Bowdoin celebrated its highest ranking students at the College’s annual Sarah and James Bowdoin Day Friday, October 21, 2016. The ceremony was held in Pickard Theater, Memorial Hall.
Sarah and James Bowdoin scholarships are awarded each fall on the basis of work completed the previous academic year. They are given to the top 20 percent of students who have the highest grade point average based on last year’s academic work. Each scholar who earned a GPA of 4.0 also receives a Book Award, which bears a replica of the early College bookplate found on books in the Library’s James Bowdoin Collection. In this year’s ceremony, 236 students were named Sarah and James Bowdoin scholars, and twenty received of them received Book Awards.
President Clayton Rose, in his welcome address, said that the honors being offered on this day “are not easily earned. Ours is a rigorous academic program,” he continued, “with standards of excellence that are challenging and expectations set by faculty that are very hard to meet. The outstanding level of achievement demonstrated by these students requires intense focus, a deep pride in one’s work, and a passion for learning, and it warrants our full appreciation and great celebration.”
The annual fall ceremony includes two addresses, one by a highly recognized practitioner in a liberal arts discipline, and the other from a distinguished Bowdoin student. This year’s guest speaker was Bowdoin College’s own Assistant Professor of Government Barbara Elias Klenner. Liam Taylor ’17, a two-time Book Award winner, gave the student address.
Elias, who came straight to Bowdoin after receiving her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, specializes in US foreign policy, international relations, and the Middle East, and is currently on academic leave from the College. Her speech was titled “Resisting Binaries: The Case for Political Complexities.” In it, she encouraged students to be wary of the increasingly simplistic way in which politics is presented in binary terms, such as East-vs-West, or right-vs-left. “In keeping with the tradition of the liberal arts, we can instead do the hard work of embracing complexity, finding intellectual strength in the numerous grey zones rooted in between black and white categories.
“Furthermore,” she adds, “the way that we are getting our information these days is hardening our tendencies towards these sorts of simple categories.” Cables news channels tend to present information to their audiences in binary terms, said Elias, where we see “one side vs. another, usually conservative vs. liberal, to frame and explain the news.” It is “absurdly limiting,” she said, to try to understand politics only in those bipartisan terms. Elias also said that not only is it “unnecessarily narrow” to view the world in such a two-dimensional way, “but it is frankly boring after a while.”
Liam Taylor is majoring in biology and computer science. “When you slam those two things together, some really interesting stuff pops out,” he said in his speech, called “Attention and the Life of the Brain.” Taylor discussed how the study of these two disciplines has helped him understand “the patterns of high level systems that control the brain.” One aspect of human behavior that computer scientists are trying to come to grips with, said Taylor, is something called “Executive Control,” which refers to our ability to be highly focused and solve complex problems. However, some have observed that the ability of the human brain to stay focused in this way, “directed attention” as it’s called, is a limited resource, said Taylor. But, he pointed out, researchers have identified a way of recharging the human brain and “healing our bank of directed attention,” and that is to spend time outside, communing with nature. “As turns out, more than absolutely anything else, we need time with nature to heal our attention spans,” said Taylor, who is a keen ornithologist. “Natural things draw our attention in automatic, quiet ways,” he added, “and allow us to replenish whatever biochemical currency lets us direct our focus.” Read the full text.
The Almon Goodwin Prize was awarded to seniors Aliya Grace Feroe and Danielle Haas Freeman. This award is presented to one or more members of Phi Beta Kappa chosen by a vote of the Board of Trustees of the College. Other Phi Beta Kappa members from the class of 2017 are:
Mariette Rose Aborn
Olivia Catherine Cannon
Clarissa Gaylord Hunnewell
Marisa Jane O’Toole
Kate Shapiro Powers
Nicolas Aleksei Winter Selemon
Liam Ulysses Taylor
Julie Renee Eyraud ’16 was also elected Phi Beta Kappa.
For the ceremony’s processional, pianist Matthew Maguire ’19 performed The Water Music Overture by George Frideric Handel, and he performed Franz Joseph Haydn’s Sonata in E-flat Major for the recessional. He also accompanied the singing of the alma mater, “Raise Songs to Bowdoin.”
Bowdoin began recognizing James Bowdoin scholars in 1941 to honor undergraduates who distinguish themselves by excellence in scholarship and to commemorate the Honorable James Bowdoin III (1752-1811), the College’s first patron. James Bowdoin III–who asked that the institution be named after his father–was an agriculturist, art and book collector, and diplomat who served as Thomas Jefferson’s minister plenipotentiary to Spain.
By faculty vote in 1997, this commemorative day and scholarly distinction were changed to recognize both Sarah and James Bowdoin, who were married from 1780 until his death in 1811. Like her husband, Sarah Bowdoin gave many gifts to the College, including most of the Bowdoin family portraits which were bequeathed to Bowdoin College upon her death.