During Bowdoin College’s 209th Commencement ceremony, held May 24, 2014, bachelor of arts degrees were awarded to students from 37 states, the District of Columbia, and 15 countries and territories.
President Barry Mills presided over the ceremony, which began at 10 a.m. on the steps of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, where he upheld his Commencement tradition of speaking about leadership.
“In my view, there are two critical components of leadership among all the others you have learned and adopted at Bowdoin: a sense of humility and a sense of humor,” said Mills.
He told the graduates leadership requires empathy, and an understanding both in one’s heart and head of the issues and problems he or she seeks to solve.
“A Bowdoin leader leaves their ego at the door — it is not the volume of your voice, but the power of your ideas. And so, on this very important and celebratory day, I remind us all of our responsibility to lead but also our responsibility to continue to learn and to listen. Listening is a much-underrated element of leadership.”
Mills reminded the audience that among the most underrated components of leadership is the ability to maintain a sense of humor.
“As we seek to lead by tackling serious issues and problems, we must also leave room to not take ourselves too seriously. A sense of perspective and irony are essential.” Read the full text of President Mills’ remarks.
The invocation was delivered by Rev. Robert Ives ’69, Bowdoin’s director of religious and spiritual life. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins delivered the annual greetings from the State of Maine.
As has been the tradition since Bowdoin’s first graduation ceremony in 1806, commencement addresses were delivered by graduating seniors. This year’s speakers, chosen through competition, were James Denison ‘14 and Kate Kearns ’14.
Class of 1868 Prize Winner James Denison ‘14
In a nostalgic look at how his classmates came together four years ago to form the fabric of the Class of 2014, Denison recalls his great grandmother’s handmade quilts, and how each student has brought his or her colors and patterns to distinguish unique pieces among a greater collection of the whole that binds them.
“The idea of collective and personal experiences of beauty, demonstrated by the metaphor of a quilt and embodied in the millions of experiences we have undergone here over the past four years, is an important one,” says Denison.
“In fact, one might even call it an analogy for human responsibility. We owe it to each other to try to create beauty in one another’s lives – to be selfless, or, as the Offer of the College suggests, ‘to cooperate with others for common ends.’ But we also owe it to ourselves to foster beauty and joy in our own lives. As Voltaire suggested, each of us must ‘cultivate our garden.’
“Just as each square in a quilt simultaneously testifies to its own beauty and contributes to the balance and harmony of a grander design, so too must each of us, as we leave this place, continue to strike a balance between individual and communal goals, between selfishness and altruism. We owe it to ourselves, and to one another, to create and celebrate personal and collective beauty and accomplishment, just as we do today and have ever since arriving at Bowdoin some 45 months ago.” Read the full text of James Denison’s remarks.
Goodwin Commencement Prize Winner Kate Kearns ‘14
“I believe in the value of failure,” Kearns began, having shared how she began her Bowdoin experience on crutches after severely spraining her ankle during her pre-orientation trip, leaving her to feel as though she had failed her first Bowdoin test.
“I believe all of this practice boiling down our lives into one-minute sound bites of perfection can lead us to internalize unrealistic images of a successful life,” she continued.
“It creates a narrative in which there is no room for uncertainty, failure, and fear. After I fell on my orientation trip, my own belief in what a ‘successful college experience’ was made me deeply anxious — that my injury was an irredeemable failure and a sign that I did not belong here. Looking forward to the next period of our lives, similar ideas can create a false image of the ‘real world’ — in which ‘grown ups’ proceed perfectly through life in one direction without any bumps in the road.
“And this is deeply untrue. Failure, in big or small ways, will happen, whether we’re fired, we have a horrible roommate, or we feel unhappy in what we thought was our dream job. Our lives will be littered with failures or bumps in the road. Or we’ll be standing in the middle of a four-way intersection and have no idea which direction to choose.” Read the full text of Kate Kearns’ remarks.
Honorary Degree Recipients
Bowdoin awarded four honorary doctorates at the ceremony:
- Mary Bonauto, civil rights advocate
- Christopher Hill ’74, career diplomat
- Richard Prum, renowned ornithologist
- Harriet Wallberg, pioneering physiological researcher
Senior Class Gift
Senior Class President Simon Brooks, of Los Angeles, announced The Class of 2014 Scholarship Fund, which will support an incoming student in the Class of 2018.
Brooks said that 80 percent of the class had already contributed.
“Bowdoin College will always hold a special place our hearts, and, personally, I am honored that we have gifted someone the opportunity of a Bowdoin education.” said Brooks. Read the full text of Simon Brooks’ remarks.
Music for the ceremony was provided by senior members of the chamber choir, chorus and student a cappella groups, who performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Raise Songs to Bowdoin,” accompanied by pianist Alexis Little ’14.