What You Know is Powerful
Eve Mefferd '19, chair of the Student Educational Policies Committee, was the student speaker at Convocation 2019. She spoke about the multitude of ways in which Bennington students can get involved and make their voices heard on campus and beyond. "As a Bennington student, protest and change-making are your inheritance," said Mefferd.
Hello everyone and welcome—or welcome back—to Bennington College.
We are living in an exceptionally fraught time, and as students, we are uniquely positioned to leverage our numbers and our perspectives to bring change.
Students at Bennington are doing that every day. Your incredible classmates are advocating for immigrants’ rights, supporting local high school students to become the first in their families to go to college, representing their countries in international governing bodies, and making music, poetry, art, and dance that explores what it means to be alive at a time like this. And we take inspiration from and stand in solidarity with our faculty and staff who share our passion for organizing and making change, standing for a living wage and adequate healthcare.
But, you can only make an impact if you speak up and get involved. You can sit back and complain or you can step up and do something about the issues and injustices you see.
As a Bennington student, protest and change-making are your inheritance. The democratic process has been embedded in this college since its conception. We have SEPC conversations twice a term because we know that education is a conversation. We pursue engaged and transformative learning, and if we see room for improvement, we make that change.
As first year students, you too, will join the proud tradition of criticizing… just about everything. We are not a people who sit quietly, and I love that about us.
But beyond idle talk, there are a multitude of ways to make your voice heard for real—Groups like SEPC, the Student Educational Policies Committee; FLoW, the organization for first generation, low income, and working class students; Resource Generation, dedicated to redistributing inherited wealth; DREAM, the local educational mentorship program; SAEJ, Student Action for Environmental Justice; People of Color Film Club; and many others.
If you see a gap in our student organizations, create your own. Anya in the Office of Student Engagement is a fantastic resource for this, I can’t thank her enough for the work she does.
Because of the nature of a 4-year college like this one, clubs and organizations are rarely static. As students graduate, some groups will end and others will begin. We’ve had everything from beekeeping and backgammon to our current and legendary ultimate Frisbee team. Each area of study has its own forums, events and workshops, which can help you connect with your discipline communities. What I love about Bennington is that we show up for each other. I’ve seen amazing art exhibits and animation shows, incredible dance and drama, and mind-blowing science and SCT projects that challenge me and challenge the way that I see the world. Going to events outside our comfort zones expands our own understanding, and it creates a sense of community and support which is critical for a small campus of 750 out here in the Vermont woods.
Now, I’ve decided that I really only want to communicate two things with this platform. The first is that it’s okay not to know things; it’s okay to still be learning. The second is that what you do know is powerful and you can use it to make an impact.
We are all here because we are creative; we are change-makers. We are here because we’re trying to get a meaningful education. We’re here because we want to make an impact. In each encounter we have, we make an impact in each other’s lives and in the world at large. You can choose to make them positive ones.
There are people here who have the advantage of being trained to perform in exactly this kind of place, and there are people with a wealth of other knowledge and experiences who didn’t get that privilege. We will respect each other here, and respect our rich, diverse, and different knowledge systems. We all have so much to learn from each other, both in our classes and outside, things that no course could teach. Take the time to learn from your peers. Lead from curiosity, not competition. Speak to be understood, not to prove your own brilliance. Ask questions.
You have just as much right as anyone to be here. I’m proud of you all and I look forward to learning from you.
I wouldn’t be the head of SEPC if I say that if you are interested in getting involved, consider becoming one of SEPC’s First Year Representatives. Just shoot me an email or find me on campus for more information.
Finally, please reach out to me if you need support or advice. I’m here to help you and ensure that you are represented. In general, please reach out to your support system here if you find yourself in need of help. There are people here who will listen to you, who will work with you, and who will fight for you.
Thank you so much, and I wish you all a wonderful year.