Dr. Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian s National Museum of African Art, delivered the commencement address at Bennington College on Friday, May
Dr. Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian s National Museum of African Art, delivered the commencement address at Bennington College on Friday, May 30. (Tom Momberg)

BENNINGTON -- Educator, anthropologist, humanitarian and current director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art, Dr. Johnnetta Cole, delivered a commencement speech that encouraged students to find courage in their life pursuits during Bennington College's 79th commencement dinner on Friday.

Cole's speech reflected on an address made by the student speaker Maria Jacobson, who said self-doubt, discomfort, confusion and fear were the foundation to her Bennington College education. "My time here both inspired and intimidated me But Bennington seemed to be the place for weird kids, and I felt like I belonged," she said.

During her address, Cole said that students must succumb to their courageous side when in the face of fear, and suggested four ways that they should exercise courage moving forward: Firstly, to exercise courage as they continue to grow up by following their dreams.

"Many of you throughout your lifetime will have as many as four or five careers," Cole said. "As you choose your first, choose courageously on what you feel most passionately."

Secondly, Cole said students should have the courage to change the path they are on. She said it's easy to do the same thing every day, and encouraged students to chart into unfamiliar territory.

"When it was down to the last two candidates for the director of the Smithsonian, I panicked. I asked to withdraw," Cole said. "Needless to say I was convinced to stay in the running I had the courage to work in a position where people report to me who are more knowledgeable than me."

Finally, as a humanitarian, Cole suggested students have the courage to speak up against what they perceive to be injustice, and to have the courage to be of service to others.

On Saturday, Bennington College held a commencement ceremony for the conferring of degrees. The faculty speakers seemed to follow the same theme in their advice to 2014 graduates.

"I asked some of my students what they wanted to hear today," said Sherry Kramer, professor of drama. "They said 'don't lie to us; don't make out that the world we are going into is better than it is; don't be so optimistic about our present,' and so uncertainty is what I want to talk to you about."

She responded that uncertainty is not always the enemy, that there is no insight without surprise. She said most people don't like pressure, but that it's the lesson for the graduating class to take away: "The pressure to be your better self; do do more, see more, care more and give more. Because if you do you will live a life you have chosen: You will have courage to stand up against all the things that don't make sense. You will build a life on solid grounds to withstand life's uncertainties."

Contact Tom Momberg at tmomberg@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg