BENNINGTON -- A Buddhist priest welcomed about 175 freshmen at Southern Vermont College’s annual convocation Thursday and asked them to open their minds and their hearts.
Thomas Redden, a professor of history and politics at SVC the past dozen years and a Zen Buddhist priest, first asked the audience who gathered in the courtyard of Everett Mansion to take a few minutes to meditate and clear their minds.
"As we slow our bodies, slow our minds ... we can sit quietly. We can be relaxed in the world as it is. And in the process of slowing down our minds and our emotions, hopefully our hearts can open up. One of the goals of education, it seems to me, is to open our hearts to all that is around us."
Love and balance
The topic of SVC’s commencement address delivered by a different person every year is always the "Aims of Education." Redden, wearing the traditional robe of a Buddhist priest as he sat in front of the crowd, said two purposes of education are to teach people to love others, and how to balance often a life that is so often hectic in today’s busy society.
"When we talk about the goals of education, it seems that a central goal is how to live our lives. And balance, it seems to me is a central component of living our lives well. With the fast pace of life that we have in front of us, all around us, we need to learn, it seems to me, to slow down. To be quiet. To actually not talk. To once in a while not have an opinion," he said.
Redden also told students they have to not only accept diversity but celebrate it. They must have opinions but be willing to accept others. The education students receive at SVC will create significant opportunities and statistically increase the likelihood of their future success, but Redden said what is learned in text books alone is not enough. "Knowledge coupled with wisdom, that’s what makes people happy. That’s what makes people be human," he said.
The convocation was the unofficial beginning of the academic year, although freshmen were greeted on campus Tuesday. Among other "First Day" activities at SVC was an introduction to downtown Bennington.
Through cooperation with the Better Bennington Corp., all freshmen were given vouchers for a free appetizer, entree and dessert from a number of participating downtown restaurants and shops.
"Our goal was to get them to really see what the variety was downtown and that they’re invited downtown," said Mike Goodwin, assistant dean of students and director of counseling. With maps of the different businesses on Main Street, nearly 200 students took to the sidewalks and bounced from one restaurant to another for each different course.
In addition to positive feedback from the students, businesses also appreciated the traffic they saw, said John Shannahan, executive director of BBC. The businesses were able to cash the vouchers in for reimbursements from the college to cover their costs.
Shannahan said Tuesday’s event was a pilot idea of what he would like to see for all of the colleges in town, which by next fall will be five with the addition of Northeastern Baptist College a list that already includes Bennington College, Community College of Vermont, SVC and a satellite program of Vermont Technical College.
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