Margaret Lindeman ’15, DeAlva Stanwood Alexander First Prize Winner, delivered the student address, “The Bowdoin Goodbye,” at the College’s Baccalaureate ceremony Friday, May 22, 2015.
President Mills, Members of the College, and Guests:
It’s a funny thing about people, or at least the ones I know, that when we get close to the end of something, we spend more and more time reminiscing about how it began. I don’t think a week has gone by this semester without least one conversation with a longtime friend or acquaintance about early Bowdoin memories and our first impressions of each other.
Many of those were hard to pin down. I vaguely remember introducing myself to basically every person I saw during orientation and the first few weeks of our first semester here at Bowdoin.
It turned out there was a theme in other people’s first impressions of me, though, one that made me cringe repeatedly: I was That Girl who would not stop posting on the Facebook group over the summer. …Yikes.
What could be more mortifying? Okay, to those of you who are not members of the Class of 2015, this might be unclear. But no self-respecting 18-year-old wants to be seen as so overeager to get to college that she spends the summer posting on Facebook about whether she should buy a Swiffer, how hard it is to get into classes as an upperclassman, and especially not about how excited she is to get to know her classmates.
Even as a fairly secure 22-year-old, being reminded of this made me uncomfortable. In response, I was self-deprecating. I was defensive. I had my reasons, I swear.
So, one day, I did the one thing that might be even more embarrassing than making all those posts in the first place: I pulled up the Facebook group and started deleting them. I laughed at myself, I rolled my eyes, and then, when I reached June 20th, 2011, and possibly the most cringeworthy post yet, I stopped.
“Our community must resurrect the Bowdoin hello,” read the title of an Orient column by Steve Robinson, which I had shared, with the following comment: “For the record, I plan on saying hi to everyone all the time for the next four years.” The epitome of teenage coolness, right?
Spoiler alert: It didn’t happen. Despite President Mills’ rousing annual call to the incoming first year class to continue the tradition of the Bowdoin hello (or the “genial ‘hi’”), which, as a proctor, I have heard four times, I never quite reached the level of enlightenment required to rise above the fray of students walking across the quad, heads down, focused on their destinations, and say hi to dozens of unfamiliar people. And in retrospect, that might not have been the most effective approach to forming connections with my peers, anyway (although I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t met a couple of gems more or less that way).
I’d like to think that most of us found our own style of “hello,” one that fit with our own personalities and goals. For some members of our class, it was hugging pretty much everyone on campus. For others, that level of extraversion is probably the stuff of nightmares, but we all found some way to relate to and connect with classmates, faculty, staff members, puppies, President Mills, and others we saw walking across the quad.
Four years ago, the Admissions Office collected a group of high schoolers who were pretty smart and pretty accomplished and sat us down in front of the art museum. From there, we each went off and did our own thing. We studied what captured our attention, we made music and art, we played sports, we worked with the McKeen Center, we went on Outing Club trips, we went to parties, we spent entire nights just talking or reading or watching Netflix. We grew up a little, I think, in all kinds of different ways. But the whole time, we moved in each other’s orbits, colliding with each other and sharing little pieces of ourselves in late night conversations, heated debates, long-overdue catch-ups in the Moulton light room, distribution requirements, physics labs…
So, that’s the Bowdoin hello. After four years, we’ve mastered it, in one form or another. But I’ve listened to four first year classes be instructed on how to say hello to Bowdoin, and I’m realizing that nobody has yet told us what it means to say goodbye. I know this isn’t it – we’ll all be connected to Bowdoin for the rest of our lives in different ways, just as we connected differently while we were here. Most of us have probably been telling people ad nauseam for months now just how bittersweet it is to be graduating. We’ve been in Brunswick, Maine for four years, give or take a year here or a semester there, and it’s been wonderful, and terrible, and challenging, and insanely cold, sometimes by turns and sometimes all at the same time. It’s time to try something new.
But just like I embarrassed myself four years ago, I’m going to go ahead and do it again, by sharing a new hope for the Class of 2015 and our Bowdoin goodbye. All of those unexpected connections and the encounters we didn’t miss reminded us, as often as we were willing to be open to it, of the humanity of our classmates, people with whom we didn’t necessarily have a single other thing in common. When we go off to start jobs, travels, graduate school, and other new adventures, are we going to surround ourselves with people who share our specific passions and forget how we coexisted on this tiny campus with hundreds of students from all kinds of different backgrounds who threw themselves into wildly different pursuits with generous enthusiasm?
A couple years ago, someone asked “What does Bowdoin teach?” For each of us, the answer to that question is completely different. We all learned something different, and that is the great wealth of this institution. Each of us did pretty well for ourselves, sure, but when you put us together, we are something much greater than the sum of our parts. To solve the daunting problems that our world will face in the next few decades, we will need scientists who can talk to economists, economists who can talk to policy makers, historians who can help us understand what has and hasn’t worked before, teachers who can make sure the next generation is smarter than we are…the list goes on. We need people with varied passions and perspectives and areas of expertise who can remember that we are all human, and on some fundamental level have the same interests at heart. Bowdoin has taught me that, and I sincerely hope we can be those people.
I’m not the starry-eyed teenager I was four years ago when I sat at my laptop gushing about how much I couldn’t wait to meet all of you guys, but my excitement to see what this group does next is much more genuine. The Bowdoin class of 2015 is capable of accomplishing so many different things, and I am humbled to be a part of this group of people. Whether you move to Boston and live with your Bowdoin friends, or try out that “be at home in all lands” thing, the people around you today will be leaders in all walks of life. So, goodbye for now, but remember: There is so much more that we can learn from each other if we stay open to that Bowdoin hello.