New Bennington College students encouraged to take risks, expand horizons

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BENNINGTON — When it comes to college, expect some "swerving."

That's how literature faculty member Michael Dumanis at Bennington College's convocation Tuesday morning described what new students at Bennington College might get from their educational experience.

Dumanis was one of five speakers who welcomed about 200 new students, encouraging them to explore, get out of their comfort zones and use their time at the college to help shape the larger community.

"Nobody knows the person you're going to become," Dumanis said. "You won't know what you're looking for until you find it."

He told the students to let themselves wander, and give themselves permission to be overwhelmed.

Every new student comes onto campus with a set of expectations — expectations that will not be met, he said.

"The reality will be richer and stronger," he said..

He recalled students who drastically swerved, changing their paths in college — from the textile major transfer who ended up writing a poetry thesis in additional to senior anthropological research to the student who came to the college to focus on poetry and wound up discovering modern dance.

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Sometimes, such challenges are frightening.

He advised students to "charge at that challenge with great force," as even failure can teach important lessons.

Faculty and staff at the college, he said, are there to give students tools to formulate questions that will help them determine where they're headed.

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Isabel Roche, provost and dean of the college, described the college's faculty as having "productive restlessness."

She told the gathered students to expect to be challenged and pushed, and be asked questions that only they can answer — like what truly interests them.

Bennington College's educational goals are best served by demanding active participation of students, said Mariko Silver, president of the college, reading from the college's commencement statement.

Eve Mefferd, of the class of 2019, encouraged students to understand their power to shape both their school and the broader community, including the town of Bennington.

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"Care for each other, and let that caring be radical," she said.

"Every human on this campus is here to teach you something," said Holly Andersen, project manager at the college. "We are here to learn from you too."

To cheers, Andersen told the students about the college's work to conserve natural resources with projects like a recent agreement to purchase about 75 percent of its electricity from Vermont-based solar arrays.

She encouraged students to help in that effort with small changes like turning off lights and recycling, to come together to help create a "critical mass" of change.

She also encouraged them to seek out resources, especially those who are first-generation college students, as she was.

"I hope you get to become more of yourself here," she said. "Welcome home."

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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