Campus News

Bowdoin College Celebrates 2005 Baccalaureate

Story posted May 27, 2005

May 27, 2005

Bowdoin College held its 2005 Baccalaureate ceremony today to mark the official close of the academic year and celebrate the College's 200th Commencement (to be held tomorrow, Saturday, May 28).

Addresses were delivered by author and linguist Jung Chang and graduating senior Haliday Douglas of St. Louis, Mo.

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Barry Mills, Jung Chang, Haliday Douglas, and Craig Bradley (left to right).

Bowdoin President Barry Mills '72 presided over the ceremony.

In his address to the Class of 2005, Mills reminded the students that their time at Bowdoin began just days prior to the tragedies of September 11, 2001. "The past four years have been turbulent and troubling in our country and in the world. They have been difficult years on college campuses in America, too, where we have seen a rebirth of activism and debate on many complex and divisive issues."

During this time, some have worried about the direction of higher education. "People and the press across the country have questioned [certain colleges and universities] about inappropriate speech, intimidation and perceived 'political correctness' that chills discussion and consideration," he said. "Many assail what they see as a liberal bias in current American higher education."

Mills characterized the Bowdoin campus as one of passionate and responsible debate among people of diverse points of view. "Some worry that college students are studying with and learning from professors who actually have a point of view. But for me, having an opinion - a perspective on complex issues - is entirely appropriate for educated scholars who are perceptive, thoughtful, and analytical," he said. "Here, we are truly teaching our students to consider issues thoughtfully from all angles, with independent judgment and with a mature review and analysis of the underlying facts."

Mills urged the students to continue the open dialogue and debate that has played so large a role in their time at Bowdoin. "Keep an open mind as you form your own views and opinions, whatever they may turn out to be," he said. "Enjoy likeminded people, but seek to surround yourself with those who will challenge your ideas. Use the skills you have developed here to analyze information and to uncover hidden meaning. Only then will you truly put your education to work as the leaders our world so desperately needs."

Douglas gave a speech titled "Transition," in which talked about coming to terms with his own identity. He told the story of how, just before flying off to college, he revealed a long-hidden secret about himself to his mother at the airport gate. His confession left him with a feeling of accomplishment, encouragement and affirmation.

He then invited the audience to ponder how much of his "airplane story" was actually true. Did it matter how much was true, and how much fabrication? Not when the story is told in the spirit of encouraging individuality and a sense of self awareness and value, he explained.

"For all of us, tomorrow means making a transition, and coming to terms with ourselves in new and different situations," he told his classmates. "For all of us, tomorrow will be about taking the tools of empathy, critical thinking, imagination, and self-motivation that we all cultivated here at Bowdoin, more widely out into the world and putting them to use. That is to say, for all of us, tomorrow is US, and thus with it comes so much possibility."

Douglas concluded, "I challenge you to join me in entering into this next stage of life, and with the pretext of respect for oneself and others, and a responsibility to the Common Good, letting no desire or interest go unexplored...no question go unanswered...and, most importantly, no fear get in the way of understanding. We still have the key to the world's library in our pockets...with it, what can we not accomplish... what will we not overcome!"

Chang, one of six who will receive honorary degrees at Saturday's commencement, gave a speech titled "My University Days in the Cultural Revolution in China."

Chang grew up under the oppressive communist regime of Mao Zedong. "We were completely isolated from the West," she said. "We were fed propaganda on the evil Americans who were always calling for Coca Cola." Meanwhile, Mao was held up as a god, and children were taught a song: "Father is close, mother is close, but neither is as close as Chairman Mao."

Mao closed schools and museums, abused teachers, stifled culture, destroyed treasures and monuments. "He was brutalizing. He dehumanized the entire Chinese population," she said.

When her education was stopped at 14, she became a Red Guard for a brief time. She was horrified at the atrocities she witnessed under Mao's tyranny. "I wanted to hide, to go home. I was criticized for my warm feelings, which were a crime." Meanwhile, her father, a principled man who disagreed with the regime, was arrested, tortured, and exiled. He died at 54. Her mother, who refused to denounce her husband, was forced to walk on glass, was spit upon, and was likewise exiled. She survived. But Chang's family was scattered.

