BENNINGTON -- About 200 freshmen were welcomed at Bennington College's convocation Tuesday with encouragement to explore the unknown and embrace their passions even if they are not aligned with conventional wisdom.
Speaker Oceana Wilson, director of library and information services, told the audience that going against conventional wisdom has been a theme at Bennington College since it opened in 1932 with a class of 87 students.
Plans for the college were brought forward in 1929 just before the stock market crashed and the United States entered into the Great Depression. Yet, the founders did not scrap or delay plans to open a progressive,
"Everything is possible"
"Logically, Bennington College shouldn't exist. But here we are," Wilson told the packed audience of students and staff inside the Usdan Gallery. "Bennington stood at the precipice of conventional wisdom and leapt. And the wisdom of Bennington is the knowledge that there is a space created in between taking off from the ground and touching back down, and in that space everything is possible."
Wilson, a recipient of the national "I Love My Librarian Award" in 2009, told the audience one of her favorite stories about the college was told to her by an alumnus from the 1950s. At that time, there were 300 beautiful elm trees lining the college's main drive. The trees became infected with Dutch elm disease and years were unsuccessfully spent researching ways to save the trees. On the morning the trees were to be cut down, Wilson was told, a man was seen with his hands clasping one of the trees, his head down.
Wilson, who admitted she often romanticizes stories about the college, said she believes the man knew he could not save the trees but stood by the them anyway.
"In that moment he knew he couldn't save the trees. He couldn't save a single one. What was important is that he knew and he stood there anyway," Wilson said. "This embodies so much of what I've come to understand is fundamental to Bennington. Bennington embraces the challenges of what is difficult, what is complex, what is beautiful, what is unjust, what matters. Bennington embraces these challenges in equal measures of passion, creativity, tenacity and intellect. One does not come to Bennington to be lulled, to follow a prescribed path, to do what is easy and conventional."
As students begin their college careers, Wilson said she hopes they too embrace the journey.
"Convocation and commencement are the bookends of your academic journey," Wilson said. "We start together at a time of beginning and we'll end together at a time of beginning. To the class of 2016, you leap now, you'll land four years from now. Embrace the possibilities in between. Know that Bennington College will enlarge not only your mind but also your heart and your Bennington education will be a love affair, or a lover's quarrel. Or perhaps, and I think most ideally, it will be both."
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