Class of 2020 Hits the Ground Running
Bennington College celebrated the achievements of the Class of 2020 at the 85th Commencement—and first-ever virtual ceremony—this year with multimedia artist Nigel Poor ’86, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated co-host of the podcast Ear Hustle.
"Find Your Tenacity"
“Being a Bennington graduate means something,” said Poor. “It means you are a creative problem solver; you are deeply engaged in your area of study; you don’t care to follow the status quo; you value conversation; and because you have spent the last several years as part of this intimate community, you understand the effects your actions have on those around you.”
Deja’ Haley '20 was the senior class speaker. Haley is a student of Black Studies, Literature, and Psychology. Her academic path at Bennington has been driven by a desire to understand how we create belonging and community through our differences. Formative to Haley’s time at Bennington was an Usdan curation course about the African American students and faculty who helped shape the College’s past, which inspired in her a commitment to continue that legacy for future generations. Haley is admired among her peers for her unwavering efforts to create a more just and kind world. Watch Deja' Haley's full speech.
Phillip B. Williams was the faculty speaker. A member of the Literature faculty, Williams is the author of Thief in the Interior, winner of the 2017 Kate Tufts Discovery Award and a 2017 Lambda Literary award. He received a 2017 Whiting Award and 2013 Ruth Lilly Fellowship. Most recently, Williams has been selected as a 2020-21 Fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Watch Phillip B. Williams's full speech.
The virtual ceremony retained the hallmarks of Bennington’s traditional Commencement exercises—including speaker addresses on Friday night, followed by the formal Conferring of Degrees on Saturday morning—with additional surprises adapted for the new medium. Music and photos by students were incorporated into the Commencement videos, and on Saturday, students’ names were read by faculty members who had become their colleagues, friends, and mentors. To supplement the virtual experience, the week of graduation, members of the Class of 2020 also received a Commencement keepsake box filled with mementos from their Bennington experience.
Friday and Saturday’s virtual Commencement ceremonies are now available to watch on the College’s Commencement webpage.
Remote Studies During COVID-19
With senior readings, podcasts, theses, animations, performances, and more, the Digital Senior Week Gallery of graduates’ projects is a celebration of more than just intellectual growth—it is also a celebration of the resilience, strength, and drive to create that the world needs more than ever.
The Usdan Gallery Senior Show, A Hole to Climb Into, showcases the culminating projects of graduating Visual Arts students in both an online exhibition and a printed catalog. Titled by the seniors as a group, A Hole To Climb Into conveys the scope, richness, and thoughtful complexity of their work as individuals.
In a video coordinated by International Student Services intern Tamir Giligashvili ’21 and Desire Chimanikire ’23, Bennington students offered their thanks to essential staff who remained on campus to support students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In lieu of in-person concerts, Bennington College seniors studying Music—including Tuva Eid ’20, Kale Esposito ’20, Willy Giambalvo ’20, Sebastian Greer ’20, Dre James ’20, John Kornfeld ’20, Miranda Kinsley ’20, Imani Lewis-Shirley ’20, Elise Lunder ’20, Otto Schatz ’20, Nicholas Williams ’20, Jayden White ’20, and Linrong Dui Zhang ’20—presented Senior MusicFest 2020, a full double album of their divine, diverse senior work, available on Soundcloud.
Students from the Bennington Plays course led by Dina Janis, Michael Giannitti, Sherry Kramer, Richard MacPike, and Jennifer Rohn presented their original works of theater online and on air. Performances included Uprooted, written by Evan Grey Caldwell ’20, with Holly Ray Sherrer ’20 as Marissa/Peter Parker and costumes designed by Chase Spearance ’20; Grandpa Dave, written by Edie Salas-Miller ’20, directed by Kaiya Kirk ’20, with Deja’ Haley ’20 as Dafney, Paul Birtwistle ’20 as Allan, Amrita L. Newton ’20 as stage manager, and Margaret Fortuna Yassky ’20 as production manager; Denial of Service, written and narrated by Nicholas Hennessey ’20, directed by Nicholas Williams ’20, with sound design and editing by Otto Schatz ’20; and Our Friend Monica, written by Eloise Gibbin ’20, directed by Lillie Brown ’20, with Rebecca Mitzner ’20 as Monica Lewinsky, Margaret Fortuna Yassky ’20 as production manager, and costumes designed by Sabrina Konick ’20. As part of Bennington Plays, Christiane Swenson ’20 also staged a reading of her play Andy, featuring the acting work of Holly Ray Sherrer ’20 and Willem Winter ’20.
