on campus and with more alumni and parents when I take to the road in the spring. I hope to see many of you at events during these travels and, of course, on campus for the inauguration celebration on Saturday, April 26.
Until then, here are a few highlights from my first five months on campus:
August: We settled into Orchard D, where we ate all the apples we could reach (and more) and marveled every day at the spectacular views. I had the enormous pleasure of welcoming the Bennington College Class of 2017, working with them through a phenomenal “close reading” of the traditional Bennington Commencement Statement, and listening to faculty member Nick Brooke take us all on a wonderful ride through key moments in the storied history of music-making at Bennington and more.
September: I attended my first faculty meeting, where we talked about our goals for this year and beyond, shared perspectives on what makes Bennington so distinctive as well as where we can continue to reach new levels of educational innovation and achievement. My second child, Aya Mary, was kind enough to wait until after that faculty meeting to enter into this world. When she did arrive, the entire Bennington College community gave her the warmest of welcomes. For this we will be forever grateful.
At the end of September I also had the honor of welcoming record numbers of alumni and parents to campus for Reunion and Family Weekend. I heard from alumni of (almost) every decade (1943–2013) about what makes Bennington so very special to them. Inspiring is the best word to describe the weekend for me.
October: I traveled to NYC at the invitation of the Mellon Foundation to meet with a select group of fellow new presidents of liberal arts colleges. I also had the opportunity to meet with a range of foundations and college presidents at a Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) gathering. And, at the last minute, I managed to make it to the inauguration of Yale’s new president, Peter Salovey. This is just the first wave of reaching out to peer institutions, but it is clear that Bennington's place in the community of educators is truly important. We have a lot to share.
With faculty we continued to talk about what works well here and where our ongoing work is most needed, as well as the innovations we should build upon. We talked about our aspirations and goals. A special highlight of October was meeting with students and sitting in on several Plan meetings. These experiences gave me a deeper understanding of the Bennington experience.
November: I attended the fall meeting of the Association of Vermont Independent Colleges (AVIC) and reaffirmed Bennington's commitment to our sister institutions, our state, and the development of a shared vision for what makes an education in Vermont distinctive. I am particularly pleased to join AVIC discussions this year, as alumna Ellen McCulloch Lovell, president of Marlboro College, is chairing the group.
My husband, Thom, and I were also thrilled to host our neighbors in the Orchard—including faculty members Rotimi Suberu, Allen Shawn, and Michael Wimberly, and their families—for a rousing Thanksgiving-turned-drum circle-turned piano improvisation (on my 19-month-old’s baby piano)...photos upon request…
Thom and I were transfixed by the stirring performance of Great Expectations, this term’s faculty-directed production that showcased the talents of our students and faculty.
December: While the snow began to fall, I had a wonderful time settling in, meeting with faculty and students one-on-one, continuing to hear and share ideas—too many to count. I loved seeing and hearing about all the great work students are doing here in the sciences, mathematics, and computing at the Winter-palooza Poster Fest, and bringing my children to the McCullough Library in North Bennington to make snowflakes and read stories with two Bennington students working on a project there. I was wowed by the end-of-term dance and music performances, visual arts exhibitions, and thoroughly enjoyed inspiring conversations with faculty groups about our shared aspirations. We also hosted a campus-wide conversation about the College’s sustainability goals that touched on everything from the food we eat (and grow) to our financial health.
On a more personal note, at my first Midnight Breakfast a student led me in a rollicking swing dance, while my husband Thom played guitar with the staff band. Not bad for my first late night out with two kids sleeping at home!
My warmest wishes to you and your families for a happy and healthy 2014 and a million thank-yous for what you do and have done to make Bennington the extraordinarily remarkable community that it is. I look forward to seeing you all soon.
–Mariko Silver, President