Campus News

Baccalaureate Address: Readings from Bowdoin's Past

Story posted May 27, 2005

May 27, 2005

By Craig Bradley, Dean of Student Affairs

This year's Commencement is the 200th Commencement at Bowdoin, and it comes after one of the rainiest Senior Weeks in decades. We hope for a dry day tomorrow, but if it rains, it will be in keeping with a pattern of rain every century at Bowdoin Commencement. It rained at Bowdoin's very first Commencement in 1806; it rained at our 100th Commencement in 1905; and we'll see what's in store for tomorrow's celebration of Bowdoin's 200th Commencement.

Professors Nehemiah Cleaveland of the Class of 1818 and Alpheus Spring Packard of the Class of 1816 in their 1882 History of Bowdoin College from 1806 to 1870 described Bowdoin's first Commencement as follows:

"The first Commencement came the first Wednesday of September 1806. Such occasions were then kept as holidays, to which multitudes resorted, as they would go to a militia muster. Besides this promiscuous throng, a higher curiosity and the novelty of the scene brought a vast multitude to Brunswick from near and far. Alas! 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 new, unfinished meeting-house was filled, notwithstanding, with a drenched and eager audience. The boards, appalled by the violence of the weather, and certain that it could not last long, postponed the exercises to the following day. Thursday came, and the storm, regardless of the adjournment, still raged; and so Commencement went on, and was followed by the ball and by a wet night of darkness, filled with blunders, annoyances, and disasters innumerable. Happily, there were not fatal accidents; and in after years the first Brunswick Commencement was recalled by thousands with a sense of the ludicrous, which outlived that of discomfort."

The one-hundredth Commencement took place on June 22, 1905. The event was covered by newspapers across the state of Maine, including one with the headline: "At Bowdoin: Another Successful Day In Spite of Pouring Rain."

"Brunswick, ME, June 22 [1905] - Again the rain fell, today, on Bowdoin's celebration of her Commencement, and again the day was an unqualified success. Everything was carried out to the letter and if one did not know that it was raining, they would not discover it in the execution of the festivities of the day. Even the ball game in the afternoon [against Bates] was played off in a steady downpour of rain, and it is no more than the fact to say that it was a good game. The game was won by Bowdoin by a score of 3 to 2 in a close finish."

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

Best wishes to each of the members of Bowdoin's 200th class, the Class of 2005.

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