Campus News

Bowdoin Celebrates Annual Baccalaureate

Story posted May 24, 2002

Bowdoin College hosted its annual Baccalaureate exercises today to mark the official closing of the academic year and celebrate the College's 197th Commencement (to be held tomorrow, Saturday, May 25). The Baccalaureate was held at First Parish Church.

Addresses were delivered by Dr. Kenneth Paigen, director and senior staff scientist at The Jackson Laboratory, and graduating senior Phillip J. (P.J.) Prest of Potomac, Md. Barry Mills '72, president of Bowdoin, presided over the exercises.

In his opening remarks President Mills said, "It is a time for celebrating all that has been accomplished, and for looking forward. It is also a time to reflect on the proud traditions of this historic college."

Mills recalled two goals for Bowdoin he outlined at the beginning of the academic year: "The first of these was that we reaffirm our historic commitment to serving the common good, both on campus and in our larger communities.... I believe we have been successful in reaffirming our sense of community this year - a year when world events might easily have drawn us apart. As America and Bowdoin become more diverse, our challenge will be to maintain this sense of community and to remember that communication, respect, and understanding remain critical guideposts for this college. We also spoke last August about rebalancing institutional priorities to ensure the primacy of Bowdoin's academic program. Here, too, I believe we had much success."

Mills acknowledged retiring professors as well as an incoming group of talented scholars. In thanking the entire faculty, he reported that alumni gathering at Reunion remember vividly and want to talk about their professors. Mills assured the outgoing Class of 2002 that they, too, "will look back on this College with gratitude and fondness for your teachers here.... That is what is so special about this college and this form of education - the residential liberal arts college that creates and nurtures vital relationships between student and teacher among classmates. Value these relationships. They will sustain you."

Prest gave a speech titled "Confessions of a Polar Bear: Reinterpreting the Bowdoin Bubble." He said he approached his talk "bearing the simple realization of an old message that I have reinterpreted and reexamined throughout my time [at Bowdoin]," the belief that "from those to whom much is given, much is expected."

He asked, "Who is in this select group charged with living up to some high standard in order to benefit society? College, for me, was a quest to find this group." He came to realize that "it is not that hard to make a difference in someone's life.... Maybe 'to whom much has been given' refers to something more than a privileged upbringing or an innate intellect.... The more I lived here the more I grew in awe of the people around me.... The more I sought counsel from people, the more I found myself offering my own advice to others who asked it. And the more I felt fear and sought comfort, the more I found myself doing the same for others.... And so, as much has been given to us, much is therefore expected of us all. And so we must look to one another, yes - but most of all to ourselves - to do something with that gift."

Prest concluded, "There is a statement that gets thrown around this place, that 'we have to burst the Bowdoin bubble' once in a while. More often than not this refers to our close-mindedness.... But we do not talk enough about bursting the bubble and going the other way. We do not spend enough time suggesting that perhaps it is what is outside the bubble, and not inside, that truly benefits from the bursting. If we love Bowdoin as much as we say we do, if we cherish our quad and all that it stands for, then why not spend some serious energy making it a little bigger? Why not grow outward, that we might better serve?"

Dr. Kenneth Paigen, one of three to receive honorary degrees at Saturday's commencement, gave a speech titled "A Scientist's View of Education in a Chaotic World."

Paigen quoted the Bowdoin mission statement, which, in part, is to “engage students of uncommon promise,” and to select “men and women of varied gifts, diverse social, geographic and racial backgrounds, and exceptional qualities of mind and character.” Paigen pointed out that in this world of transition, students of this caliber are particularly needed.

Today we face ongoing and imminent changes in the world, including those in the arena of global affairs, Paigen said. “We need to foster a kind of world we want to live in when [the U.S. is] not top dog. No one stays on top forever.” Two natural disasters to be faced are global environmental degradation and the spread of AIDS, “something worse than the Black Death in the Dark Ages.” We must also meet the challenge that comes with a growing multicultural society, as pluralism brings new social and cultural problems. “Will we be able to reach a consensus to keep it stable?”

Paigen pointed out that we are living through a second industrial revolution, an industrial revolution that involves the acquisition, storing, processing, and use of information. It has enabled the very few to disrupt society, whether it be through a computer virus or a more serious terror attack. “Demands on society and culture are greater than ever before.” Paigen offered no solution, no panacea.

“My hope,” concluded Paigen, “is for a generation of individuals who are prepared” as are the graduates of Bowdoin. “There is a very special need for those things that schools like Bowdoin teach
. [They] teach students to examine critically what they are told
and to question assumptions
. They teach students to learn to learn for themselves
and to ask what it would be like to walk in the other person’s shoes.”

During the baccalaureate ceremony, music was provided by Associate Professor of Music Robert K. Greenlee, organ/piano, Jonathan R. Moore '02, harmonica, and Trevor S. Peterson '02, fiddle. Greenlee performed a Bach Allegro and the spiritual “Great Day,” and the trio combined for a moving rendition of the American folk song “Shenandoah.”

As is tradition, Craig W. Bradley, dean of student affairs, presented readings from Bowdoin's past. He quoted the words of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who encouraged making an excellent education available to women, as it already was to men. One hundred years later, recognizing the importance of attracting the best students and faculty, Bowdoin admitted women. This marks the 30th anniversary of coeducation at the College.

Biographies of the speakers follow:

Phillip J. Prest is an English major with a minor in chemistry. He is pre-med, with plans to first obtain his master's degree, then attend medical school. P.J. has played a big part in Bowdoin athletics. He was goalie for the varsity lacrosse team all four years, and for the varsity hockey team the past two years. He won the 2001 Paul Tiemer Men's Lacrosse Trophy, awarded to the player who, "by vote of his teammates, is judged to have shown the greatest improvement and team spirit." This season he was second team all-NESCAC and a New England all-star. Off campus, P.J. helped initiate a youth program at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. On campus, he served as proctor in Maine Hall and house proctor of Helmreich House. He helped resurrect the Bowdoin Literary Society, and served as co-president this year. He is also a member of the admissions subcommittee of the Young Alumni Leadership Program, and sophomore and junior years worked with trustees on the Committee of the Future.

Dr. Kenneth Paigen has gained international recognition for his distinguished career in genetics and his pioneering work in biochemical genetics. Following a 27-year tenure at the Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo (10 years as chairman of the department of molecular biology), Paigen became Jackson Laboratory's director in 1989. Under Paigen's direction, the Jackson Laboratory, a world leader in mammalian genetics research located in Bar Harbor, Maine, has contributed significantly to the past decade's explosive growth in research using the genetic systems of mice to understand human biology and medicine. Their research covers many of our major ills, including cancers, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and epilepsy.

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