Baccalaureate Student Address: Maya Reyes ’16

A loving imagination: The space to envision a better future
Maya Reyes ’16
Baccalaureate 2016

For the past four years, I have heard many people say that life at Bowdoin isn’t like life in the real world. People apparently act differently in the real world; they are not so kind and worried about each other’s feelings, so we’re in for a big shock. And maybe they’re right—walking around campus is different than walking down the streets of a major city.

We’ve expected more from each other here not because Bowdoin isn’t “real life,” but because we’ve had the opportunity to create something outside of the status quo of i​ndifference a​nd i​ndividualism.​
And based on how much l​ove​ is contained within our community, we’ve succeeded​ in spite of all the obstacles we’ve had as a diverse collection of people.

I felt welcome at Bowdoin before I even arrived on campus. I remember receiving a postcard from my pre-orientation leader, and future friend, Angela, about how excited she was for our trip and that everyone was looking forward for our arrival on campus.

Now, I know quite well that the College probably requires trip leaders to write these postcards to everyone – but that didn’t take away how special receiving that postcard felt. I’m a first-generation college student, and growing up, I didn’t really know many people who had gone away to college — so I didn’t know what to expect from Bowdoin. But, the idea that people at this school, ​hundreds of miles away from me​, were already thinking about how to welcome us, spoke to me about values that I would come to see time and again here at Bowdoin.

Small gestures can mean a lot to someone who is scared of feeling alone in a new and strange place. These intentional gestures don’t happen at every school. Acts of welcoming and acceptance are choices, skewed towards the side of l​ove.​ It was on this pre-orientation trip that I learned about one of Bowdoin’s greatest traditions—​Warm and Fuzzies.

For those in the audience who don’t know, warm and fuzzies are a way to anonymously show appreciation for other people. Everyone on our trip wrote something kind about each participant and slipped it in a brown paper bag with their name on it. I still have the warm and fuzzy that Angela wrote for me. Even though it was anonymous, I recognized her handwriting. “Maya, You are so funny! I love the conversations we have had and your smile and sense of humor brighten my day. The way you got emotional during dinner was beautiful.”

Warm and fuzzies and postcards might seem frivolous, even coddling. But the kindness that I have received at Bowdoin from so many never felt like parenting—​it felt like someone tossing a penny into a fountain on my behalf, wishing something wonderful for me. Each small moment of altruism or care was an effort to make our experience warmer. To make us feel like we are wanted and that we all belong here. Our community is one that strives to build each other ​up,​and that is something I sensed from my first interactions with the College.

We’re in the midst of a historical moment that is on the verge of lovelessness. It’s hard to look at the news and see another senseless attack. It’s harder when you realize you aren’t even surprised. It’s hard to see people begging in the streets, waking up in subway cars. It’s hard to hear songs that promote objectification on the radio, everyday. And this is all part of the real world, b​ut not by necessity.​

At Bowdoin, we are b​rave​ enough to promote an alternative culture—one that is based on caring for each other. And we care for each other by confronting a life that we have taken for granted, by questioning what makes us comfortable. And it is through this struggle that we have found meaning.

What will we take with us from our years at Bowdoin College? This is a different question from what will we remember. For any one of us could write ten speeches about the food, friends, and faculty that will inspire nostalgia in the years, perhaps even days ahead.

But what has Bowdoin College e​mpowered​ us to do?

By creating a place to inspire nostalgia, we have all participated in an experiment. At Bowdoin we hold ourselves to the standards we want to envision for the greater world. The gift of our education is that it has enabled us to apply our imagination. Bowdoin has given us the opportunity to use what I’d like to call a “​loving imagination”​—one where we base our interactions with each person with the intention to listen, understand, and even advocate.

This is how we must strive to exist in the world if we believe in a future of peace and justice for all.
Adopting this framework empowers us to participate in creating a world that makes room for everyone, and extends them the opportunity to feel cared for. Because even though our actions might sometimes feel small and limited, there are ripple effects.

Each situation we are presented with carries the potential for us to act as o​ur most loving selves. Our futures are filled with options, perhaps overwhelmingly so: w​ill we choose to activate the loving memory of our experience here into our daily imagination, or will we choose to relegate it to history​?

If we at least demand from ourselves that we extend love to those around us, we can change the way others see the world, too—as a place with flaws but the potential for a better life for all. The Bowdoin College of today is a laboratory—here we all participate in finding new ways to build a community imbued with love.

This love for our community manifests itself in so many aspects of campus life, our center for the common good, our financial aid efforts, interactions with one another, and our increasing emphasis on uncomfortable conversations are just a few examples. Bowdoin is not separate from the real world, instead it is an e​xtension of future possibilities.​ We are so p​rivileged​ to be part of a community that extends care to everyone that is a part of it.

This year has certainly been full of contentious issues. However, the way many of us have dealt with them has made me proud to call B​owdoin my home.​ When someone in our community feels hurt, there is an outpouring of support. This is a mark of strength; we as a community are strong enough to tackle the issues that the rest of the world often dismisses or doesn’t have time to notice.

These small acts have the memory kindness that has t​he power to extend our future.

Each time I go back home, the loving mark of our community affects the way I see the world. I want love to manifest on the subway platforms and in corporate offices, in waiting rooms and even courtrooms. ​On the wall of the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum in Harlem, there is a mural that Common Good Day Volunteers helped paint. The way we touch the world can continue to be a manifestation of how we wish to see the world—as one beautiful, loving, and thought provoking enough for future generations.

Our Bowdoin experiment has taught us t​here is no one way to solve anything and there is no one problem to solve.​What has proven effective is our will to create a loving community: where every voice is heard and students of every race, class, gender, sexuality, and place have the opportunity to be a part of it.

Class of 2016, we graduate Bowdoin as nodes in an imagined web of kindness that has been lovingly extended to us. Whatever it is we do in the future, we have the option to extend it back. We must now go beyond imagining a more loving future, we must live it in the everyday.

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