If you know anything about BlogDH, you probably know that we’re obsessed with the Dean of the College, Katherine Bergeron. In semesters past, we’ve: created and played BergeMash (verisons 1.0 and 2.0), our proprietary game that we lovingly named after Dean B; deconstructed her Facebook page; photoshopped her into some of the most bizarre situations; and created those “Keep Calm and Bergeron” stickers you’ve been seeing on laptops and water bottles all over campus.
And yet with all of this obsessing over KBerge, you would think that we had met her before. The truth is that we hadn’t. As KBerge’s biggest fans, while we know that her new appointment as president of Connecticut College is incredibly well-deserved, we were saddened to hear the news that she was leaving College Hill in January. So we decided to reach out to see if she’d be interested in sitting down with us to do a parting interview, as we typically do with graduating seniors for our Last Call column. We were absolutely thrilled when she invited us to her office to chat, and we’re even more excited to present this Last Call of epic proportions. Read our full interview with the Brunonian legend after the jump.
BlogDH: Tell us about how you got to Brown.
Dean Bergeron: A long and winding road. I went to Wesleyan as an undergraduate, and I stayed on an interesting academic path—my first job out of college was teaching at Phillips Academy at Andover. I did that for two years and decided to get my Ph.D. at Cornell in Musicology, partly because I enjoyed teaching so much … Then, from Cornell, I had a one-year job at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which helped me get my first tenure-track job the following year at Tufts University. After a few years, I was recruited out to teach at the University of California Berkeley, where I stayed for a total of 12 years. And then there was something called The Plan for Academic Enrichment at Brown, and that provided the opportunity for both my husband and me to come to Brown together back in 2004. I became Dean of the College in 2006.
BlogDH: What was your best day ever at Brown?
KBerge: I think the most surprising day was when two students, Ezinne Ihenachor and Ralanda Nelson, showed up in my office: it was April Fools Day, and Ralanda was dressed as Ruth Simmons and Ezinne was dressed as me.
BlogDH: What did Ezinne wear?
KBerge: Well, it was in the era of the asymmetrical haircut, so she had her hair styled in the same way, she had large hoop earrings, she had on a white jacket with a short collar, so I think the jacket was matching the jacket that I have on in my picture on the web here. And, you know, I think those were the key features. It was very good.
BlogDH: Did you get a picture with them?
KBerge: We did. I actually don’t have it… But I think may be able to get a copy. [We reply that we definitely do want the picture.] If you poke me … not really poke, but send me an email… yes, an email…
BlogDH: Are you an active Facebook user?
KBerge: Not really, very minimal. I mostly like seeing people… I like face-to-face. I spend a lot of real face time with Brown students, which I think is important.
BlogDH: Speaking of digital media, we’ve heard you’re an active reader of BlogDailyHerald. When was the first time that you read Blog?
KBerge: I think I probably started reading it as soon as it came out [Ed.-fall 2009].
BlogDH: Since you read Blog, we’re sure you saw our post in which one our writers included a video of the monologue you performed. Can you tell us a little about that?
KBerge: Vis-à-vis? Oh, that was an amazing project. It is a piece for voice and interactive electronics composed by my husband Butch Rovan and based on a text by Rainer Maria Rilke—from the “Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.” It is about faces … and our relationship to those people in the world who are faceless—the people that you never see who are in your midst … it’s a psychological drama about our separateness.
My husband and I were living about 3,000 miles apart when he started writing this piece for me to sing. The very first time we performed it was at UC-Irvine: we had never performed the piece all the way through. I didn’t know how all the electronics were going to go. It was one of the most incredible performing experiences … I knew my own part by heart, but as for the electronics, I only knew what might happen; I didn’t know for sure. It’s very rare in life to have the experience of being in the present tense … when you’re not thinking about the future, or about what you just did. You’re only thinking about what you’re doing right now. It was a wonderfully liberating experience of being in the present.
BlogDH: If you could sing a duet with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
KBerge: Sarah Vaughan. Do you know her version of “Every Time We Say Goodbye, I Die A Little”? It’s a Cole Porter song. Porter was a songwriter in the ’20s and ‘30s and many of his songs have become jazz standards. He was also a clever lyricist, and so the songs are very witty but they also conceal a certain sadness. “Every Time We Say Goodbye” goes like this [recites the lyrics poetically]:
Every time we say goodbye, I die a little.
