Roads, Changes, and Commencement Speakers

By Celene Barrera '15

     For the past two years I have been using the same path to walk to Jennings. The gravel road by the Woo Houses turns into either cutting through the meadow or walking by Orchard housing and the Deane Carriage Barn. There are hills on either way. I pick a path based on what shoes I’m wearing. That is what life has been like for the past two years.

     But the other day I found myself in a strange predicament: I needed to walk to Jennings from CAPA. I knew there was a path—or, at the very least, I had convinced myself there was one because I’d been distracted many a time by a student walking past CAPA while in a class there coming from one of these paths. Daring to dream, I found that there was indeed a convenient path from CAPA to Jennings. In fact, there were two: I could either cross to my left and conveniently end up on the grass intersection I normally took to Jennings, or I could take the path to my right and go straight from CAPA to Jennings.

     I frequently experience very cliché situations. Chalk it up to many a romantic comedy watched. Pausing at this crossroads, I was reminded of a Robert Frost poem. You know the one. I’m going somewhere with this, so don’t roll your eyes and stop reading now.

     Bennington College is no stranger to the road less traveled. It was founded at the height of the Great Depression, it doesn’t do majors and most of our buildings are named after barns. We do not have Greek life yet foster active and almost fiercely loyal house communities. Eighty-one years and Bennington traditions are lived and created every day.

     But the best thing about Bennington College—at least in my eyes—are the people who inhabit these 550 acres. Talk to a Bennington student about their work or what they study and simultaneously brace yourself for at least a five minute conversation. At Bennington, education is viewed as a process yet genuine labor with roots in collaboration and conversation.

     Like all good ideas, something is bound to go astray. And so Bennington College like any other aspect of this world has problems. Shortcomings include a weak endowment, an opaque Administration, and deteriorating building infrastructure. Criticism of the College is rooted in both concern and resentment. This institution harbors the extremes of human emotions—in the moments of Sunfest, Midnight Breakfast, and Senior Shows, life seems so utterly Bennington: unique, vibrant, and welcoming. Yet the bad is almost horrifying. Take the example of Greenwall, where students push and shove to get a piece of paper signed. It is apparent in a convoluted and barely resurrected Judicial Committee and visible in the confusion about what it means to have a Plan complete with academic inquiries. Good, bad, in between. C’est la vie, Bennington style.  

     On May 3rd, the College announced President Elizabeth Coleman would be the 2013 Commencement Speaker. I cannot claim to know the feelings of the senior class. My knowledge is limited: I read the email chain following the announcement, and though the BFP offered a space in the paper for some senior perspective, we received no submissions. It is almost disappointing that at the end of the day, our lines of communication so frequently championed can appear fraying and non-existent. It reminds me that perhaps our “conversations” have become as second nature to us as my Jennings path has been for me. Maybe it’s time for a restructuring, and maybe it’s not. All I can offer is a gentle reminder that though the College may experience great change in the coming seasons, it is important to remember that Bennington was founded on such divergent and fundamentally progressive paths that we should not let ourselves become polarized, upset, and disjointed when what we know is challenged and questioned. As the saying goes, we’re all in this together.

Malia Guyer-Stevens