Baccalaureate 2015: Voices from Bowdoin’s Past

Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster delivered “Voices from Bowdoin’s Past,” a Bowdoin Baccalaureate tradition, in Sidney J. Watson Arena May 22, 2015.

Tim Foster240

Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster

Tomorrow, you will graduate; women and men educated in the liberal arts tradition and prepared – very well prepared – for whatever life brings.

Some of you will become teachers. Some will venture into business or become entrepreneurs. Others will continue as scholars, become scientists, or find a profession in the arts.

Many of you will work in a combination of these and other fields.

That’s what Jere Abbott did.

Jere once sat where you sit today — and when his four years at Bowdoin were coming to a close, he knew that something truly special was ending and beginning all at once.

On June 15, 1920 he wrote the following to his father from the Beta House:

Dear Dad,

I suppose that, so far as the efforts of Bowdoin College are concerned, I am now an educated man, so to speak; although I must confess that the process did not finish with an apparent bang when I took my last exam on Saturday.

In fact, I had been so busy that I hardly realized the all-important event until it was well over.

Jere Abbott as a student

Jere Abbott as a student

As I look back over the four years, I am reminded very keenly how fortunate I have been and… what an easy time I have had.

The outside worries that, thru necessity, follow many thru college have not been my lot, and so there was little excuse for anything except good work.

I appreciate these things and also the confidence that you and mother have put in my decisions as to what I should do here. I hope that my judgments have been for the best…

We have been picnicking some lately, namely because of the inviting weather and because Phil and the Doctor want to make the best of the few remaining days before the “clan” separates.

Yesterday was rather hot here – even the usual cool sea breeze that one so often gets… seemed lacking – and so, about two in the afternoon, [we] left for Sebago Lake.

The water proved great and we had a wonderful swim followed by a lunch…then returned to Brunswick by a zigzag course.

This “zigzag” course would define Jere Abbott’s extraordinary life for years to come.

He would go on to do graduate work in science at Harvard, returning to Bowdoin as an instructor of physics from 1921 to 1922.

During the next six years, he studied art and the history of art in France and Russia, and at Princeton and Harvard.

Jere Abbott (center) in Moscow

Jere Abbott (center) in Moscow

In the spring of 1929, he was invited to start a department of fine arts at Wesleyan; and later that same year – at the start of the Great Depression – he helped establish the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

He would serve as associate director of the Museum until 1932 when he was named director of the Smith College Museum of Art.

Abbott Woolen Mill in Dexter, Maine

Abbott Woolen Mill in Dexter, Maine

In 1947, he returned to his family home in Dexter, Maine, and to the family business: the Amos Abbott Woolen Manufacturing Company, serving for many years as company treasurer and as a trustee of Dexter’s Abbott Memorial Library.

Jere Abbott died in Dexter in 1982 at the age of 84. It had been nearly 62 years since he sat where you sit today and wrote with a mix of appreciation and anticipation to his father…

Dad,

I realize that I have you and mother to thank for all this happiness, which has made my life so full of enjoyment here at Bowdoin.

In a small way, I have tried to fulfill my part of the obligation. Whether I have succeeded, only… time will tell.

If life were only a moving picture, we could speed up the film a bit and solve the problem.

Lots of love to you both,

Jere

The words of Jere Abbott of the Class of 1920 – a Bowdoin graduate who was truly “at home in all lands.”

Thank you for listening.

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