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Bard Prison Initiative’s 15th Commencement Held at Eastern New York Correctional Facility January 21

Mark Primoff
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.— The Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) celebrated its 15th commencement Saturday, January 21 at Eastern New York Correctional Facility in Napanoch, New York. Bard College awarded associate in arts and bachelor of arts degrees to 55 students, bringing the total number of Bard degrees awarded to BPI students to 430.
This year’s BPI commencement speaker was Jonathan Holloway, Dean of Yale College and the Edmund S. Morgan Professor of African American Studies, History, and American Studies at Yale University. Bard College President Leon Botstein gave the charge to the graduates.
“Your education has given you the gifts of abundance, because it has allowed you to dream beyond your present circumstances and has given you the tools to make your dreams come true,” said Holloway, who will become the next provost of Northwestern University in July.
“Wherever the next stop on your journey takes you, do not dare forget this moment. Do not dare forget to recognize what you can accomplish through determination to improve yourself, and in so doing, improve the lives of those around you. Do not dare break the faith that others have placed in you. Do no dare to let others’ low expectation limit your own vision for what you can accomplish. Defy those expectations.”
Bachelor’s degree graduates completed Senior Projects on a wide range of topics, including the mathematics of convoluted fractals, rural migration in China, postcolonial literature, inequality in American higher education, and a racial history of New Orleans. One of the BA graduates who gave a speech on behalf of the graduating class thanked his family for their support and his BPI peers for helping, collaborating with, and challenging one another throughout the program.
“We have challenged one another in many ways, and our diversity and willingness to learn have made us better students and individuals,” said the student. “We have been given much and acquired a lot during the course of our journey. From here, what matters more than this degree or the process of obtaining this degree is what we do; how we use the things we have learned. I think it is only right that we give back, even a fraction that has been given to us. We have a moral obligation to do so…. I am hopeful because I know my peers. I know that they are passionate and that they will continue to do things to better themselves, their family’s situation, and their communities.”
Since 2001, the Bard Prison Initiative has provided college opportunity inside the prisons of New York State. Begun as a pilot program with 15 students, BPI now enrolls 300 men and women inside three maximum-security prisons—Coxsackie, Eastern New York, and Green Haven—and three medium-security prisons—Fishkill, Taconic, and Woodbourne. In partnership with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Bard’s academic presence within the prison system has increased dramatically in breadth, depth, and scale: by the end of this year, the College will have awarded more than 430 degrees to students enrolled through the initiative.
Bard College is also home to the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison, which assists other colleges and universities as they establish similar projects in states across the country. The consortium currently collaborates with colleges that are working to return rigorous college opportunity to prison systems in Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. The pursuit of a college education dramatically reduces the rates at which students return to prison after release and spreads the benefits of academic achievement in many of the country’s most isolated communities. It affects all of those whose fates intersect in our prison system, including teachers, volunteers, administrators, and incarcerated students, along with their children and extended families. The work can be transformative, and offers the prospect of change that will reverberate through future generations.
The Bard Prison Initiative challenges and expands our sense of community, and its success is a tribute to an extraordinary collaboration among the College, students, and government of the State of New York. For more information, visit:
Founded in 1860, Bard College is a four-year residential college of the liberal arts and sciences located 90 miles north of New York City. With the addition of the Montgomery Place estate, Bard’s campus consists of nearly 1,000 park-like acres in the Hudson River Valley. It offers bachelor of arts, bachelor of science, and bachelor of music degrees, with majors in more than 40 academic programs; graduate degrees in 12 programs; nine early colleges; and numerous dual-degree programs nationally and internationally. Building on its 157-year history as a competitive and innovative undergraduate institution, Bard College has expanded its mission as a private institution acting in the public interest across the country and around the world to meet broader student needs and increase access to liberal arts education. The undergraduate program at our main campus in upstate New York has a reputation for scholarly excellence, a focus on the arts, and civic engagement. Bard is committed to enriching culture, public life, and democratic discourse by training tomorrow’s thought leaders. For more information about Bard College, For more information about Bard College, visit

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This event was last updated on 02-08-2017