Every time we say goodbye, I wonder why a little,
Why the gods above me, who must in the know
Think so little of me, they allow you to go.
When you’re near, there’s such an air of spring about it,
I can hear a lark somewhere, begin to sing about it,
There’s no love song finer, but how strange the change from major to minor,
Every time we say goodbye.
So there’s a twist at the end [sings the last two lines] … the real emotion of the song happens in this last little moment, which feels like a throwaway. Annie Lenox recorded this song—she was pretty big in the late ’80s and early ’90s—and she sang that song like it was death, and it just killed you. But Sarah Vaughan sings it like this [sings exactly in the way Sarah Vaughan sings the song here]:
It’s incredibly nonchalant. It’s so… coooool, cool, cool, cool. It says: no, I’m not sad.
BlogDH: So, I’m the resident photoshop person on staff…
KBerge: Oh! You’re the person!
BlogDH: I’m responsible for any kind of photoshop silliness. So, my apologies for the past three years for the various ways I put your face on various things.
KBerge: [Laughs.] Oh no, they were great. They were very funny.
BlogDH: So I’ve looked through all of my folders, and I’ve found everything that has your face in it. And I was wondering if you could tell me which one has been your favorite so far.
[Our Creative Director Jason shows her his image arsenal, below]:
[Ed.-Click on all of the chocolates for an amazing surprise.]
KBerge: Well, I have to say that BergeMash 2.0 is a masterpiece.
BlogDH: Can you play BergeMash with us?
KBerge: I think I need to look at your iTunes … and you’re supposed to select at random, aren’t you?
BlogDH: Do you have a favorite artist?
KBerge: How about Regina Spektor?
[We search for Regina Spektor. About ten songs pop up.]
KBerge: Oh, “Blue Lips.” That’s good. How about:
PHP32: Blue Lips: Understanding the causes of hypothermia in school-aged children
BlogDH: What are the three weirdest items you have in your office?
KBerge: Ohhh, I have some wonderful things.
So… this is a valentine. I know it doesn’t look like a valentine, but it’s a single chip. When you turn it on, it spells out “I love you, Katherine” in morse code.
I also have a water whistle from Bulgaria. Have you ever heard one of these? It’s actually a bird call. Let me put some water in it. [KBerge goes into the massive bathroom in the corner of her office to fill the water whistle with…well, water. She emerges and blows on the whistle. It sounds like a bird is whistling.] Dean Vassilev brought it back from home!
And you need a third thing? I have this great button. [KBerge presses the button. It’s like a Staples “Easy Button,” but it has the word “NO!” is written on it. The button yells, “NO!” Then, “Nonononono… NO!” And finally, “No. No. No. NO!”]
BlogDH: Have you ever had to use it?
BlogDH: Can you show us your cape?
KBerge: I don’t have a cape!
BlogDH: What’s a small thing that you’ll miss the most about Brown?
KBerge: I will miss the utter beauty of the magnolias in the spring.
BlogDH: If you could take any class at Brown, what would you take and why?
KBerge: I think I’d take Michael Vorenberg’s class on Lincoln and the Civil War … I’ve heard so many things about him in particular, and how compelling he is as a lecturer. But it is also a moment in our own history that we need to understand more deeply.
BlogDH: What is the most important thing that you think every Brown student should know?
KBerge: I think every Brown student should know how much Brown faculty really care about them. And that means that they should get over their fear and shyness and get to know a faculty member as a friend.
BlogDH: What’s the proudest moment of your tenure at Brown?
KBerge: Working with the amazing students in Music 450, a class on songs and songwriting that I taught with my husband … Another wonderful experience was singing backup vocals for a project that Jonah David ‘13.5 did with incarcerated men at the Rhode Island Correctional Facility.
BlogDH: Any last thoughts?
KBerge: I’m going to miss this place.
BlogDH: We’re all really going to miss you, too.
We really will. Brunonia: as our campus celeb leaves for Conn College, remember to Keep Calm and Bergeron. As for you, KBerge: thanks for everything. “Every time we say goodbye, [we] die a little.”