Musa Ghaznavi ’20 and Sabrina Konick ’20 participated in a staged reading held via Zoom of Can’t Weed All Just Get a Bong?, a modern-day adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland written by Sonise Lumbaca ’21.
As part of Kerry Ryer-Parke’s Sing course, Sebastian Greer ’20, Cierra Cassano ’20, and Paing Sett Hein ’20 sang in a virtual arrangement of Love Is Love Is Love Is Love by Abbie Betinis. Hrach Sargsyan ’20 served as assistant editor for the video production.
Awards and Honors
Honor Levy ’20 and Frances Earlandson ’20 are among the recipients of the Bennington Undergraduate Writing Fellowships for 2020, which allows a select group of undergraduate writers working in poetry, fiction, or literary nonfiction the opportunity to further their study of craft with a 10-day residency at Bennington’s MFA in Writing program. Levy also published her essay "Internet Girl" in the online magazine New York Tyrant.
Kale Esposito '20, Imani Lewis-Shirley '20, Otto Schatz '20, and Jayden White '20 were the recipients of the John Hendrick '86 Memorial Music Commission Award, which is given annually to gifted Bennington student composers chosen by the music faculty. Recipients are awarded a commission for musical work they composed and presented in concert during the academic year. Listen to their work on Soundcloud.
Musa Ghaznavi ’20 was the Director of Depth on Terminal 3, an Augmented Reality project helmed by Asad Malik ’19 that was included in the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival’s Storyscapes lineup.
Luciana Arbus-Scandiffio '20 placed as runner-up in Mount Holyoke's Glascock Intercollegiate Poetry Competition, which was held remotely in 2020. The Glascock has previously honored luminaries including Sylvia Plath and was judged this year by Erica Hunt, Kaveh Akbar, and Franny Choi.
Alexander Terjak Wall '20 was the recipient of a Juror's Choice Award for his piece Periscope Mask, which was included in the Saratoga Arts 120° Intercollegiate Regional Exhibition. Works by James McBride '20 and Matthias Mann '20 were also featured in the exhibition.
Stanzin Angmo ’20 received a grant for her Davis Project for Peace: New Ladahki Girls—an initiative that provides women's health education and sustainable menstrual products to women in remote areas of northern India.
Texas Monthly highlighted Emily Hinojosa '20, whose painting Me Raja, Me Raja was included in Encuentro en la Frontera, a new three-day festival seeking to uplift the Rio Grande Valley through art, education, and activism.
Katie Hibner '20 was selected as an alternate for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Award to Morocco for 2020-2021.
Graduate Studies and Future Plans
Many graduating students will use their Bennington education as a springboard for advanced studies in poetry, mathematics, public health, fiction, library science, and more. The inquiry, research, creativity, engagement, and communication skills they honed through the Plan process will be put to use in graduate schools and workplaces around the country and the world.
Sophia Marx ’20 has been accepted to the Smith College Center for Women in Mathematics Postbaccalaureate program.
Henrietta Hadley ’20 has received a full-ride scholarship, with a stipend, to pursue an MFA in Poetry at the University of Virginia.
Sarah Burry ’20 will be pursuing an MS in Library and Information Science at Pratt Institute.
Jane Feinsod ’20 has received the Hong Kim Czuprynski Fellowship at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where she will pursue an MFA in Poetry.
Luciana Arbus-Scandiffio ’20 will be pursuing an MFA in Poetry at the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin.
Emma Bushmann ’20 will be pursuing an MFA in Fiction at New York University.
Mareme Dieng ’20 will join Draper University as Head of Partnerships and International Relations, a position which grew out of her continuing relationship with Draper University, where she worked during each of her Field Work Terms.
Frances Erlandson ’20 will be pursuing her graduate studies at Land Arts of the American West at Texas Tech University.
Stanzin Angmo ’20 will be pursuing her Masters in Reproductive, Family, and Population Health at Johns Hopkins.
