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Retiring After 25 Years, President Coleman Addresses Class of 2013

Jun 06, 2013

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By Patrick McArdle, Rutland Herald 

BENNINGTON — At Bennington College's 78th Commencement Dinner, Elizabeth Coleman, the College’s president, told the 170 members of the Class of 2013 that they shared something.

“For we are together, leaving a life that has been the world for us and meant the world to us, yours as Bennington student, mine as its president,” she said at the event Friday night.

After 25 years as president of Bennington College, Coleman is stepping down from the post. She will stay on at the school as the leader of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action, but a new president, whose name has not been announced, will lead the school starting with the 2013-14 academic year.

Isabel Roche, the dean of the college, said in her introduction of Coleman that when she came to the college, she brought with her “everything that Bennington stands for.”

“She brought with her to Bennington an appetite for big ideas, the courage to act upon them, and an unwavering faith in the capacity of people to think, learn and act,” she said.

Coleman joked that she had a tough task in offering advice to the graduating class.

“Such advice verges on the ludicrous, coming from someone fool enough to, of all things, follow Peter Dinklage as commencement speaker. Abraham Lincoln, maybe, but not Peter Dinklage,” she said.

Dinklage, an actor and Bennington alumnus who is perhaps best known for his starring role on the HBO television series, “Game of Thrones,” was the commencement speaker in 2012.

Coleman spoke primarily about the school and the graduating class rather than how her life had been changed by a quarter century leading Bennington College.

“At the center is you,” she told the graduates. “Bennington is what you do and what you don’t do, your inquiry, your wonder, your uncertainty, your capacity to see things freshly. What makes leaving such a place bearable is that you are taking the best part of it with you,” she said.

Members of the graduating class spoke fondly of their college Friday. Ben Broderick Phillips, of Concord, Mass., said being a student at Bennington had taught him new ways of thinking.

“(What I got from Bennington was) being exposed to so many different disciplinary ways of thinking that whenever I approach a problem I have to solve, I have so many different perspectives and different ways of looking at it to bring to it now that I just have a much different way of being able to look at things. I think I got that here,” he said.

The sense of community at Bennington is what another new graduate, Gabi Lang, of Cincinnati, will miss the most.

“What’s so special about Bennington is that the academic and social communities are so intertwined that you work with your friends. They’re a part of your work and you’re a part of their work. That kind of collaboration is something I’m definitely going to miss,” she said.

Friends Sara Green, of New Orleans, and Victoria Harty, of Wyckoff, N.J., said it was different things that brought them to Vermont for their college years.

Harty said it was Bennington’s “fieldwork term,” in which students can spend much of the spring semester working on their education through off-campus experiences like an internship or special project,

“It was the opportunity to be able to learn something in the classroom and then go out in the field and become a practitioner in whatever I was interested in,” she said.

For Green it was the dance program and the flexibility.

“I don’t do well with strict guidelines or rules so that was really appealing ... and there were a lot of things that I realized after I came here, why I was here,” she said.

Jason Moon, the senior commencement speaker, encouraged his peers to tell their stories about their time at Bennington for years to come.

“After all, we are Bennington and what we do out there is possibly the best reflection of what happens in here,” he said.