Campus News

Bowdoin Graduating Class Encouraged to Voice Truth, Avoid Standard Efficient Life

Story posted May 24, 2003

Click below for Commencement remarks by:
Tyler Lange '03
Gloria Shen '03
Ryan Quinn '03
Pres. Barry Mills

Soggy weather didn't dampen the spirits of 451 Bowdoin College graduates as the venerable Brunswick college held its 198th Commencement today outdoors, on the Quad, as planned.

As Bowdoin President Barry Mills remarked, "It may be dreary out here, but the Bowdoin Sun shines on all of us today."

Bowdoin awarded bachelor of arts degrees to students from 38 different U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and 15 foreign countries.

Governor John Baldacci offered the graduates greetings from the state and said, "I'm very proud of [Bowdoin's] students, their intellect, their camaraderie, their willingness to take the challenges of life front and center.... You students and graduates, more than any others, have a tremendous responsibility beyond your own education, and beyond your own life.... In our state we believe we can tackle any challenge, anywhere."

Baldacci concluded, "We each have to change. We each have to sacrifice a little bit in order to serve the greater good. The challenge I lay before you today is one you've already accepted...I already know that you, the students are going to recognize the challenge and the greater public interest."

As has been tradition since 1806, commencement addresses were delivered by graduating seniors. This year's speeches were delivered by Tyler Lange of Seattle, Wash., and Gloria Shen of Andover, Mass.

Lange gave a speech titled "Know Yourself: Now What?" He urged his classmates to voice their Truth, and to choose to act for good.

Lange, a history major with a Greek minor, quoted the words of two liberally educated authors from the distant past to inspire his classmates in the course of their public lives. Jean Bodin, a 16th century jurist and philosopher, wrote, "He has nothing of truth who is swollen with vanity." Joannes de Terra Rubea, a French official of justice during the Hundred Years' War, wrote, "He is not only a traitor [to himself, to society, to the greatest good] who openly speaks a lie, but also he who does not freely proclaim and defend the truth."

Drawing on the authors' words and actions for the good of society, Lange said, "We must now consider ourselves obligated to society as well as to ourselves. Even though learning continues throughout a lifetime, it is now time for action.... We must act for...truth to avoid betraying ourselves, our society, and our common good. Like sin, dishonesty is not merely dishonesty in action, but dishonesty in inaction. Whatever our truth is, we must proclaim and defend it. The greatest evils come from silence."

Lange reminded his classmates that their Bowdoin liberal arts education has given them "liberal skills - and [we] must now use them to speak our Truth.... If we do not each work for the common good by speaking and acting the Truth, we remain silent and dishonest spokes in a great wheel of moral turpitude. The liberal arts - the arts of living in a free society - are useful to any life we lead. Rather than teaching the skills for a specific trade, they equip us for citizenship."

Lange concluded, "Let us raise our voices for our Truth. Though our life may be less safe, it will be less vain and more honest than betraying ourselves, our college, and our society by doing nothing. On whatever path we take after graduation, let us not permit evil, but act for the common good by proclaiming and defending the Truth."

Shen gave a speech titled "In Search of Pencil Sharpeners: Living the Efficient Life." She addressed the way society values efficiency, and how that affects us as individuals.

Shen, a sociology major with a minor in economics, reminisced about the delight she had as a child turning the crank of a manual pencil sharpener, watching the shavings fall to the floor, and catching the whiff of the pencil's wood. While automatic pencil sharpeners and mechanical pencils are more efficient, she pointed out that the value - the delight - of the experience is lost.

She observed that the desire for increased efficiency has gone beyond economics and has permeated every facet of our lives, with negative results. "While efficiency as a measurement does have its merits, it lacks valuation of many things that transcend the material world. The quest for efficiency can whet our appetites for 'more' and 'better' things, which can often manifest into greed.... [Efficiency] hardly speaks to the well being of people, let alone to their satisfaction with their lives."

Leisure time should not be seen as inefficient, Shen said. Work should not disengage us from those things for which we stay alive - like poetry, love and beauty. "We can...'make the most' of our time by helping each other appreciate the beauty of the simple things for which we stay alive," she said. "Perhaps we are not necessarily lacking beauty or poetry in our lives, but...blinded by our desires, and often our apathy, we lose sight of it.

"I found the key to reclaiming the beauty," she said, "and it was so simple: to stop. Stop trying to live the standard efficient life and redefine for yourself what it is to live 'efficiently,' so that you allow life into your being, and let it transform you, and show you where your heart and your satisfaction lie."

She concluded with advice for her classmates: "So move on from here, and do what you love. Find people to love who remind you of why you are here and how much influence you can really have. Be honest with yourself in that you are doing what you think is right. Do yourself a favor, and sharpen some pencils while you're at it. By all means, be successful, make money, make a good living. But never forget what it is you are living for."

Ryan Quinn of Rumson, N.J., senior class president, addressed his classmates and presented the College with the Class of 2003 gift.

"There is no doubt in my mind that we have succeeded by being here today and we will only continue to succeed with every personal endeavor and every challenge we seek to pursue or that happens to come our way," he said. "Our graduation inherently links us to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Joshua Chamberlain, Joan Benoit Samuelson and other accomplished alumni. As we begin our commencement into the rest of our lives, we now become part of this esteemed lineage. It is now our turn to make our marks on the world."

After announcing that the Bowdoin Class of 2003 had refurbished a school in Masaya, Nicaragua, "to help spread the gift of education," Quinn presented the class gift, a plaque to be erected in front of Hawthorne-Longfellow Library on campus commemorating the college's sister school.

Bowdoin awarded four honorary degrees during the ceremony: Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, vice president for biological programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative in Washington, Honorary Doctor of Science; Mark Morris, founder, choreographer, and artistic director of the Mark Morris Dance Group, Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts; Grace Paley, writer of poetry, short stories, and essays, Honorary Doctor of Letters; and Raymond S. Troubh, Bowdoin Class of 1950, financial consultant, Honorary Doctor of Laws.

Biographies of the Commencement Prize-winning student speakers follow:

Tyler Lange graduated cum laude with a major in history and a minor in Greek. During his time at Bowdoin he was on the crew, performed chamber music, and was a singer. He also enjoyed heading to the outdoors for sculling and telemarking. He is a Sarah and James Bowdoin Scholar, and was awarded the Bowdoin Class of 1868 Prize for his commencement speech.

Gloria Shen graduated with a major in sociology and a minor in economics. While at Bowdoin she was a member of the women's JV soccer team and studied piano. She also taught piano to local children. She did an advanced independent study in Spanish, and worked on two service learning projects in conjunction with sociology courses. In March 2003 she participated in Bowdoin's Alternative Spring Break community service trip to Peru, where students built a playground for poverty-stricken children. She was awarded Bowdoin's Goodwin Commencement Prize for her commencement speech.

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