Musa Ghaznavi ’20 received a full-ride scholarship from the New Artist Society to pursue a M.Des in Fashion, Body and Garment at the School of the Art Institute Chicago.
Wendy Ulloa ’19 will attend University of Redlands in the fall to begin graduate work in Mathematics Education.
Triston Walker '20 will join the team at 1RIC, an Augmented Reality studio founded by Asad Malik '19.
We Work Here
Work-integrated learning has been integral to a Bennington education since its founding. Through their four Field Work Term experiences, the class of 2020 explored passions, made professional connections, and gained work experience at institutions ranging from Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Christie’s, McGovern Medical School at UT Health, the Research Institute in Sociology and Social Inequality at Texas A&M University, Partnership for the Public Good, Art Spark Texas, and more.
Graduates also worked with alumni in their fields, extending the Bennington network across generations alongside luminaries like Bryn Mooser '01 and Erik Holmberg ’86.
Members of the class of 2020 participated in The Lucille Lortel Theatre Foundation Fellowships, a grant program offering paid internships during Field Work Term in off-Broadway non-profit theater companies for exceptional Bennington drama students.
Paul Birtwistle ’20, Lillie Brown ’20, Evan Grey Caldwell ’20, Cierra Cassano ’20, Musa Ghaznavi ’20, Eloise Gibbin ’20, Nick Hennessy ’20, Kaiya Kirk ’20, Sabrina Konick ’20, Rebecca Mitzner ’20, Christina Polanen ’20, Holly Ray Sherrer ’20, Christiane Swenson ’20, Bella Wang ’20, Willem Winter ’20, Cy Wolfe ’20, and Margaret Fortuna Yassky ’20 worked at Mint Theater Company, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Vineyard Theater, WP Theater, The Flea Theater, The Lark, Harlem Stage, New Georges, MCC Theater, Spanish Theatre Repertory/Repertorio Español, the Lucille Lortel Theatre and the Lucille Lortel Foundation and Theatre for a New Audience.
Museum Fellows Term is an immersive educational opportunity in which students gain professional work experience at a major cultural institution, visit exhibitions, and study multiple aspects of the art world with Bennington faculty, and meet artists, curators, and other arts and culture leaders. Members of the class of 2020, including Natalie Bates ’20, Alex Briseño ’20, Lili Española ’20, Emily Gordis ’20, Ray Malmoli ’20, Gala Meyer Marti ’20, Hrach Sargsyan ’20, and River Valadez ’20 worked at the Cooper Hewitt Museum, the Museum of the Moving Image, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and the New Museum as part of Museum Fellows Term.
Stanzin Angmo ’20, Ekaterina Burtseva ’20, and Ulysses Lin ’20 were part of the inaugural Population Health Fellowship jointly offered by Bennington College and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. As Fellows, Angmo, Burtseva, and Lin pursued projects that built community among Bennington locals, inspired healthy eating habits, and holistically equipped SVMC’s patient databases.
Bennington College partnered with Hubbard Hall Center for the Arts and Education to present Aaron Posner’s Stupid F**king Bird, a re-adaptation of Anton Chekov’s The Seagull. This production, which involved several Bennington students and faculty members, cast Amrita Newton ’20 as Nina and included Paul Birtwistle ’20 as assistant director and Margaret Fortuna Yassky ’20 as stage manager. The production is available to watch online.
James Walkergoutal ’20 spent a Field Work Term as a Production Fellow at XTR, a nonfiction film and television studio founded by Bryn Mooser ’01. Four of XTR’s feature films were included in the 2020 Sundance Film Festival lineup.
Anna Demchenko ’20 worked as a production assistant on FX Network’s Fargo, which is produced by Erik Holmberg ’86.
Ahmad Yassir ’20 and Aleyah Austin ’20 worked at the Cynthia Reeves Gallery in North Adams, MA, where they installed and curated the Bennington-Williams Student Exhibition held at the gallery. Works by Matthias Mann ’20, Gala Meyer Marti ’20, Olivia Saporito ’20, and Bailey Wait ’20 were included in the exhibition.
During his 2019 Field Work Term, Ahmad Yassir ’20 designed and taught the first courses in art and peacebuilding at Abaarso School for Sciences and Technology in Somaliland.
