Campus News

2005 Commencement: 406 Graduates Encouraged to Effect Change and Give Back

Story posted May 28, 2005

During Bowdoin College's 200th commencement ceremony Saturday, the Class of 2005 was encouraged by a pair of classmates to be agents for change, and to give back to the community and the world. Bowdoin awarded 406 bachelor of arts degrees to students from 39 different U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and 14 foreign countries during the ceremony. (Visit the Commencement Photo Gallery.)

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Lining up for the Commencement procession (l. to r.): Matthew Robertson, Wyatt Dumas, Erin Dukeshire, Katherine Duglin, and Scott Drew.

As has been tradition since its first graduation in 1806, Bowdoin's commencement addresses were delivered by graduating seniors. This year's speakers, chosen through competition, were Caitlin Woo of Andover, Mass., and Truc Trong Huynh of Portland, Maine.

Woo gave a speech titled "Campus News: Chapel Towers Restoration Completed," in which she likened the ringing of the bells in the recently restored Bowdoin Chapel towers to the growth and change experienced by members of her class.

She recalled that when she and her classmates arrived on campus in 2001, they were a diverse group with varied expectations and comfort levels. Every 15 minutes, the new college students were treated to the chiming of the Chapel bells.

"In some way, the bells represented the excitement of a new start, the chance to take risks, insecurities about moving on, homesickness, and fun times with new friends," she described. "In the midst of all this freshman angst, and before we had our bearings, the profound implications of the September 11th tragedy took its toll on our class and added to our turmoil."

In the fall of 2002, the Chapel bells were silenced for the duration of the towers' restoration.

"It was during this stillness that a metamorphosis was taking place inside the so-called Bowdoin bubble," she said. "As our class began to transform itself from strangers into a community, we started to learn from one another and to borrow from one another's strengths, while simultaneously, we began to stretch in our own unique ways."

In the fall of 2004, the Chapel towers restoration was completed.

"Class of 2005, those bells are ringing again! Have you heard?" she asked. "Bowdoin has been both a haven and a stimulus for life-changing growth. Her bells should remind us that if we are flexible, open, and if we are willing, we can be an agent for change and not just a participant. Having the capacity for change in yourself often translates to acceptance and tolerance for others, and in turn, this process will mold those around you. If we can all continue to do this, our world will truly become a better place."

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Leading the procession are Commencement speakers Caitlin S. Woo (far left), Truc Trong Huynh (foreground), and Class President Peter D. Hastings (far right).

Huynh gave a speech titled "For It is in Giving That We Receive," in which he shared some of the important lessons about giving, receiving, and resolve that he has learned as a first-generation college student.

"Both my parents never made it to high school. The only formal education they had was a few years of grammar school in Vietnam," he recalled. "When you live in a third-world country whose family income is less than $20 a month you have no choice but to give up your childhood and your education to work in the rice fields and sweet potato farms so your children could have that one meal each day."

Huynh's parents taught him and his siblings about perseverance, determination, conviction, and giving back.

"No matter how poor we were, there were always people that were more unfortunate than us," he said. "My mom always believed in the Buddhist saying, 'For it is in giving that we receive,' and she would always help out her neighbors."

After they came to the United States, his parents worked long hours to support the family. They could not help their children with their studies because they spoke no English and knew nothing about school subjects.

"But my parents always found time to teach us about life, about where we came from, about our culture, our language, the values of hard work, and how to achieve our dreams...the tools to succeed in life," said Huynh.

He encouraged his classmates to give back to the community, the college, the country, and the world.

"None of us made it here alone; we all had a little help from our friends, parents, coaches, and professors. For it is in giving that we receive," he said. "Remember that there will always be that little kid from Maine or Vietnam or elsewhere in the world needing that little extra lift because, in the words of Senator George Mitchell, 'No one should be guaranteed success, but everyone should have an equal opportunity to succeed'."

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Senior members of BOCA, Chamber Choir, Chorus, Miscellania, the Meddiebempsters, and Ursus Verses sing "Raise Songs to Bowdoin."

Bowdoin President Barry Mills presided over the commencement ceremony. In his welcoming remarks Mills encouraged the graduates to think about what happens next in their lives in the context of Bowdoin and their experience at the College.

"Choosing a career is necessary and important, but you must also choose the manner in which you will pursue your goals," he said. "What you will come to know - if you don't already - is that the past four years have prepared you to serve effectively in leadership roles in your professions and communities across America and across the world. They have prepared you to make a living, but they have also prepared you to make a difference."

Senior Class President Peter D. Hastings of Hampden, Maine, a government major with a minor in education, addressed his classmates as a group for the final time.

Hastings tied the present to the past by comparing his class with the Class of 1806, Bowdoin's first graduating class: seven men who attended the College during a period of national turmoil and economic uncertainty.

"We can only imagine what those seven graduates may have been thinking," Hastings said. "It is unlikely that [they] could have imagined the kind of events that would transpire in their lives." They could not have foreseen, for example, that "the issue of slavery would dominate national politics for the next fifty years."

Like the members of the class of 1806, the class of 2005 may right now be asking themselves if Bowdoin has prepared them for a future they cannot imagine. Hastings answered with a resounding yes.

"If we expect to honor our parents, our college and our own hard work, we must continue to seek ideals that we can be passionate about. We must pursue our passions with all the energy we can muster. We must combine our intellect with our ideals, and our pride in the past with our faith in the future. The Class of 1806 would have expected no less."

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Caps are tossed by the new graduates.

Following his talk, Hastings presented the College with the Class of 2005 gift: a $4,000 Common Good Grant. The gift will help fund the Common Good Grant Program, through which Bowdoin students learn about philanthropy and provide grants to local non-profit organizations.

Bowdoin awarded six honorary degrees: Ellen Baxter '75, executive director of Broadway Housing, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters; Jung Chang, author and linguist, Honorary Doctor of Letters; Donald R. Kurtz '52, Bowdoin trustee emeritus, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters; Alan Lightman, author, physicist and educator, Honorary Doctor of Letters; Frederick G.P. Thorne '57, Bowdoin trustee emeritus, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters; and Frederick Wiseman, documentary filmmaker, Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts.

Commencement prize student speakers:

Caitlin S. Woo is a 2001 graduate of Andover (Mass.) High School. She majored in biology and Spanish at Bowdoin, was a 2002 and 2003 Sarah and James Bowdoin Scholar, and graduated cum laude with honors in biology. She was awarded the Class of 1868 Prize for her commencement address. During the spring semester of her junior year, she studied away in Salamanca, Spain. Community service activities included co-director of Bears and Cubs, the student group that mentors children waiting for a Big Brother or Big Sister, and volunteer at Mid Coast Hospital. She was also dancer with and co-captain of the Unity Step Team. Next year, she will be teaching general science at the secondary level in New York City for Teach For America.

Truc Trong Huynh was born in Pleiku, Vietnam, and immigrated to the United States with his family in 1990. He came to Bowdoin as a George J. Mitchell Scholar and an Upward Bound Scholar, and majored in government with a minor in gender studies. He was the student representative to the Study Abroad Committee, and was appointed student liaison to Admissions by the Student Government. He also served as chair of the Red Cross Blood Drives, as captain of the rugby team, and as president of the Culinary Club. He was the Computer Lab Manager for Bowdoin IT since 2002, and also worked as a summer intern to the Maine Democratic Party. He was awarded Bowdoin's Goodwin Commencement Prize for his graduation address. Next year he will be working as a sales consultant trainee for UNUM Provident in Boston.

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