Smithsonian Museum of African Art director to deliver Bennington College address


BENNINGTON -- Distinguished educator, anthropologist, and humanitarian Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole will address the Bennington College class of 2014 at the College’s 79th commencement dinner on Friday, May 30, at 7 p.m. on Commons Lawn.

Currently director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Dr. Cole has dedicated her career to addressing racial, gender, and other forms of inequality.

Dr. Cole is both an advocate and exemplar. She made history when she became the first African American woman to serve as president of Spelman, the nation’s oldest historically black women’s college. She was the first woman to serve on the board of Coca-Cola Enterprises and the first African American to chair the board of United Way of America. In 2010, "Ebony Magazine" listed her among the 100 most influential African Americans, and in 2011, "Washingtonian Magazine" listed her among Washington, D.C.’s most powerful women.

"Dr. Cole is a maker of history as well as an influencer of its course," said Bennington President Mariko Silver. "What better person to address our graduating seniors -- at this time in their lives marked by big, important questions and exhilarating unknowns -- than someone who has made a life of navigating unknown territory and confronting some of the biggest, most important questions of our time."

In addition to 61 honorary degrees from some of the most prestigious learning institutions in the country, Dr. Cole is the recipient of numerous awards, including the TransAfrica Forum Global Public Service Award, the Radcliffe Medal, the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, the Alexis de Tocqueville Award for Community Service from United Way of America, the Joseph Prize for Human Rights presented by the Anti-Defamation League, the Uncommon Height Award from the National Council of Negro Women, the John W. Gardner leadership Award from Independent Sector, the Lenore and George W. Romney Citizen Volunteer Award from Points of Light Foundation, the George Washington Carver award, the Benjamin Franklin Creativity Laureate Award, and the Alston-Jones International Civil and Human Rights Award.

Cole is a fellow of the American Anthropological Association and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the Boards of Trustees of the American Association of Art Museum Directors, Gregory University, in Uturu, Nigeria, and the National Visionary Leadership Project. She is also a member of the Toni Morrison Society, the National Council of Negro Women, and is Professor Emerita of Emory University, from which she retired as Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women’s Studies, and African-American Studies.

Bennington’s 79th commencement celebration will begin with a concert for the community by graduating seniors at the Vermont Arts Exchange, on Thursday, May 29, at 6:30 p.m.

The event is free and open to the public.

Conferring of degrees will take place on Saturday, May 31, at 10 a.m. on Commons Lawn.

For more information, contact 802-379-5116 or visit


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