At FIFCO, the International Corporate Football Federation, Benyamin Mohammadzadeh ’20 helped organize the 2019 World Cup in Monaco and secured participation from the Iranian corporate football federation.
Madeline Poultridge ’20 combined their love of art with an immersive ASL experience by working as a studio assistant to De’VIA (Deaf View/Image Art) artist Ellen Mansfield.
Eulala Harden Scheel ’20 helped sculpt a touchable cast of a T. rex femur—the most accurate and detailed model in the world—as part of the American Museum of Natural History’s exhibit T. rex: The Ultimate Predator.
Rebecca Mitzner ’20 studied Drama abroad at the Moscow Art Theater in Moscow, Russia during fall 2019.
Lili Española ’20 streamlined user experience for Mirror | Mirror, an improved conference calling app, developed by the Washington, DC-based tech startup Insight Interfaces.
Z Winters-Derevjanik ’20 served as an English Language Learning teacher’s assistant at Auburn Middle School in Auburn, ME, working on a day-to-day basis with students from Angola, Iraq, and Somalia.
Elizabeth Fox ’20 interned for Senator Bernie Sanders at his Washington, DC office.
Paintings by Nare Harutyunyan '20 were included in the Komitas Museum-Institute’s second volume of One Thousand and One Songs, which is devoted to Armenian folk dance-songs.
Grace Robins-Somerville '20 launched a podcast during her Field Work Term at Art Spark Texas.
At Bennington, education is a shared endeavor. Students are encouraged to seek out interdisciplinary connections between their courses and to learn from each other and their surroundings, as well as from their instructors. Bennington students, alumni, and faculty often collaborate on projects that both deepen students’ own courses of study and broaden their understanding of the world.
With support from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion under the leadership of Delia Saenz, Vice President for Institutional Inclusion, Equity, and Leadership Development, Deja’ Haley ’20 and Ahmad Yassir ’20 organized the first-ever Reflect, Rebuild, & Rise: Social Practices of Inclusion Conference. After Bennington shifted to remote instruction in March 2020, the 3R conference, too, transitioned to remote delivery, with student Community Builders offering weekly videos on diversity.bennington.edu and Youtube. Presenters included Kaiya Kirk ’20, who offered the views of students excited to partake in one of the first Drama productions centered on people of color, and Claire Webb ’20, who introduced Restorative Justice and Story Circles.
Deja’ Haley ’20 expanded and updated Crossett Library’s Black Library by creating a Black Studies database that includes resources and experience of Black students past and present.
Through her role as the FLoW (First-generation, low-income, and working-class) intern, Kelsey Broadfield ’20 helped organize a pop-up gallery that celebrated and highlighted the work that FLoW students create on campus, which also featured artwork by Emily Hinojosa ’20. Broadfield also helped design Student to Student, a college mentoring program offered to first-generation students at Mount Anthony Union High School.
The Student Educational Policies Committee (SEPC) consists of a group of elected students who represent the student body on issues affecting academic life at Bennington, led by Eve Mefferd ’20, and Elizabeth Fox ’20, vice president. This year, seniors in SEPC helmed a variety of projects, including:
- Eve Mefferd ’20, who organized a Supplies and Materials Equity initiative that dispersed $5000 in grants for supplies and materials to students with financial need, ran a book and supply drive, collecting course texts for the library and other materials for the FLoW Pantry, and distributed an Affording Supplies and Materials guide to all incoming students.
- Claire Webb ’20 led Field Work Term equity projects, contacting alumni, parents, and students about offering FWT housing; developing an AirBnB-esque platform to post and search FWT housing opportunities, like AirBnB (In Progress); creating partnerships with other universities to get discounted rates for Bennington students to rent student housing over FWT; and changing the FWT page on the Bennington website to be more accessible.
- Katie Hibner '20 and Keely Durkin '20 provided feedback on candidates during the hiring process for the new Study Away Counselor. After Xiomara Giordano was hired for the position, Hibner and Durkin met with her to communicate student interests and concerns about study abroad, offering to serve as liaisons between her and the student community.
As the Bennington community socially distanced, Virtual Wellbeing Assistant Somya Shailendra ’21 compiled a community cookbook to foster healthy eating habits during quarantine, including a lemon meringue pie recipe shared by Natalie Bates ’20.
