Bennington College Commencement

Save the Date | Commencement 2021, May 28-29, 2021

Commencement Planning Update from President Walker | April 7, 2021

Dear students and families, 

As you know, we have been planning for a hybrid Commencement, with in-person celebrations for the students currently on campus, with virtual options for families and friends. 

Yesterday, the state of Vermont announced changes in guidance for gatherings beginning May 1. We are looking carefully at that guidance and what we will be able to execute on our campus, but we are cautiously optimistic we will be able to invite up to two family members per student to attend the Conferring of Degrees ceremony on Saturday morning. 

More to come by the end of next week.

Warmly,

Laura Walker

President

Recent messages to graduates

March 18, 2021 | Student Commencement Working Group Update

Dear Seniors, December Graduates, and MFAs,

As promised I am sharing a short summary from our latest meeting of the student commencement working group. Again, I understand that everyone cannot make the meeting yet may have an interest or opinion of their own graduation.

Please understand that the brevity of this email in no way corresponds to the significance nor scope of the work.

We are currently in process of reviewing the following issues:

Issues Considered:

  • State guidelines. The state has capped outdoor gatherings at 150 attendees. We are still holding at 150 yet considering additional scenarios should guidelines change. Any changes will be communicated on March 31.
  • Safety and equity. We need to keep safety uppermost as a guideline but consider equity as a guiding principle. This remains our guiding principle.
  • Remote students. 28 of the 162 graduates are remote and we want them to be able to participate as best we can. We are currently reviewing all modalities of participation for these students and will circle back.
  • Remote event components. Nearly all events should have a virtual component and the Ceremony should be the same experience as possible for those not attending, creating an interactive experience for both remote students and families and loved ones who cannot attend. We are considering and investigating each component carefully with a baseline of a virtual experience and a goal of interactive experience.
  • Constituencies that participate. Understand other constituencies that participate, which includes the board of trustees who ratify the degrees, the administrators that distribute, the faculty that participate, the staff that work the event, the undergraduates that have worked the event in years past. We are creating plans for each constituency for participation either in person or remotely depending upon the guidelines yet valuing constituent experience.

Suggestions Summarized:

  • Make Friday a senior only event, a moment to share the last meal with the class before graduation. Consider ways to personalize and make it special.
    • With an intimate yet formal senior dinner, addresses possible that eve or moved to the Saturday. This event will likely be Seniors only due to state guidelines, with the possibility to add additional guests from the campus community only as guidelines permit. Friday Senior-only formal dinner has received very positive feedback. I am working with Chef Steve and the Commencement logistics team and working groups to make this a truly special event for seniors and graduates. More soon.
    • Dinner options: progressive dinner format i.e. different tables for different courses of meal with different table guests or food trucks around Commons Lawn. Chef Steve is very excited to create a special formal dinner for our seniors and grads—this is ongoing. More soon.
    • Evening set of events thereafter: bonfire(s), student band/entertainment of some sort that can fit within guidelines, and wish lanterns at dusk. Outdoor photo booth? Think Moonfest rather than Sunfest. A set of evening programming options to consider will be coming shortly.
  • Make Saturday a full Conferring of Degrees ceremony, socially distanced, on the lawn, in the round perhaps. Live Streamed. We are continuing to review and plan for the differing scenarios to make this as successful and enjoyable as possible.

Next Steps:

This week, please talk with family members and caregivers to include them in the planning process in how they might best feel included. I do have ideas, but I would like to hold them back as a pleasant surprise just now.

And, please remember to:

Consider and discuss the elements of these components in the context of the guidelines and values. Send on your ideas to me. Our next meeting will be this Friday to review and finalize therein.

Finally, we are working in the framework of the current CDC and State guidelines. Those may change and we need to be nimble and flexible to that. Indeed, it seems likely and I am meeting with the Covid Task Force on an ongoing basis to help determine how we adjust our framework and these events to meet any such changes—more on this in the next few weeks.

In closing dear seniors, again, I invite you to discuss amongst your peers and forward on any ideas, thoughts and suggestions to me. I cannot promise to deliver on all but I can promise a good faith effort to do all I can to make this the meaningful and memorable moment you deserve.

In the meantime, be safe and well.

Nicole Arrington
Events Manager

March 10, 2021 | Commencement Plans and Working Group Update

Dear Seniors, December Graduates and MFAs,

I wanted to share with you an overview of what was discussed in the Student Commencement Working Group to keep you in the loop. I understand that everyone cannot make the meeting but that many have an interest or opinion of their own graduation.

The conventional components of Commencement are split on two days:

Friday night: Reception and dinner with addresses.
Saturday morning: Conferring of Degrees ceremony followed by a light reception.

Issues Considered:

  • State guidelines. The state has capped outdoor gatherings at 150 attendees.
  • Safety and equity. We need to keep safety uppermost as a guideline but consider equity as a guiding principle.
  • Remote students. 28 of the 162 graduates are remote and we want them to be able to participate as best we can. As such,
  • Remote event components. Nearly all events should have a virtual component and the Ceremony should be the same experience as possible for those not attending, creating an interactive experience for both remote students and families and loved ones who cannot attend.
  • Constituencies that participate. Understand other constituencies that participate, which includes the board of trustees who ratify the degrees, the administrators that distribute, the faculty that participate, the staff that work the event, the undergraduates that have worked the event in years past.

