Campus News

Bowdoin Celebrates 195th Commencement

Story posted May 27, 2000

The sun shone bright upon the Class of 2000 as they took their places in front of the Walker Art Building, even if the wind whipped up their gowns a bit.

This commencement, the first of the new millenium, nearly the 200th in Bowdoin's history, also marked the end of a transition at the College. When commencement exercises ended shortly after noon on Saturday, May 27, 412 bachelor’s degrees had been conferred and the era of fraternities had ended at Maine’s oldest college. The last members of fraternities were among the Class of 2000, following a 1997 decision to phase fraternities out and replace them with an inclusive College House System.

The Commencement exercises ended with a tribute to the old system, given by Vincent Vilano, a fraternity member and graduating senior. He praised the tradition, commitment to community service and sense of family often provided by fraternities.

Bowdoin President Robert H. Edwards thanked the Class of 2000 for working with the College during this period of transition and voiced hopes that the new College House System would embody the best of the fraternity system that proceeded it.

The exercises began with greetings from the state of Maine from State Economist Laurie Lachance ’83.

In keeping with a tradition dating back to 1806, graduating seniors delivered the commencement speeches. Naeem Ahmed of Lahore, Pakistan, delivered a speech titled “The Debt of Our Degrees.” Through his knowledge of applied mathematics, Ahmed determined that the value of the four years of education of Bowdoin’s Class of 2000 was about $90 million. He pointed out that every one of these dollars could have been spent for another purpose and that the graduates should realize their debt to society.

“The last century was one of the greatest yet most tragic of human history; it was a century where the human race realized more power than ever before, but unfortunately also abused it more brutally than ever before. The purpose of our education, my friends, is to be active participants in a world that is not marred by the abuses of wealth and power that were characteristic of the last century," he said, "We must use our experiences and sharpened intellects to affect changes for a world where there is greater tolerance, sharing and understanding, and less bigotry, prejudice and violence. This is not ‘your mission should you choose to accept it.’ No, no, no. This is what others’ sacrifices have made incumbent upon us, this is what will lead us to realize the
true worth of our degrees...Remember, anything less would be a waste.”

In her speech, “Bowdoin Knowledge: Reading, Love, and the Pointer Sisters,” Gretchen Selcke of Edina, Minnesota, spoke of the love of family and looking past initial impressions to learn what others have to offer the world.

“The guy from upstairs who was an incurable procrastinator finished composing a symphony this April. The girl who from the first floor who had a tendency to embellish the truth also had an uncanny ability to tell an entertaining story," she said. "I have come to the conclusion that if you give people the chance, they will almost always exceed your expectations.”

Bowdoin awarded honorary degrees to Phyllis Pray Bober of Ardmore, Penn.; former dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Leslie Clark Professor in the Humanities Emeritus; Robert Fagles of Princeton, NJ, professor of comparative literature at Princeton University and national book award nominee for his translations; The Rev. Peter J. Gomes of
Cambridge, Mass., minister of Memorial church and professor at Harvard University; and Bernard Osher of San Francisco, Ca., president of Butterfield & Butterfield auction house and philanthropist. Each of the honorary degree recipients delivered brief remarks during the ceremonies.

Gomes borrowed his words of advice from John Henry Newman, who said there were three things appropriate to say to the young on such occasions.

“Life is short, so get on with it. You have a lot less time than you think....Death is certain. Believe me you will go sooner or later, ready or not....The life to come is everlasting. You will be dead a lot longer than you have been alive. That should give you a point of perspective with which to live the time you have,” he said.

Other commencement participants were Don Kurtz, of the Bowdoin Class of 1952 and chair of the Board of Trustees; Sarah Roop, of Gorham, Maine, as student marshal; Denis Corish, professor of philosophy; Sanford R.Sistare ’50 as alumni marshal; Craig McEwen, dean for academic affairs, as faculty marshal and Rev. Daniel Warren, of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brunswick, who delivered the invocation. Music was provided by senior members of Bowdoin’s a cappella choirs B.O.C.A, the Meddiebempsters and Miscellania.

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