Campus News

Welcoming remarks made by President Robert H. Edwards at Bowdoin's 192nd CommencementMay 24, 1997

Story posted May 24, 1997

To this great Bowdoin celebration of new beginnings I welcome you all -- from the farthest reaches of Maine, from broader New England, from the floods of the mid-West, from the South, the Far West, and from Asia, Africa and Europe. And most particularly I welcome the Class of 1997.

And before we go a step further would the Class please stand. Face east, toward the Chapel, and give a heartfelt cheer for your parents and faculty who have caused the past four years to happen.

A glory of this event is that it is so intensely local -- tied to a particular, special space on earth. Here we are, in this green and beautiful place, at the heart of this ancient quadrangle that a century ago was completed as the architectural entity that is Bowdoin: Massachusetts Hall began it in 1802 -- still at the dawn of the Republic; followed by Maine, Winthrop and Appleton in the next years, which I'm sure felt their 150 years of age to their residents -- many of you in your first year here. The Chapel in the 1840s. Adams, just before the Civil War; the great granite memorial of the Civil War, now Pickard Theater, in 1882; then Searles Hall and this Museum in 1894; and finally Hubbard Hall closed the South end in 1903. The shades of the thousands of graduates who went through this same ceremony must be gathering this morning to watch. From the 19th century: as Duke Albanese has said, Hawthorne and Longfellow, who still touch our hearts; Joshua Chamberlain, who helped preserve the Union -- but always consoles me by having said that, all the travails he experienced on the battlefield were as nothing as compared with those he suffered as president of Bowdoin College. Then into the 20th century and the modern day -- graduates of many races, nations, religions, fanning out across the land as professionals of various sorts, but especially as citizens.

Citizens: That word reminds us of the other glory of a Bowdoin commencement. The idea of citizenship takes us beyond our wonderful local focus to the broader scene -- the panorama that makes this Commencement not just a local, but a national and international occasion. These buildings also carry that broader vision: the Chapel built by Richard Upjohn, who designed Trinity Church on Wall Street; Henry Vaughn designed Searles and Hubbard -- and the National Cathedral in Washington. McKim, Mead and White did this wonderful Museum -- and the Moulton Union -- as well as many of the 19th century landmarks of New York City. Bowdoin's common good has always been a national common good.

It is that broader citizenship you now assume. These are good times in America -- individually, most of us are doing well. The polls show greater optimism among the young in many a year; company recruiters have reappeared on campuses and graduates are finding many opportunities. But the remarks of our eloquent speakers at yesterday afternoon's Convocation remind us that, although this occasion is wonderfully local, and you, our Class of 1997, have secured great individual triumphs, you graduate as citizens -- with obligations to America, but also today to the world.

The status of citizenship unites all graduates, of any academic major or any formal degree of achievement. And, for all America's aggregate national success in terms of rates of economic growth and gross national product, we are in sore national need of citizens.

Almost exactly 60 years ago, a first-year class was entering Stanford University and heard these words:

Citizenship, as Thomas Arnold pointed out long ago, is the second calling of every man and woman...... we begin our labor this year with an old conviction, so sorely tried in the speed and impersonality of the present day, that there is a possibility of insisting upon standards of personal conduct, in public affairs as in private life, powerful enough to bring into existence and to continue in existence, an honest, effective, and purposeful world.
Those words still work today as you begin your new labors. They set a standard for citizenship. They suggest what your four years, in the densities of a Bowdoin education, have been leading you toward in the wider world -- into which we send you today with such pride and confidence.

Now, it has been a Bowdoin tradition since the first graduating class to have members of the senior class address their peers during Commencement Exercises. But before I turn to our speakers, I must sadly recall one student, Hannah Core, of the Class of 1997, who lost her life in July 1995 in a diving accident in the San Juan Island of Washington. A tree has been replanted in her memory, of this vital, athletic young women, at the Farley Field House. We think of her today.

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