Suggestions Summarized:

  • Make Friday a senior only event, a moment to share the last meal with the class before graduation. Consider ways to personalize and make it special.
    • With an intimate yet formal senior dinner, addresses possible that eve or moved to the Saturday. This event will likely be Seniors only due to state guidelines, with the possibility to add additional guests from the campus community only as guidelines permit.
    • Dinner options: progressive dinner format (different tables for different courses of meal with different table guests) or food trucks around Commons Lawn.
    • Evening set of events thereafter: bonfire(s), student band/entertainment of some sort that can fit within guidelines, and wish lanterns at dusk. Outdoor photo booth? Think Moonfest rather than Sunfest.
  • Make Saturday a full Conferring of Degrees ceremony, socially distanced, on the lawn, in the round perhaps. Live Streamed.

Decisions to be Made:

The essential components are the dinner, addresses, and conferring of degrees ceremony. The resonant components are the sharing of these events with your peers, friends, families, faculty. and community. What is most important? Where can we be flexible whilst observing guidelines and affirming equity and the celebratory signature of the moment?

Next Steps:

Consider and discuss the elements of these components in the context of the guidelines and values. Send on your ideas to me. Our next meeting will be this Friday to review and finalize therein.

Finally, we are working in the framework of the current CDC and State guidelines. Those may change and we need to be nimble and flexible to that
Indeed, it seems likely and I am meeting with the Covid Task Force on an ongoing basis to help determine how we adjust our framework and these events to meet any such changes—more on this in the next few weeks.

In closing dear seniors, I invite you to discuss amongst your peers and forward on any ideas, thoughts and suggestions to me. I cannot promise to deliver on all but I can promise a good faith effort to do all I can to make this a meaningful and memorable moment you deserve.

More soon,

Nicole Arrington
Events Manager

February 25, 2021 | Commencement Student Working Group

Dear Seniors, December Graduates, and MFAs,

I am the event manager that oversees Commencement and most of the other major institutional events each year. As you all know so keenly, this past year has been like no other. I know I am sending this email on the heels of President’s Walker’s announcement about your Commencement. I can imagine your sense of disappointment, and perhaps even grief, of not having a Commencement that you and your families envisioned, wanted, or deserve. And as I say I am so sorry for this, I promise you that our entire team and I will put together the best celebration we can to make this still a moment that is meaningful and memorable for you.

With that said, I invite those of you that are interested to participate in a working group on Commencement. And even as I invite you into this process, I do want to be sensitive to not give you work to ‘create your own commencement’ but rather an opportunity to understand the thinking and share in the planning. Please know—it’s not necessary to participate, and that we will take over all management thereafter.

Here’s what I am thinking this working group will look like:

  • A weekly meeting on Zoom for an hour for a period of 3 weeks, i.e. 3 one-hour meetings;
  • We will identify components, values, and mediums for modifying each Commencement event;
  • If there is any homework at all, it might be independent casual discussion among your peers, otherwise all else will remain in the hour allotted;
  • Others in the working group will be a select group of staff that work with me and you on Commencement to help form our decision making.

A note on timeline: I imagine we will have a fully-formed plan for Commencement that we will report on to the class of 2021, your families, the administration, and board of trustees no later than March 30. Indeed, that is our hard deadline.

Next steps: Please reply via email letting me know of your interest. And whilst I know this won’t work for everyone’s schedule this seems to be the best time to suggest to meet: Friday, March 5 at 12:30 PM EST.

So looking forward to working with you.

In the meantime, be safe and well.

Nicole Arrington
Events Manager

 

February 25, 2021 | An Update From President Walker Regarding Commencement 2021

Dear parents and families of the class of 2021,

Please see the message below that was shared with graduates today. We know that Commencement is top of mind for you and your family, as it is for all of us. This is why we are sharing this information with you now, while it is still in development. We expect that plans will be finalized by March 30, at which time we will be back in touch with more details.

Sincerely, 

Laura Walker
President

Dear Class of 2021,

Congratulations on beginning your final term at Bennington! Hopefully you are settling into your classes and advanced work, the culmination of four years of effort and discovery. I’m writing to give you an update on our planning for the end of this term: your commencement.  

Like each of you, I had hoped that by May, we would be preparing for a full in-person celebration with your classmates, family, and friends as we have done in years past. Sadly, the public health risks of such an event are too great. It appears unlikely today that new COVID-19 infections will be significantly curtailed by spring, nor will we have a critical mass of Americans vaccinated by then. Further, State of Vermont COVID-19 rules prohibit large gatherings at this time and we cannot know if or when those rules might change. As such, we will need to modify this event significantly to comply with state guidelines and our commitment to community safety.

