could I ask you to demystify the admissions process a little bit? do admission counselors review and make decisions about applications, or is that a separate committee? thanks :)
- - initiate demystification process - - >
To answer your question directly, yes - our admissions counselors (who you may or may not know and love - but you should!) spend so much damn time reading and listening to and watching and looking at all the beautiful things applicants send us. It’s their job, and their job only. I am constantly amazed about the excitement and rigor they all bring to the process.
At this very moment, they’re all locked in an office together doing the dirty deed of finalizing the admissions process for this year. Look at them!
Bennington’s admissions process is, first and foremost, holistic. When looking at an applicant, the primary objective - on tour, in an interview, or quietly reading your essays - is to get to know you. Not “you” as an SAT result, or “you” as a high school transcript. But YOU, as a living breathing and singular prospective addition to Bennington.
“The plays are a of byproduct of what we do. What we do at Signature is relationships.” J. Houghton P'17
James Houghton P'17, founding artistic director of Signature Theatre in New York and director of the drama division at the Juilliard School, discuss how artists use their vision and creativity to transform people and communities, and why the the world should embrace artists as the bold entrepreneurs they are.
We are back on an extremely snowy and cold campus after our seven week Field Work Term internships. This winter I was in Portland, Oregon working with the Nike Foundation. When I was thinking about what I wanted to do for Field Work Term this fall I knew I wanted to get a new angle on the work I’ve already done in Kenya. Most of my experience with NGOs (non-govermental organizations) and CBOs (community-based organizations) has been on the ground work, which I absolutely love, and last year for FWT I worked for an NGO called the Africa Yoga Project, for which I worked remotely from home. I was in contact with National Geographic, USAID, and the Nike Foundation throughout the fall. I wish I could have done all three, but when it came time to decide I chose the Nike Foundation. I think what made the decision for me is that the Foundation solely focuses on adolescent girls and girls and women’s issues are of particular interest to me.
My friend Sam and I had spent the fall “manifesting” Portland as our FWT 2015 destination. It was mostly a joke, but also it worked so now I’m a believer in the power of manifestation. She worked for a local author in Portland and we lived together in an adorable airbnb and were frequently visited by our host’s adorable (but also kind of gross) pug, Stubbs. We quickly fell into the routine of an old married couple and loved it.
I really didn’t know what to expect going into my time at Nike. I had never worked in that type of environment (the foundation in on the Nike World Headquarters campus). All the buildings on the campus are named after famous athletes. The foundation is in the Mike Schmidt building (don’t worry I also had to google him). Every day, as I walked into my office I was greeted by a plaque with a Mike Schmidt quote that read: “Any time you think you have the game conquered, the game will turn around and punch you right in the nose”. It was hard not to laugh/cry at this coming from the nurturing Bennington environment. I expected to do most of my learning by observing while at the Foundation. I knew I was pretty out of my league and didn’t feel super confident in what I had to offer. However, I quickly realized that I would be contributing much more and in much more meaningful ways than I had anticipated.
On my first day my supervisor pulled me into a meeting where our team was discussing potential partners in India. We heard a presentation about several organizations and key issues, then discussed which groups and projects could be potential partners for Nike. I was immediately asked for my opinion and had a vote when it came down to deciding on organizations. This day and meeting really set the tone for the rest of my time at the Foundation. My main project was to do research and write a paper/brief on girls doing domestic work in developing countries. I spent most of my time working on this and also got to sit in on and participate in many meetings. My final product was a 25 page research paper and a presentation on my findings. It was incredible to leave my Field Work Term having completed something significant and tangible for both myself and the organization I was working for. I also made so many connections with people who have lots of experience in the field who will be excellent connections for me in the future as I move forward.
We all have great conversations almost every day. But there are some conversations we have that are powerful enough to describe an entire chapter of our lives.
