Campus News

Mothers of Bowdoin Grads Earn Their Own Bowdoin Diplomas

Story posted May 29, 2001

This year, two women who have watched their sons accept Bowdoin degrees crossed the stage themselves. They were a few years older than their fellow graduates, but no less proud of their accomplishments.

Sarah Jensen started college at 18 at the University of Maine at Orono, but she left school when she was 20 to get married. When she left, her mother discouraged her from leaving school, but Jensen said she was a typical 20-year-old, determined to do what she wanted.

At 18, Christine DeTroy left her native Germany as the bride of an American soldier. It was just after World War II, and they came to Brunswick so her husband, Pete, could attend Bowdoin on the G.I. Bill.

Despite having left school, Jensen had always felt that education was important. She had urged her children toward higher education, and her son graduated from Bowdoin in 1988. (Her daughter, earned a degree at University of Southern Maine) Though she was busy working and raising a family, she was determined to one day complete her degree.

As a young wife, Christine learned first through involvement on the Bowdoin campus, then through involvement in Civil Rights causes. She earned an associates degree, but her priorities were working on human rights issues (she marched in Washington and Chicago), and being a mother to her seven children (some of whom attended marches with her).

"I think I was hyper-aware of segregation. It was the first thing that hit me when I came to this country," she said. "I think my involvement came from being very much aware of people being excluded, killed, because of who they were, not individually, but collectively. It haunted me that people in Germany hadn't spoken up."

Jensen also had children, then divorced and had to manage life as a single mother. By 1986, she had remarried and begun working at the college. It took her a while to get up the nerve to take a course, she said, but her intellectually-minded husband encouraged her.

Her first course was Local Government Law. It was taught by a guest lecturer who was teaching his first course at Bowdoin. When Jensen confessed to him that she was nervous, he said "I'm scared too, let's be scared together."

When Jensen started taking courses, she was working fulltime in the Government Department, and could manage only one course a semester. A new part-time job with the Classics and Russian Departments allowed her to take two courses a semester, but she ran into trouble getting permission to take classes and had to sit out a couple of years. A move to a part-time job in the library allowed her to begin taking classes again, and she earned her degree in government this year, 12 years after she started taking courses at Bowdoin. She also retires next month from her work at the College.

After years of activism and raising a family, DeTroy found herself back in Brunswick. She and her husband decided to retire in Maine, rather than remaining in Florida, where they had been living. Within a short time, DeTroy's husband had begun auditing classes. She found a job at the Career Planning Center and started taking courses as well. After her husband died, DeTroy decided to continue her studies and earn her degree.

"I think it was a very good bridge for me, to remain mentally and intellectually engaged," she said of her studies.

Her husband was well-read and their conversations had always served as an intellectual outlet, when he was gone, she wanted to keep her mind active and to stay involved in the community around her. For the first couple of semesters, she took one course a semester. Then, with the help of her colleagues and by juggling her schedule, she took two courses a semester and continued working fulltime. She retired last year and has been a fulltime student this year. She graduated with a degree in German and a minor in Africana studies. She was also the winner of the Class of 1868 Prize and a featured commencement speaker.

She has years more life experience than her fellow students, but DeTroy says that her College experience has been very similar to theirs.

"We all agonize over tests," DeTroy said, "I'm struggling as they are struggling."

Also like her classmates, DeTroy has been going through a period of self-discovery. She said she has been thinking a lot about her past and how it affects who she is, and who her family is. (In addition to her seven children, she has 22 grandchildren.) DeTroy is not sure what she'll do after graduation, but said her main interests are working with young people, the peace movement, and the environment.

Jensen has also enjoyed being in class with other Bowdoin students.

"They were just wonderful to me," she said. "They're just very gracious and I was pleased with that because I didn't expect them to be."

Jensen is looking forward to enjoying her retirement, and isn't planning on starting a new career. But she does have the satisfaction of finishing something she stared years ago. And her mother, who lives in Brunswick, finally gets to see her graduate.

"I think she's going to be as proud as the young mothers are."

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