Reflections on My Inaugural Year (Summer 2014)
It was not quite a year ago that I arrived on the Bennington campus, thrilled to be joining this remarkable community—a community that over the next twelve months would add two more Pulitzers to its ranks, two more Fulbrights, another New York Times Magazine cover story, an upcoming solo exhibition at the Walker Art Center, an Echoing Green Fellowship, and countless other triumphs large and small.
During that time, I talked with students, faculty, and staff across the campus and with alumni and parents across the country—literally thousands of you—about Bennington’s brand of genius. You told me of faculty mentorships, of collaborative work in and out of the classroom, and of the intense development of the individual mind—“a brain incubator,” one of you called it. And I became ever more convinced that what we do here is the highest form of higher education.
It is for this reason that I see my fundamental work, all of our work, as extending Bennington’s reach.
This will require deeper and more expansive engagement with alumni and parents. It will take me, faculty, and staff talking about Bennington within the landscape of higher education and in the media. And it will take all of you telling your own Bennington stories.
For the 143 members of the class of 2014, their Bennington stories culminated with their commencement in May, a memorable, two-day celebration that included remarks from faculty members Sherry Kramer and Bruce Williamson, class speaker Maria Jacobson ’14, and our 79th commencement speaker, Dr. Johnnetta Cole. Dr. Cole spoke, among other things, of the virtue of courage, summoning the words of her late friend Maya Angelou, who called it “the most important of all virtues, as without it, the rest have no chance.” There’s perhaps no better authority on the subject of courage than Ms. Angelou—and no college better at instilling it in its students, as evidenced by this year’s remarkable graduating class, than Bennington. Congratulations again to our newest alumni.
Congratulations also to the Bennington Writing Seminars, our graduate program in writing and literature, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Faculty and alumni from the first class to the most recent returned to campus last month to celebrate the many accomplishments of their classmates and teachers and to welcome the 2014 graduates into their legacy of letters.
I am pleased to report that we are welcoming nearly 200 extraordinary new students to campus this fall.
The class of 2018 joins us from a record 29 countries and 29 states, affirming our efforts to bring the world to Bennington and reaffirming our responsibility to bring Bennington to the world.
I am especially proud that we are able to provide need-based financial aid to 78 percent of the incoming class, which is a testament to the vital importance and generosity of our ever-growing community of donors.
Our extensive financial aid packages, among other essential components of a Bennington education, are funded in large part by The Bennington Fund and alumni giving. Our fiscal year just ended on June 30, and while we are still receiving some gifts this week, to date we have raised $1,408,947 from 2,029 alumni, parents, faculty, staff, students, and friends. This includes 68 from the Class of 2014 for their Senior Class Gift effort (that reached a 51-percent giving rate). Thank you for your support.
And thanks as well to the hundreds of alumni, parents, and friends who attended the many events, on campus and in cities all over the country during my inaugural year. From Family Weekend and Reunion in the fall, to the regional events in New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland in the winter and spring, and finally, to my inauguration in April, the outpouring of support and shared love of this institution has been nothing short of astonishing. The enthusiasm I felt from you is something I hope to build upon with new and substantive opportunities for engagement in the future.
Engagement with the community has been a theme this year as well.
Whether it be by our students spearheading North Bennington’s conversion to LED streetlights, or by the College partnering with the Bennington Museum on a summer Modernism exhibition, or by reopening the north gate of campus to make our offerings more accessible, we will continue to seek ways to expand our role as a partner and asset to the community that our faculty, staff, and their families—mine among them—proudly call home.
I am delighted to announce that two new faculty members will be calling Bennington home this fall. We look forward to the contributions of dance faculty member Elena Demyanenko and sound design faculty member David Baron, two wonderfully talented teachers and makers, to the intellectual and creative life of the College. In addition, David Bond, a visiting anthropology faculty member last year, will be rejoining us as a senior associate in the Center for the Advancement of Public Action, where he will continue teaching and help to develop and plan the CAPA curriculum and related events.
And, finally, it is with mixed emotions that we toast beloved faculty member, mentor, colleague, and friend, Mansour Farhang, who retires from Bennington this summer after 30 years. A political science and international relations expert, as well as a devoted human rights advocate, Mansour is the embodiment of Bennington’s fundamental belief that a teacher’s influence in the classroom should be informed by his or her influence in the world. In both arenas, Mansour’s influence has been great. You can read about Mansour’s remarkable life and career in the upcoming issue of Bennington magazine, and join us as we formally honor him on campus this coming October 4. I hope to see many of you there—and in the meanwhile.
–Mariko Silver, President