By the 1970s things started to improve, and the universities began to reopen. Chang's education resumed, and her happiest moments were in the University library, which had a large collection of Western literature and English-language books. These books were her first experience of what America was really like. She memorized The Declaration of Independence.

"My heart swelled at the words: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.' These concepts were unknown to us, and they opened up a new world for me," said Chang.

Hawthorne and Longfellow were among the American authors Chang came to know. When she read their words, she said, she could feel her mind opening, her own feelings being expressed. It was with great excitement, she noted, to be invited to Bowdoin, their alma mater.

As is tradition, Craig W. Bradley, dean of student affairs, presented readings from Bowdoin's past. He noted that Bowdoin's 200th Commencement is coming on the heels of one of the rainiest Senior Weeks in decades (six straight days and at least five inches of rain). A pattern may be emerging, as suggested by History of Bowdoin College from 1806 to 1870 by Nehemiah Cleaveland and Alpheus Spring Packard.

In 1806, the first Commencement: "The long-wished-for day broke on the young aspirants for honor, and on the crowd of visitors, in a furious tempest of wind and rain." The ceremony was postponed by a day, but to no avail. "[T]he storm, regardless of the adjournment, still raged."

In 1905, the 100th Commencement: The local newspaper reported, "Again the rain fell, today, on Bowdoin's celebration of her Commencement.... Even the ballgame in the afternoon [against Bates] was played off in a steady downpour of rain."

Bradley concluded, "So if it rains tomorrow, we can declare the repeating 100-year weather pattern a Bowdoin tradition."

Music for the ceremony was provided by Director of the Bowdoin Chorus Anthony Antolini '63, piano, Sarah Hippert '05, soprano, and Sean Fleming, piano. Antolini performed André Campra's "Rigaudon" and Jean Joseph Mouret's "Rondeau" from Sinfonies de Fanfares. Hippert sang Franz Lehar's "Vilia" with Fleming accompanying.

Baccalaureate speakers:

Haliday Douglas, an English major from Saint Louis, Missouri, has served as both President and Vice President of the Bowdoin Student Government, and established the Student Organizations Oversight Committee. He was also treasurer for the Latin American Student's Organization, and co-chair and treasurer for Bowdoin's Queer/Straight Alliance. He served on the Student Activity Fee Committee and various faculty committees, and was the student representative to the Bowdoin Board of Trustees. He was the 2004 recipient of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Cup, which is awarded to a non-senior whose "vision, humanity, and courage most contribute to making Bowdoin a better college," and the 2005 DeAlva Stanwood Alexander First Prize, awarded to the student speaking at Baccalaureate. He was a two-time Ambassador's Club Scholar, and this past February he spoke at Common Hour. He completed an independent study titled "Sittin' in St. Louis," which involved looking at historical intersections of race, class and education in St. Louis. Following graduation he's headed back to St. Louis, where he will take up the post of Director for Program Operations for Aim High St. Louis, a high school drop-out prevention program for "at-risk" youth in the inner city.

Jung Chang is the author of the best-selling book Wild Swans - Three Daughters of China, an autobiographical look at 20th-century China as seen through the eyes of three generations of women within her family. Wild Swans, which was published in 1991, has sold over 10 million copies and been translated into 30 languages. The book won widespread acclaim and many awards, including the NCR Book Award, the United Kingdom Writers' Guild's Best Non-Fiction Book award, and the UK's Book of the Year award. Chang was born in Yibin, Sichuan Province, China. Having had her schooling stopped at the age of 14, when she briefly became a Red Guard, she worked as a peasant, a "barefoot" doctor, a steelworker, and an electrician. She then became an English-language student and, later, an assistant lecturer, at Sichuan University. In 1978 she left China and was awarded a scholarship at York University in Britain. She earned a Ph.D. in linguistics in 1982 - becoming the first person from the People's Republic of China to earn a doctorate from a British university. Her next book, co-authored with Jon Halliday, is a monumental biography of Mao Zedong, which is due for publication in the United States this fall.

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