Bowdoin College held its Baccalaureate ceremony Friday, May 26, 2016, in the Sidney J. Watson Arena, marking the official close of the academic year. The College’s 212th Commencement will be held Saturday, May 27.
President Clayton Rose presided over the Baccalaureate ceremony for his second time, using the opportunity to reflect on his own experiences, and to offer wisdom for the day’s graduating seniors.
Tolerance of different viewpoints was the theme of Rose’s speech, during which he talked about his old college friend Mike, who remains one of his closest friends today, decades later. “I spent my college Thanksgivings at his parents’ house; they were amazing people and treated me like their fifth son. There is not a Thanksgiving that goes by that I don’t think of them.”
Today, said Rose, one the highlights of his year is an annual summer fishing trip to Montana with Mike and their respective wives. “I am blessed to have a few very close friends, and I am blessed that Mike is one of them,” said Rose. But, he added, the curious thing about this friendship is that “Mike and I are very different in many of our world, political, and social views.”
A friendship like this is important, said Rose, because it forces him to engage more with different points of view, “and consider the ideas for what they are, rather than personalizing them. And when you do that, you come to know that people with whom you disagree about ideas you hold dear, can actually be wonderful.” 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 Laura Hernandez ’17
In her address “Becoming a Bowdoin Person,” Laura Hernandez ’17 recalled traveling from her native Cuba to come and live in the US when she was eleven, accompanied by her mother. Her father had come over a year earlier. She recalled the “throat-clenching feeling of inadequacy” that overcame her the first time she visited Bowdoin as a high school senior. “I felt the farthest thing from being a Bowdoin person.”
Hernandez said she initially felt alienated because of her immigrant background, and didn’t think she would fit in. But she was wrong, as she found out during her first semester. “It only took a few weeks living in Maine Hall as a first year student for me to realize that many of my peers were also struggling to find themselves in this place.”
As she and her peers pursued their passions at Bowdoin, she noticed a change. “Time taught us to dismiss wrong perceptions, to let the uncomfortable become familiar, and to foster appreciation for everything we learned. Slowly, we were becoming Bowdoin people.” Read the full text of Hernandez’s remarks.
Keynote Address: Hanna Holborn Gray
Hanna Holborn Gray, the Henry Pratt Judson Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus and president emeritus at the University of Chicago, delivered the keynote address. She is one of four honorary degree recipients this year. A refugee from Nazi Germany who arrived in the US with her family when she was just four years old, Gray went on to become an acclaimed historian and a pioneering figure in the higher education field.
In an often humorous speech in which she quoted Robert Frost and Pete Seeger, Gray urged Bowdoin’s class of 2017 to show independence in critical thought and judgment: “Your commitment to the fundamental ideals of the College and to their ongoing vitality should make you advocates for the best in liberal education in a larger society that needs to hear and support that.”
Gray, who between 1978 and 1993 was president of the University of Chicago, reminded the graduates that “Education is not, of course, meant to make us comfortable, nor is the freedom to which it aspires. It would be a lot easier not to think or take into account new or different or unsettling ways of what we may have taken conveniently for granted.” Being educated, she continued, should mean having an ongoing curiosity about the world, and a willingness to question established assumptions and embrace new opportunities. Read the text of Hanna Holborn Gray’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.