Photo Gallery | 81st commencement of Bennington College

BENNINGTON — The Bennington College class of 2016 during the 81st commencement exercises on Saturday was reminded of the importance of looking at things from new or different perspectives.

Barabara Alfano, professor of Italian, spoke about her experiences studying foreign languages and literature in Naples, and adapting to the United States when she arrived to study for a PhD in comparative literature with a focus on Italian literature.

"My Italianness took on a completely different meaning for me when I moved to the U.S.," Alfano said Saturday morning, delivering the faculty address. "I had to look at who I was from a new perspective."


Graduates of Bennington have already learned to welcome differences and turn them into opportunities, rather than being overwhelmed by them, she said.

"Tomorrow you will begin your life away from Bennington and you will need to take a fresh look at the world out there, at the situations you will be in," Alfano said. "It doesn't matter whether you are on the threshold of a great career, or you will be waiting tables while deciding what to do in the near future: you all will look around you, and at yourselves, differently."

The college's commencement exercise celebrated 164 total graduates — 162 receiving bachelor of arts degrees and two receiving a master of fine arts degree in dance.

On Friday, students, their families, and faculty attended a graduation concert, a reception and a dinner with classmates. Serving as commencement speaker was Jane Chu, chairwoman for the National Endowment for the Arts. Senior class speaker was Kieran Najita,

Najita's speech during Friday's ceremony, in part, focused on his time at Bennington, a play he wrote for his senior work called "TimeHoles," and the transformation he went through while at the school. Though he and friends were only at the school for four years, "it's not real time," he said, "but a massive, four-year-long TimeHole, from which we are just beginning to emerge, as if from a dream, blinking in the sunlight of reality."

Whitney Marie Davis holds up her degree during the 81st commencement at Bennington College on Saturday morning.
Whitney Marie Davis holds up her degree during the 81st commencement at Bennington College on Saturday morning. (Holly Pelczynski — Bennington Banner)

He continued: "We know, from the fluttering in our guts and the gentle throbbing of our chests that the transformation is happening, always, that we are at the crest of a wave that will raise us up and throw us down again and again until we die. We know it because it's always been happening to us, not just since we got here, but since we were born. This feeling, which seems beyond our comprehension and control, is just the sensation of us noticing and wondering at the pulse of life which we have gathered to observe."

Alfano, who opened her speech by joking that she would deliver it entirely in Italian, said she would leave the graduates with the most relevant piece of advise she could offer. Later, she circled back to the several lines that she did recite in Italian — an excerpt from Chapter 52 of "Moby-Dick, The Albatross," as translated by Italian writer Cesare Pavese.

The passage, in English: "Up helm! Keep her off round the world! Round the world! There is much in that sound to inspire proud feelings; but whereto does all that circumnavigation conduct? Only through numberless perils to the very point whence we started, where those that we left behind secure, we all the time before us."

Wishing students the best, Alfano concluded: "Come back, class of 2016 to tell us your stories. We'll be here, eager to listen."

"You will, as ever, be students of the world and you will bring Bennington to the world," Bennington College President Mariko Silver said in her closing remarks to students. "Remember: you are Bennington. Bennington is you."

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979