Campus News

Bowdoin College Celebrates Annual Baccalaureate

Story posted May 28, 2004

May 28, 2004

Click links below to read Baccalaureate remarks by:
Shanique Brown '04
Eavan Boland
President Barry Mills
Dean of Student Affairs Craig Bradley
Excerpts from Panel Discussion with Richard Goldstone and Torsten Wiesel

Bowdoin College hosted its annual Baccalaureate ceremony today to mark the official closing of the academic year and celebrate the College's 199th Commencement (to be held tomorrow, Saturday, May 29). The Baccalaureate was held at Morrell Gymnasium on campus.

Addresses were delivered by Irish poet and Stanford University professor Eavan Boland and graduating senior Shanique P. Brown of New Rochelle, New York. Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and University of Chicago professor Shulamit Ran introduced her work "Soliloquy," which was then performed by the Tal Trio.

Bowdoin President Barry Mills '72 presided over the ceremony.

In his opening remarks, Mills said the faculty's careful review of the College's curriculum, and the campus's construction and renovation plans for the next several years, are essential elements of a Bowdoin education in the liberal arts. He focused his talk on the arts, in particular, "because I believe Bowdoin stands at a notable threshold in this area."

He said, "As we consider a recommitment to the arts at Bowdoin, a legitimate question probably comes to your mind: Why in this time of technological advance, specialization, vocational education, the biotechnology explosion, why is Bowdoin recommitting itself to the arts?...We believe with conviction that no one can claim to be liberally educated without seeking truth, meaning, and beauty in the study of theatre, dance, music, and the visual arts.

"An area of study and an environment that requires the serious contemplation of art and a creative process built on imagination, focus, determination, experimentation, exuberance, and subtlety are - we believe - vital components in the education of principled leaders and form a significant part of the foundation for educated citizens committed to the common good. So, Bowdoin's purposeful recommitment to the arts in the curriculum and our focus on our art facilities represent what we believe is an enthusiastic reaffirmation of our commitment to the values of liberal education."

Shanique Brown gave a speech titled "Redefining Commitment and Success," in which she addressed the importance of Bowdoin students' reshaping their commitments to better reflect their own goals and the goals of the College.

Personalizing her own commitments during her four years at Bowdoin "has made them more legitimate in my life," she said. Part of her changed outlook is her definition of success. Like her classmates, she first defined success by high grades. "Many of us thought that grades validated us as people.... We all want to quantify success and give it a simple numerical value." But quantified levels of success, she said, are "superficial, inadequate,... inappropriate.

"I hope success will be seen as the ability for us to make a difference in our careers and our community."

In addressing the commitments of Bowdoin College as a whole, Brown examined the institution as a community of individual students. "Bowdoin started with a commitment to diversity and the common good.... Bowdoin can have all the commitments it wants, but unless we leave here today carrying those commitments as our own, we will never facilitate the advancement of the common good."

In closing she challenged her audience to redefine their commitments for the benefit of the common good: "I challenge you to do what you know is the right thing when the right thing is not looked favorably on by your colleagues. I challenge you to courageously stand up for someone who is not being treated fairly. I challenge you to hire someone different who does not quite fit the 'norm.' I challenge you to respect everyone around you.... And finally, I challenge you to truly commit yourselves to learning about diversity, embracing diversity and to diversify your life and the lives of the people around you while becoming an advocate for diversity in your community."

Irish poet Eavan Boland, one of five who will receive an honorary degree at Saturday's commencement, gave a speech titled "What We Need to Keep." She told the graduates that their "sense of creativity" will be one of the many questions that will concern them after they leave college.

Boland, who taught creative writing at Bowdoin for one semester in 1987, remembered her excitement at being on the same campus where American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (Bowdoin Class of 1825) lived, read and studied almost 200 years ago. It was an important time in American history, when the country was "finding itself," and Bowdoin was an institution that was shaping leaders (as it continues to do today).

Boland recalled that in a letter home to his mother young Hawthorne asked the daring question, "What would you think about my becoming an author?" Coming at a time when college students often went on to be teachers, lawyers, or clergymen, Hawthorne was breaking with tradition. Boland asked, "In what classroom did Nathaniel Hawthorne find the courage to be himself?"

Hawthorne's Bowdoin experience shaped his life. Such is the "gift in education," Boland said. "A grace given at a particular moment [to find yourself]...this is 'what we need to keep'."

Hawthorne, however, lived at a time when students had to choose between "the creative or the practical." Were he to become an author, he could not then be a doctor or a lawyer.

