I’m staring one of those big fat numbers in the face. Forty-five. Forty-five years ago, I graduated from Bennington College with a degree in literature. But I remember graduation day as if it were yesterday. I covered lots of commencements over the years as a reporter, but I’ve never been to one quite like mine.
Most colleges line graduates up, two by two, and march them solemnly to front row seats to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance, or maybe bagpipes. Bagpipes make me cry. My Bennington commencement made my older sisters cry, too, but not because there were bagpipes.
By the time I went to college, my parents had died, so my sisters, ages 31 and 38, were, as they liked to refer to themselves, in loco parentis – or as one of them repeatedly joked, “Just plain loco.” So for them, my college graduation was the culmination of four anxious years trying to manage their occasionally wayward little sister - that would be me - long-distance from the Pennsylvania countryside.
I really wasn’t that rebellious, but the first week of school, I gave away my brand new matching skirts and sweaters in favor of long tie-dyed skirts and halter tops. I protested the Vietnam War in Washington. I hitch-hiked to Williams College to perform in plays because starring female roles were easy to land in what was then an all-male school.
I took courses with names like Pictures of a Floating World - about Japanese poetry - and scored my first composition - for lawnmower and amplified potato chip, no less - in a course on contemporary music with Vivian Fine – which brings me to our graduation ceremony.
For our processional, the divine Ms. Fine composed - well, maybe “compose” is the wrong word. Let’s just say she climbed a small tree and, precariously perched, played Beautiful Dreamer on her violin – while we graduates performed, too, by ambling casually toward the Common, murmuring about what it felt like to be graduating. Our percussion instruments: pots and pans.
Sounds very 70s now, but forty five years later I realize how lucky I was to go to a school where curiosity was fostered and experimentation celebrated. Vivian Fine was right. We were dreamers, and I hope today’s graduates can still hear variations on that same theme, even though our teacher - who died in 2000 – will no longer be perched in that flowering tree.