When the college you chose is in turmoil - do you stick it out?

I didn't want to go to college. I was sick of school and scared I'd hate it more. I had attended a prep school in Massachusetts where I had taken the SAT four times and felt pressured to get into the "best" school possible. Going to college felt more like a business deal than a personal decision. But when it came time to apply to colleges, my Dad had some unexpected advice: "Take a risk, and go to some place completely different." I did.

In 1995, I was one of 80 freshmen who entered Bennington (Vt.) College. I had wanted a small school, but Bennington was more than I'd expected.

The year before we arrived, Bennington had completely restructured itself. Three out of the 15 student houses were empty. It was as if my class was a group of pioneers entering new, uncharted territory. The school had financial troubles, and some former faculty members were suing because their contracts had not been renewed. When I got there, one upperclassman after the next advised me to pack my bags and transfer before the whole school closed.

I stayed all four years and received a unique education, but it wasn't always easy. One friend left because the college had art classes but no art history; another left because the faculty she'd loved had left.

Previous classes directed some bitterness toward my class for having come to the school in light of its controversial changes. By choosing to go to Bennington, I was accused of supporting the letting-go of the faculty (even if that was never my intention). I also had more personal things to worry about like the school's small endowment. Would it still pay for my scholarship?

Attending Bennington is a risk I'm glad I took because it made me care about my education again. I liked the size of the college and the freedom I was given academically to shape my studies. I designed my own program in political theater, combining study in history, literature, music, directing, and playwriting. Along the way I met faculty that made me look at things in a new way. My directing teacher said I should take a design class. My design teacher introduced me to her sculpture class. Now I want to go to art museums as much as I want to go to the theater. I'm interested in things I never even thought of a year ago.

During my four years, I was also able to try several different career paths through a program called Field Work Term. FWT takes place during January and February, when all Bennington students do internship programs all over the world in the fields they hope to pursue after graduation. I did FWT's in film, theater, and television. For my final FWT, I worked in a publicity office -The Pete Sanders Group -in New York City that publicized Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. I assisted in promoting "Annie Get Your Gun" and "Chicago."

My favorite assignment was when I assisted a press agent in an appearance by Tom Wopat on the talk show "The View." Here I was in New York in an elevator with Mr. Wopat (a former "Duke Of Hazzard"), Fabio, and Tom Selleck. I decided being a publicist would be the coolest job in the world. My internships have given me a solid rsum and lots of good stories.

I was never a statistic at Bennington. Even though the number of students has almost doubled since I arrived, I know all the names and many of the quirks and talents of the people I graduated with this month.

We're ready to move on. And so is Bennington.

*Victoria Perry graduated from Bennington (Vt.) College this month with a concentration in directing and playwriting..

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