The College’s annual Convocation ceremony, marking the official opening of its 215th academic year, was held August 30, 2016, in Pickard Theater, Memorial Hall. In his “Opening of the College” address, President Clayton S. Rose took the opportunity to talk about what “an increasingly tumultuous and disturbing place” the world has become, with particular reference to the tragedies that unfolded across the US and the world over the summer.
He talked about the Orlando nightclub shootings in June, when forty-nine people were killed, about recent fatal police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, and about the murder of eight police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, while further afield hundreds more were killed or injured in terror attacks in France, Germany, and Turkey.
Rose said such terrible acts of violence “have combined to create a mounting level of distress, anger and anxiety that is nearly impossible to escape.” But amidst these challenges, he added, there are also powerful reasons for hope. “As I have thought about where Bowdoin stands in these times and what we are uniquely suited to do in response, I keep returning to two fundamentals: our mission and our community.” Bowdoin’s mission, he reminded the crowd, is “to educate and create knowledge,” teaching students to think critically and objectively. “These times demand a willingness to dig deep,” said Rose. “A willingness to set aside seemingly easy and common answers. A willingness to listen.”
Regarding Bowdoin’s other fundamental strength, its community, Rose had this so say: “Our community is remarkable. It is built on a foundation of strong values lived here every day: intellectual curiosity, integrity, respect, warmth, and humility. At this moment in history it is more important than ever to hold dear and continue to live these values every day, and to carry them beyond our campus.”
He ended his speech saying that despite the problems facing the world at the moment, he is optimistic, because Bowdoin’s strengths give its students the ability to “engage these problems in ways not available to so many others.” It won’t be easy, said Rose, but he has no doubt it can be done.
Conflict, tragedy and upheaval of course are not new things, and Dean of Student Affairs Timothy Foster, began his annual address “Voices from the Past,” by reminding listeners what a tumultuous world Bowdoin students faced one hundred years ago, when the Class of 1920 arrived on campus.
“In the fall of 1916, America was locked in a contentious presidential election between Supreme Court Justice Charles Evan Hughes and the incumbent, Woodrow Wilson. Revolution was underway in Mexico, and the border with America was awash in distrust and violence.” The women’s suffrage movement was also in full swing, while much of Europe was engaged in a bloody war, one which American was to join within a few months.
By the time Commencement came around in June 1917, Foster said nearly ninety percent of the senior class had left to serve in the military. He quoted dean and future Bowdoin President Kenneth C.M. Sills, as he urged students to stay on campus as long as possible.
“The College ought not to be turned into a strictly military institution, for a liberal training is essential as never before. From colleges such as Bowdoin the country expects well trained, broad minded, high spirited graduates. And with the traditions of the College behind us, with the heritage we have received from the great teachers of the past…we are facing the coming years of storm and stress full of faith…”
Sills went on to become the College’s longest-serving president, holding the position from 1918 to 1952. As well as being a period of great advancement, said Foster, “it was also a time of tumult on the world stage that encompassed the First World War and the Russian Revolution, Prohibition and The Great Depression, World War II and the start of the Cold War, among many other tribulations.”
Thoughout these times, said Foster, Sills continued to stress the importance of the kind of education Bowdoin offered. “Through it all—the wars, economic misery, the struggle for individual rights, and the very real pressures to abandon the principles and purposes of the College, Sills remained upbeat and confident.” This confidence, said Foster, was “grounded in Bowdoin’s history and in the resilience of youth.”
The Convocation address, titled Seeing, Reading, Translating, was delivered by Birgit Tautz, Chair of the German Department and Professor of German. She drew upon her experiences as a lecturer in German language and literature, and referred to the act of translation as more than just the “linguistic transposition from one language into another. It is also a metaphor, a figure of speech for the ways in which we see each other, read about passed times, and communicate about us, our backgrounds and identities, with people whose experiences and stories are vastly different from our own.”
Tautz talked about her experiences as a newly-arrived immigrant from Leipzig, Germany, which she left twenty-five years ago almost to the day. Although she spoke the language here, she said she had little understanding of the nuances of American speech and culture, something which could lead to misunderstandings. The challenge of learning a new culture is similar to the challenge of translation, said Tautz, as it requires an ability to infer the true meaning of what is being said or written. She encouraged students from the Class of 2020 to think like a translator and “go beyond the original text.”
“In the next four years, you’ll move through the application of rules, the acquisition and affirmation of knowledge, and towards new ideas and projects. In shaping your truths, your knowledge and your life, listen actively. Allow that which seems strange and unfamiliar to unsettle your beliefs.”
The musical interlude was performed by violinist Anne A. McKee ’20 and Alexander J. Banbury ’20 on oboe, accompanied by Beckwith Artist-in-Residence George Lopez on piano. They performed J.S. Bach’s Trio in G Major.