In fall 2018, Ekaterina Burtseva '20 and Benyamin Mohammadzadeh '20, along with Maria Salim '21, organized an Asian Cultural Festival on campus to fundraise for the city of Palu in Sulawesi, Indonesia, which was rocked by an earthquake and tsunami.
Doménica Montaño Moncayo '20 presented about violence against women and their protection in Ecuador as part of a Cultural Studies and Languages event on campus.
Student Educational Policies Committee (SEPC) President Eve Mefferd ’20 recruited student presenters from across all disciplines for Student Works, an annual showcase of projects. Participants included Emily Hinojosa ’20, Musa Ghaznavi ’20, and Alexander Terjak Wall ’20, who exhibited their visual artwork; Evan Grey Caldwell ’20, who offered a reading of scenes from his play La Princesa Concha; Zac Bull ’20, who summarized the work done in his Spring 2019 Genetics course; Schyler Norton ’20; who presented about her summer abroad in Paris; Steven Hendricks ’20, who discussed teaching Japanese language and culture to third-grade students; Deja’ Haley ’20, who offered findings from a research survey project that tested the measures between students’ Black identity and their willingness to give back to their communities at a liberal arts school versus a public school; and Luci Arbus-Scandiffio ’20 and Frances Erlandson ’20, who read from their poetry.
Zac Bull ’20, Lili Española ’20, and Ahmad Yassir ’20 participated in (Re)Center: Reimagining an New Student Center, helping to reimagine and redesign the Student Center, following its transition after the reopening of Commons.
Emily Halliburton ’20, an intern for the College’s Planning Office, developed a survey to collect information for The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, which is part of the College’s ongoing partnership with Efficiency Vermont’s Continuous Energy Improvement program.
To prepare for the GBICS Empty Bowls fundraiser, which in 2019 attracted over 950 participants to combat food insecurity, Michelle Freeman ’20, who has volunteered with Empty Bowls for four years, served as a liaison between students in Yoko Inoue’s Social Kitchen course and the GBICS Empty Bowls steering committee, and she led ceramics workshops with fifth graders at Bennington Elementary and students at Mount Anthony Union High School.
Freeman dedicated her time at Bennington to building community relations and collaborating on projects within the community with leaders from Alliance for Community Transformations, GBICS, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, Second Chance Animal Center, Bennington Elementary, Rise Vermont, Queer Connect, and the Bennington Free Library. During Field Work Term 2018, she worked independently under Southwestern Vermont Medical Center to organize community events to help address the opioid epidemic in town. She also collaborated with the Bennington Free Library to lead community programs focused on mental health, learning, and self-esteem. These events also provided a safe space inside during the coldest months of the year.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bennington students—including Dui Zhang ’20 at Studio Hill Farm and Sarah Fadem ’20 at GANAS: Latino Community Outreach Mission—interned for local organizations working to support food sustainability, public health, family initiatives, and other resources for community members.
As part of his work in Tatiana Abatemarco’s Resilience and Food Access in Bennington, VT course, Harry Alterman ’20 helped present a market basket study—which analyzes the availability of healthy foods in an area—to the Bennington Hunger Council via Zoom.
Madeline Poultridge ’20 volunteered with Vermont Arts Exchange’s TLC Dolls program, which creates and donates handmade fabric dolls to domestic and sexual assault survivors and to emergency room patients.
Students in Mirka Prazak's course Studying Place by Metes and Bounds—including Emily Halliburton ’20, Lucy Blue Swenson ’20, Jenny Morgan ’20, and Stephanie Hernandez ’20—were published in a special issue of the Bennington Museum's Walloomsack Review. Lucy Blue Swenson also designed the woodcut that graced the issue’s cover.
Eve Mefferd '20 and Kayla Nicholls '20 published the Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA) student newsletter, which featured student and faculty projects, topics covered in CAPA courses, and upcoming events and opportunities.
Along with faculty member David Bond and Shachi Mokashi ’21, Jakub Crcha ’20 penned an editorial in the Bennington Banner about the risks posed by the oil trains parked on railroad tracks nearby residential and commercial areas in the town of Bennington.
Recent Graduate Trustee
After a campus-wide nomination and application process and a final vote at the May Board of Trustees meeting, it was announced that Mareme Dieng ’20 will be serving a two-year term on the College’s Board of Trustees.