ELIZABETH A. CONKEY
BENNINGTON -- Southern Vermont College students were encouraged to immerse themselves in their communities and share their knowledge with the world during Thursday afternoon's annual Fall Opening Academic Convocation ceremony.
SVC Board of Trustees Member Anita Hill made the Aims of Education address to the student audience of about 250, after a warm welcome from SVC Provost Albert DeCiccio and SVC President Karen Gross.
Gross noted that Hill, a longtime friend and colleague of hers, is a role model for students, as she has "spoken truth to power."
Hill, a member of the SVC Board of Trustees since 2009, has taught law and social policy for 29 years. She works as a professor of social policy, law, and women's studies at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.
Through her extensive career, Hill has become widely known as an authority on gender and race issues, especially in the workplace. In 1991 Hill entered the national spotlight when she accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment and testified against him at senate hearings. While Thomas was later confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, Hill's testimony drew attention to the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Hill began her speech to the SVC students by narrowing down her "aims of education" to what she believed to be two of the most important: An understanding of self and the creation of community.
Reminiscing about the 1963 March on Washington, the 50th anniversary of which recently passed, Hill compared the crowd or "community" of 250,000 people at the march, to the students of SVC.
"Today you are a community brought from around the country and around the globe, brought together for the purpose of learning," Hill said. "What you make of it, will, I hope, change your life and the world around you."
Hill encouraged the students to forge meaningful relationships with their peers, both existing and new, to take the time to truly appreciate the value of those relationships and to learn from those around them.
This included, she explained, sharing their "gift" of knowledge with those that might not be as fortunate.
"Whether you know it or not, you have this privilege (of education)," Hill said. "Education is not only about extending yourself, but also about extending beyond yourself as well."
Knowledge, Hill said, is meant to be inclusive, unlike prejudice and ignorance, which are exclusive.
"You have to not only make a commitment to yourself to learn, but to learn from your community and those within your community," Hill said. "Think about how you can creatively use your knowledge to change the world around you."
Hill went on to say that the students' education journey is just as profound as the March on Washington was for the crowd in 1963.
"Today is the beginning of something profound," Hill said. "It has potential to be monumental."
Following the speech, Hill said it felt good to address the students and set a positive, motivated tone for the new school year.
"I hope they can make promises to themselves and set goals," she said. "Really ask themselves, "What is this term going to be about?'"
Hill's speech was seemingly well-received by the students in attendance.
SVC Junior Katherine Grayson said she felt Hill's speech was very encouraging.
"I appreciated what she had to say about creating community," Grayson said. "You can be in a room full of people and feel very alone if you don't know any of them. It's definitely an important concept (creating community). I was honored to sit through her speech."
Tenzin Dhekyong, a sophomore at SVC, was equally as impressed with Hill's address, noting her interest in the "understanding of self" aspect of the speech.
"Knowing yourself and really understanding what you believe in is so important," she said. "I really liked what she had to say. It was definitely motivating and a good way to start the year."
Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @bethconkey.