Students Add Their Names to Bowdoin’s History

Bowdoin’s archives holds several bound volumes containing line after line of signatures by students. Throughout the College’s history, first-years have signed these matriculation books soon after arriving on campus to mark their official start as Bowdoin students.

It is also a tradition for the president of the College to oversee this signing ceremony. In the days leading up to Convocation, when Bowdoin officially starts the academic year, groups of students from the Class of 2022 filed into President Clayton Rose’s office to sign the latest volume, open on one of the antique desks.

“Welcome, greetings, welcome, nice tie!, how are you, greetings, nice to see you, let’s keep moving here,” Rose said yesterday, standing in his doorway as students from Moore Hall filed into his office.

While students took turns writing their names in the matriculation book, Rose spoke about the history of the College, pointing to artifacts in his office that reflect the school’s past. He noted, for example, the refurbished desk used by President William DeWitt Hyde, who wrote in 1906 the “Offer of the College.” Students signed a matriculation book on the desk of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Class of 1825. Rose pointed to a framed photo of Martin Luther King Jr., taken when King visited Bowdoin in 1964 to give a speech in support of the Civil Rights Act. He pointed out a few signatures from accomplished alumni in the matriculation books, including Joan Benoit Samuelson ’79, Geoffrey Canada ’74, and Reed Hastings ’83.

Rose also fielded questions from students who asked him both personal questions (what’s his favorite spot in Maine? Why did he pursue a PhD halfway through his career? Why did he want to be president of Bowdoin?) and questions about the school. Rose invited students to visit him during his office hours any time to discuss these and other questions they had.

After a student asked what Rose considered to be an under-utilized resource at Bowdoin, Rose paused and then responded, “I’m going to answer that in a roundabout way, or answer a slightly different question.” He then urged students to try something new, even while pursuing the interests they bring with them.

“There are a bazillion things to try: do dance, or do any art, or try something athletic you have never done, or if you have never been in the outdoors, go to the Outdoor Leadership Center,” Rose said. While he acknowledged that it is easy to stick to a comfortable routine, especially when you have academic work to complete and need time to rest, he urged the first-year students to embrace exploration. “Find a way to bust out,” he said, “because there are so many things to do.”

Photos by Fred Field

***** Matriculations from the past *****

The George J. Mitchell Department of Archives and Special Collections, in Bowdoin’s library, has five matriculation volumes. The first two contain names of students and cover the classes of 1806 to 1902. Starting in 1841, with Volume 3, students began signing their own names. This tradition ended in 1852, but resumed in 1872. Again abandoned in 1902, the custom was revived by President Sills in 1937, continuing unbroken to present.

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