This is a picture of me receiving the National Literary Award for my novel in 2009 from Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president of Sri Lanka. The award, previously won by other Sri Lankan authors such as Michael Ondaatje has reputation of an average recipient age of 50. I’m the youngest National Lliterary Award winner in the world. When I walked up to the stage there was applause suddenly paused by a searing silence. Everyone was surprised to see how young I was.
The conversation I’m having in this picture was no longer than 15 words but looking back, I realize it defines my entire childhood.
The President: “How old are you?”
Me: “Sixteen, sir”
The President: “How old are you, really?”
Me: “I really am sixteen, sir”
When I published my first novel at the age of fourteen, (after being rejected by several publishing houses that said they “don’t publish books written by kids”) I received all kinds of criticism. Titled Colombo Streets, my book was based on the lives of children (like myself) growing up with the war in Sri Lanka. While the book sold out 3 editions in a year, became a national bestseller and received many great reviews, there were also many people in my country who argued that children/ teenagers should not be allowed to publish work about sensitive topics such as ongoing wars and civil conflicts. Some were so infuriated that they created entire hate-blogs on my writing. “A word of advice to parents: Encourage your children to read first, buy them books, rather than let them publish their book. They will thank you for it, when they are ready to write their novel as adults,” one of the bloggers wrote. I never quite understood why people believed my age should keep me from publishing my work.
I think back to this conversation every now and then. The reason I treasure it so much is because it reminds me of who I really am. How I learnt to break conventions at such a young age, and how I should never let anything; may it be my age, gender, or the color of my skin; hold me back from living my dreams.
I’m eternally grateful to this conversation. Because I truly believe, it is what brought me to Bennington.
You say a lot of smart stuff... Do you have any advice for someone who's been rejected from their dream university? I can't stop ugly crying and it's a little pathetic but I'm sure I'm not the only one.
Awww! Well. First: thanks! And second: let. me. tell. you. about. that. feel. I. KNOW IT. When I was applying to colleges I got rejected from not one but both of my top choices. Well. That’s not exactly true. I got rejected from one. The other basically told me not to even bother applying; it was never gonna happen. (they will both remain nameless).
I was crushed. I hadn’t so much put all my eggs in one basket as I had imagined how that basket was the most perfect basket and I imagined the great, future lives of all my chickens after they hatched, having been raised in such a great basket. Wow this metaphor is really going places. Anyway - suffice it to say I had planned in great detail how amazing a person I would be upon graduating from this college that was Definitely For Me.
And then they were like oh we’re DEFINITELY NOT FOR YOU.
So here’s me. Crushed. Not knowing who I am anymore because that possible world full of greatness and opportunity is dashed, but eventually it started to dawn on me that… they were right. They were so, so right. That college wasn’t for me and whether they knew that outright and did me the favor or they just actually thought I was a dumb-dumb or whatever ends up not mattering because… I didn’t belong there. For a bunch of reasons, but not the least of which being: if they couldn’t see the things I was going to bring to that school, the way I would have changed it–as opposed to the way it would change me–how I would affect their community–as opposed to the other way around–how I may be different and giving as opposed to a “good fit” or a drain on resources–then they were right. Not only do I not belong… I don’t want to belong. Neither they nor I realized it quickly enough: they needed me more than I needed them.
So I took my passion for learning and creating somewhere else. And going to the college I ended up going to (Hi, @benningtoncollege!) was one of the greatest things to ever happen to me.
I’ve often said that if I ever become rich and famous, with scads of disposable income, Bennington will get some of it, sure but I will also fund some absurd tree planting or library-wing-building initiative or Totally Unnecessary Noise Music Studio at that place that rejected me because they helped me realize two very important things. One: I am not the buildings I spend my time learning in, I am the set of actions and beliefs and habits which result from a process of learning that happens always, everywhere. And two: We think, in so many turns, we know exactly who we are and the world has many ways–some of them cruel–of telling us we don’t. Learning those lessons is often hard, but resisting them is always harder.