If there ever was a good time ...


No doubt about it: it is hard to leave a person or place you adore.

For me, leaving Southern Vermont College and the Bennington area is not about forgetting or moving on. I carry with me all that we have accomplished together, all that we have been through together.

Leaving does not produce amnesia; if anything, it is an opportunity for both the person who leaves and the people who stay to move forward, forever changed by their experiences. That is why it is so hard; people and places become part of who we are.

And, so it is with Southern Vermont College and the many people I have come to know. All of you make me who I am today and for that, I am deeply grateful. Plus, Washington where I'm headed is residence to many but home to very few.

Bennington will remain our home, literally and figuratively.

Eight years ago on Nov. 18, 2006, when I was inaugurated as SVC's eighth president, I spoke about the number 8 - and its multiple meanings. I set forth a vision for Southern Vermont College. What better time than now to revisit those remarks.

For starters, I am struck by how much we have accomplished. Back then, I pointed out that we all needed to be educational cartographers, helping students find their way. I suggested the importance of connections, coining the phrase "SVC Connect." I shared the need for the college to connect to the community and for the community to connect to the college. Students, faculty and staff needed to get off the hill into the community, and the community needed to come to campus to share in the activities occurring there weekly. I spoke too about the college connecting with the larger world - beyond Bennington and Vermont - to think about and address the larger problems confronting society.

Join me in reflecting on eight ways (although there are many more) that we have realized "SVC Connect." I am grateful to all of our partners who have worked with us to accomplish these connections.

(1) More than 90 percent of SVC students engage in some form of clinical rotation, internship or practica in this community, learning skills that will prepare them for the workplace of today and tomorrow;

(2) Our first year course - Quest for Success - engages new SVC students in thelarger community through a myriad of projects, including at the Veterans Home, local schools and non-profit organizations;

(3) We developed a philanthropy course where SVC students, with help from the Bank of Bennington, give money to local non-profit community groups, learning about ways to serve the community and experience the power of philanthropy;

(4) We launched a campus community dinner project where local families eat dinners on the SVC campus, meeting SVC students and learning more about the value of family dinners, nutrition, and college opportunities;

(5) We have developed improved athletic programs where community members come to see and cheer on our teams filled with student-athletes, many of which have gone to NECC playoffs as well as to regional and national post-seasons tournaments;

(6) We have created a lecture series open to the community where remarkable individuals come to the SVC campus to share their wisdom, including more recently through tap dance and a group Master Class;

(7) We have improved existing space and built new space, using local contractors to help us whenever possible. Many of our faculty, staff and students live in this community, frequenting local businesses, and our prospective students and their families and friends come to visit. This all improves our positive economic impact on Bennington and surrounding counties; and

(8) We have worked with local organizations and the town government to improve our relationship, including a valuable partnering effort to welcome new students and their families in downtown Bennington at the start of the academic year.

As I get ready to move on in October, I have been reflecting again on other meanings of 8. I am leaving after my 8th year as we approach the college's 88th Commencement. We just welcomed a speaker from our first nursing graduating class of 8 students, and our alum explained how that class created the nursing pin we still use today to honor our graduates. That pin has 8 sides, resembling an octagon, one for each of the eight original graduates.

The Gatehouse, which is now part of the college, has 8 rooms, rooms that will be filled with activity as we welcome prospective students and their families and all of you to our magnificent campus.

For the math aficionados among us, 8 is a Fibonacci number, and octets and octosyllabic verse enrich the arts.

In my inaugural address referencing 8's, I alluded to the Beatles' song from my generation, "Eight Days a Week." Yes, it is a love song. But the origin of the title was, apparently, a remark by Beatles' chauffeur made when asked how he was doing.

"Working hard eight days a week," he replied. College presidents need 8 days a week to do their work. For me, being a college president has been a lifestyle not a job, and I have cherished my SVC 8 days a week life.

And I could continue with the 8's and list in detail 8 lessons I have learned as president. I could list 8 items that I hope the college will think about in the coming 8 years. I could identify 8 issues confronting higher education.

Instead, I want to end with 8 simple letters: T-H-A-N-K Y-O-U.

Thank-you to the SVC community for allowing me to be your leader. Thank you to the Town of Bennington and its citizens for welcoming me and encouraging me and enabling me to foster success at SVC. Thank you to the SVC students and graduates who are the reason the college exists and why our work has such meaning. And thank you to all who are reading this for helping me to become my best self. I am deeply indebted to you.

Karen Gross is president of Southern Vermont College.


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