Today is different, said Boland, and students don't have to face the same "either/or" that Hawthorne did. "Every generation has a responsibility to transform the definition of creativity in their own time. You have a creativity strengthened by knowledge. Don't let creativity become a luxury. Bring creativity into where it is lacking and is needed.... All creativity begins with self, but also ends with making gifts you received at this wonderful institution [Bowdoin] to the society that needs it. I wish you a creative future."

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Shulamit Ran, who will also receive an honorary degree Saturday, introduced a performance of her work "Soliloquy," and spoke briefly about composing. "A composer always hopes their music will speak for them," she said.

Ran suggested that as the audience listened to the music, they keep a certain image in mind: throwing a stone into the water, and watching the ripples expand out from the center, farther and farther. "This is a very musical idea," she said, "how an idea keeps expanding...but in the music's case, gets more and more intense."

But she warned not to approach the music with a pre-conceived notion. Instead, "just listen."

As is tradition, Craig W. Bradley, dean of student affairs, presented readings from Bowdoin's past. Noting the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the unanimous Supreme Court ruling that struck down legal segregation of American schools, Bradley presented excerpts from a speech given by Martin Luther King Jr. at Bowdoin 40 years ago. King's talk, given May 6, 1964, incorporated some of the same language he included in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail":

King said, "Segregation is still with us.... If democracy is to live, segregation must die.... Somewhere along the way we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts, and persistent works, of dedicated individuals that are willing to be co-workers with God. Without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. It is always necessary to help time and to realize that the time is always right to do right."

In addition to the performance of Ran's "Soliloquy," music for the ceremony was provided by Director of the Bowdoin Chorus and Acting-Chair of the Bowdoin Music Department Anthony Antolini '63. Antolini performed "Promenade" from Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, and Bach's Partita on O Gott du frommer Gott.

Biographies of the Baccalaureate speakers follow:

Shanique Brown, from New Rochelle, New York, is a biochemistry major, with a minor in Africana Studies. She has worked for Bowdoin's Young Alumni Leadership Program, been a member of the African American Society, and was a student representative for the trustee subcommittee on Multicultural Affairs, a mentor and chemistry tutor through the Baldwin Center for Learning and Teaching, and a chemistry study group leader. She has volunteered for the Special Olympics and the Hard-working Youth Pursuing Excellence Program. She is a Sarah and James Bowdoin Scholar at Bowdoin, and as a first year student won the U.S. Chemical Rubber Company Laboratory Award for outstanding laboratory work in chemistry. As a senior she won the Merck Index Award, given to a student going on in chemistry or medicine, and the DeAlva Stanwood Alexander Prize, giving her the opportunity to speak at Baccalaureate. Next year she will be a first-year medical student at the New York University School of Medicine.

Eavan Boland, a native of Ireland and author of 16 books, has been described as Ireland's preeminent female poet. Her books of poetry include Against Love Poetry (2001), The Lost Land (1998), An Origin Like Water (1996), In a Time of Violence (1994), and Outside History (1990). Boland is also the author of Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time (1995), a volume of prose, and is co-editor with Mark Strand of The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms (2000). Forthcoming in September 2004 is After Every War: Translations of German Women Poets. Boland is the recipient of the John Frederick Nims Award (2002), the International Poetry Centre Award (1997), the Lannan Award for Poetry and the Ireland-American Literature Award (both 1994), three Pushcart Prizes (1988, 1992, 1996), three Poetry Book Society Choices (1986, 1990, 1994), and the 1983 Award of the Irish-American Cultural Foundation, among many other honors. She is presently Bella Mabury and Eloise Mabury Knapp Professor in Humanities and Melvin and Bill Lane Professor in Humanities (director of the creative writing program) at Stanford University.

Composer, pianist, and educator Shulamit Ran, winner of the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for the work Symphony, began composing songs to Hebrew poetry at the age of seven in her native Israel. By nine she was studying composition and piano with some of Israel's most noted musicians, and within several years was having her early works performed by professional musicians and orchestras. She continued her musical studies in the U.S. on scholarships from the Mannes College of Music in New York and the America Israel Cultural Foundation. In 1973 she joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, where she is now the William H. Colvin Professor in the department of music. Ran has been awarded most major honors given to composers in the U.S., including two fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and grants and commissions from the Koussevitzky Foundation, among others. Her music has been performed by leading orchestras including the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic, and the New York Philharmonic. From 1990-97 she was composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and from 1994-97 she was composer-in-residence with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where her residency culminated in the much-acclaimed premiere of her first opera Between Two Worlds (The Dybbuk).

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