Commencement 2014: Greetings from the State by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins

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Photograph by Michele Stapleton

Members of the Class of 2014: Tradition is the respect we pay to the past and the light we shine for the future.  When you entered your names into the Matriculation Book, you became part of the great tradition of Bowdoin College.

Now, it is my pleasure to carry out another tradition by delivering the Greeting from the State of Maine.

A greeting, traditionally, comes with a gift.  Wherever you are from and wherever you go from here, may the gift of Maine values accompany you.

One Maine value is civic engagement.  At our town meetings, every citizen has his or her voice heard.  In election after election, our voter turnout is among the highest in the nation.  From our volunteer fire departments to our food banks to our public schools, Maine people pitch in to strengthen our communities.

We respectfully speak our minds.  Whether the issue is the local budget for snowplowing or a campaign for human rights, the people of Maine debate vigorously, yet with civility.

And we keep our minds open to new ideas and differing perspectives.  The scientist and the artist can learn much from each other, as can the acupuncturist and the neurosurgeon, and – yes – even the liberal and the conservative.  But only if we are open-minded and willing to listen to viewpoints different from our own can this learning occur.

Maine is a place of courage.  It was here, in Brunswick, that Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the novel that brought the horror of slavery into every parlor in America and made her the most hated woman in the South.

As our nation’s fate hung in the balance at Gettysburg, Joshua Chamberlain –- Bowdoin Class of 1852 — made clear that the fight was not about conflicting economic systems but about freedom for all.

A generation earlier, Maine Governor Robert Dunlap – Bowdoin Class of 1815 – refused to return a fugitive slave to captivity and defied federal law with this blunt statement: “We do not consider people property.”

This courage is not a relic of Maine’s distant past.  Closer to our time, Senator Margaret Chase Smith took a decisive stand against McCarthyism with her “Declaration of Conscience.”   In 1974, a freshman Congressman named Bill Cohen –- Bowdoin Class of 1962 – cast a courageous vote to impeach a president of his own party.   In 1998, George Mitchell –- Bowdoin Class of 1954 — defied history and brought peace and hope to Northern Ireland.

These values – engagement, conviction, civility, open-mindedness, and courage – are Maine’s gifts to you.  If, in the years to come, you can give something back to this state, the people of Maine will be grateful.

Graduates, to borrow from “The Offer of the College,” your years at Bowdoin may have been “the best years of your lives” – so far.  With these Maine values enhancing your lives and guiding your path, the people of Maine are confident that your best are yet to come.

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