Bowdoin College held its Baccalaureate ceremony Friday, May 27, 2016, in the Sidney J. Watson Arena, marking the official close of the academic year. The College’s 211th Commencement will be held Saturday, May 28.
President Clayton Rose presided over the Baccalaureate ceremony for his first time time, using the opportunity to briefly marvel over his first year at Bowdoin, and to offer wisdom for the day’s graduating seniors.
“Your lives have been shaped by 9/11, the global financial crisis, and the challenges facing our environment, to name just three,” Rose said. With this in mind, he continued, “…I offer for your consideration three ideas: objectivity, faith, and joy.”
He explained, “…difficult work will require a combination of, first, being ruthlessly objective about the nature of the challenge and about what is required to make progress. The hardest problems and biggest opportunities are almost certain to be incredibly difficult, and filled with failure and disappointment. Understand and acknowledge this. Do not fool yourself that there is an easy way.
However, he continued, “…you cannot lose faith that there is a way to prevail.”Rose also urged the students to do work that brings them joy, even while he conceded that finding this work can be challenging. “First, it takes us a long time to figure out what our passions are and what this work might be. It takes trial and error, and the path is often full of twists and blind alleys,” he said, adding, “To not seek joy in your work is to sell short your great individual strengths, accomplishments, and potential.”
Joy, he continued, is “the fuel that you will need to go after the deeply challenging work.” Read the full text of President Rose’s remarks.
Voices from Bowdoin’s Past
Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster delivered “Voices from Bowdoin’s Past,” a Baccalaureate tradition, in which he spoke of one of Bowdoin’s most illustrious alumni, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Class of 1825.
Longfellow, it seems, was an upbeat college student. In one of his letters home to his family in Portland, Maine, he wrote, “…I feel far better contented here–far more happy, and far less inclined to be low-spirited, than has ever been the case at any former period…You must not be surprised when I tell you, I wish to not come home. No–not yet!–not for weeks–months!”
When senior year rolled around, Longfellow succumbed to a bit of pre-graduation anxiety. In a letter to his sister, he wrote, “…in five weeks we shall be set free from college…Then comes Commencement–and then–and then–I cannot say what will be after that.” He pleaded with his skeptical father to support his desire to become a writer.
So Foster appealed to family members: “Be gentle. It turned out quite well for Henry and it will work out for your daughter or son as well.” Read the text of Dean Foster’s “Readings from Bowdoin’s Past address.”
DeAlva Stanwood Alexander Prize Winner Matthew Williams ’16
In his address, “Planting our Seeds,” Matthew Williams ’16 recited the precept, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” He admitted that while he would like to plant a metaphorical seed that would one day make a positive impact on the world, he wondered how he might do this if he followed his dream of becoming a poet.
Williams continued, “I say all this to say, I wonder how many seeds we will need to plant in order for a tree to finally grow? It doesn’t matter if we succeed on our first try, or last—the key to our success comes in not being afraid to try. We may never rest under the shade of the trees we plant and that’s okay, it is having the courage to try in the first place that makes a difference.” Read the full text of Williams’ remarks.
DeAlva Stanwood Alexander First Winner Maya Reyes ’16
Maya Reyes ’15 spoke about being inspired by the love she has experienced at Bowdoin. “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,” she said.
￼This year, Reyes added, “has certainly been full of contentious issues. However, the way many of us have dealt with them has made me proud to call Bowdoin my home.”
And the “gift of our education is that it has enabled us to apply our imagination,” Reyes continued. “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,” she said. “This is how we must strive to exist in the world if we believe in a future of peace and justice for all.” Read the full text of Reyes’s remarks.
Keynote Address: Darren Walker H’16
Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, delivered the keynote address, “From Gratitude to Justice,” in which he also spoke about Longfellow. He recited a poem Longfellow wrote when he returned to Bowdoin 50 years after graduating, in 1875. “What passing generations fill these halls, / What passing voices echo from these walls…,” Walker read.
Walker then urged the students to remember it was not just their hard work and talents that got them to this day, but also the support and sacrifice of their family, friends, and communities. “We celebrate the self-made man and woman, pulling himself or herself up by the bootstraps,” he said. “But when I think about my own story—as I’d like you to think about your own story—I find this larger cultural narrative really doesn’t hold up. Because I have learned that we rarely get anywhere on our own.”
Walker spoke about the importance of acknowledging our privilege, the graduating seniors’ privilege, and to remember to use that standing for the sake of the common good. “I hope you will actively participate in ‘bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice,’ as Dr. King said. And given the state of inequality in the world, we need every one of you to assist in the bending.”
He continued, “All of these great privileges you have—these gifts of which you’ve made the most—use them, earn them, expand them….And with this privilege, comes your opportunity. Your chance. Your shot. Do not throw it away.” Read the full text of Walker’s remarks.
The audience was led through renditions of “America the Beautiful” and “Raise Songs to Bowdoin,” by singers from the Class of 2016 and George Lopez, Beckwith Artist in Residence, on piano.
Photographer Michele Stapleton captured the day’s events