However, we also know how important it is for our graduates to be able to walk together as a class and to receive your diplomas. Given how seriously all members of the Bennington community have taken the pandemic prevention and the current Vermont state guidelines, we believe we can safely host an in-person Commencement ceremony and celebration just for our graduates. 

Unfortunately, this means guests will not be able to be invited to campus. I know it is disappointing to not be able to welcome parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends to see you walk in person. I share your frustration, and I can tell you, if there was any way around these challenges that didn’t imperil the College or its people, we would do so. We will be looking for ways for families and friends to celebrate with you, from a distance.

We want to work with students to develop the details of these events to both accommodate social distancing requirements and create something that is meaningful, poignant, and befitting of your accomplishments.

I am confident that we can craft a commencement that feels meaningful, memorable, and connected. Your day will be unlike all others that came before it, but it will be heartfelt and memorable—and still yours. If you are interested in playing a role in the planning, please email event manager Nicole Arrington. An email from Nicole with full details for participation will follow this one.

Class of 2021, we are thinking of you and planning for your big day. 

I wish you the best,

Laura Walker
President

Class of 2020 Commencement Update 

For information about additional celebrations for the class of 2020, please refer to this message, which was shared with the graduating class on February 25, 2021. If you are a member of the class of 2020 and did not receive this message, please contact commencement@bennington.edu to be added to the mailing list. 

line drawing of a line of rocks with mountains in the background

Commencement History 

Past Coverage

Past Commencement Speakers

  • 2020 | Nigel Poor ’86
  • 2019 | Mountain Man (Molly Erin Sarlé ’12, Amelia Meath ’10, and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig ’09)
  • 2018 | Liz Lerman
  • 2017 | Cornell William Brooks
  • 2016 | Jane Chu
  • 2015 | Gloria Steinem
  • 2014 | Dr. Johnnetta Cole
  • 2013 | Elizabeth Coleman
  • 2012 | Peter Dinklage ’91
  • 2011 | Tim Daly ’79
  • 2010 | Melissa Rosenberg ’86
  • 2009 | Hendrick Hertzberg
  • 2008 | Rebecca Tinsley
  • 2007 | Mac Maharaj
  • 2006 | Glen Van Brummelen
  • 2005 | Jonathan Lethem ’86
  • 2004 | Shirin Ebadi
  • 2003 | Edith Velmans
  • 2002 | Meredith Monk
  • 2001 | Rick Moody
  • 2000 | Gay McDougall ’69
  • 1999 | Peter Hedges
  • 1998 | Linda Wertheimer
  • 1997 | Jane Alexander
  • 1996 | Mark Gearan
  • 1995 | Irene Borger ’71
  • 1994 | Harvey Lichtenstein ’53
  • 1993 | Kay Crawford Murray ’56
  • 1992 | Harvey Fierstein
  • 1991 | Harvey Gantt
  • 1990 | Joan Tower ’61
  • 1989 | Ellen McCulloch-Lovell ’69
  • 1988 | Elizabeth Frank ’67
  • 1987 | Barbara Lazear Ascher ’68
  • 1986 | Tillie Olsen
  • 1985 | Elizabeth Swados ’73
  • 1984 | Howard Nemerov
  • 1983 | Frederick Wiseman
  • 1982 | Joseph S. Murphy
  • 1981 | Bernard Malamud
  • 1980 | Elizabeth Swados ’73
  • 1979 | Vivian Gornick
  • 1978 | Mitchell Markowitz ’75
  • 1977 | Elizabeth Holtzman
  • 1976 | Joseph S. Iseman
  • 1975 | Carol Channing ’42
  • 1974 | Thomas Brockway
  • 1973 | Senior readings and performance
  • 1972 | Jimmy Garrison
  • 1971 | Anaïs Nin
  • 1970 | Kurt Vonnegut
  • 1969 | Denise Levertov
  • 1968 | Thomas P.F. Hoving
  • 1967 | Russell Baker
  • 1966 | Howard Nemerov
  • 1965 | Gene Baro
  • 1964 | William Sloane Coffin, Jr.
  • 1963 | David Riesman
  • 1962 | Kenneth Burke
  • 1961 | Henri Peyre
  • 1960 | Francis Fergusson
  • 1959 | George Boas
  • 1958 | Jacques Barzun
  • 1957 | Alvin Eurich
  • 1956 | Howard M. Jones
  • 1955 | W. Averell Harriman P ’40
  • 1954 | Franklin Ford
  • 1953 | Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
  • 1952 | Harry Allen Overstreet
  • 1951 | Mary Josephine Shelly
  • 1950 | Reinhold Niebuhr
  • 1949 | Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey
  • 1948 | Erich Fromm
  • 1947 | Lewis Webster Jones
  • 1946 | Reinhold Niebuhr
  • 1945 | Justice Frank Murphy
  • 1944 | Alexander Meiklejohn
  • 1943 | Robert D. Leigh
  • 1942 | William Batt
  • 1941 | Robert Lynd
  • 1940 | Henry Wallace
  • 1939 | Dorothy Canfield Fischer
  • 1938 | Frederick Lewis Allen
  • 1937 | W.H. Kilpatrick
  • 1936 | No commencement speaker