Commencement Address: David Duhalde-Wine '06
Story posted May 27, 2006
The Bonds that Tie Us
by David Duhalde-Wine '06
May 27, 2006
I have had the privilege to share my Bowdoin experience with many here today. Those who have gotten to know me are often very aware of my politics. As a short man who has stood tall for social change in his four years at Bowdoin, I have sought to make my presence felt by appealing to my peers' senses of humanity, intellectual growth, and humor. One of the greatest parts of Bowdoin that I have shared with my classmates is the wonderful setting provided for open dialogue and discourse. Few of us who leave Bowdoin hold the same set of ideologies and values that we so strongly upheld as universal truths when we entered our freshman year. It saddens me, as I graduate, to know that we are leaving this world of theological discussions at Thorne, politics with a slice of Papa John's pizza, or capitalism at the Café.
While the settings for dialogue may change, there is one thing that will remains constant. No, I speak not only of the pursuit of intellectual growth, which brought us to Bowdoin and should always remain a part of our lives. I point to what we lacked before we came to Bowdoin: the friendships we made here. The friends, who have enriched our lives, we otherwise may never have known. The enduring lessons I have learned about friendship in my time at Bowdoin are twofold.
First, no matter how passionate we are about our beliefs, we should never let our convictions dictate our friendships. Second, as we leave the "Bowdoin bubble," we ought not to abandon open dialogue as the foundation for our joint learning and mutual understanding. To forgo the learning opportunities that stem from genuine listening and fall into the trap of "talking points" is an unsettling development I slowly see happening among my classmates.
Conservative commentator William F. Buckley once remarked that Michael Harrington, who is one of my political icons, was the "foremost socialist in America." Buckley then subsequently qualified his seemingly friendly statement by saying being the foremost socialist was "like being the tallest building in Topeka, Kansas." What appears to be an off-handed putdown by Buckley must be put in the context of a friendship based on mutual respect for each others beliefs. While ideologically polar opposites, Buckley and Harrington allowed each other to challenge their beliefs while maintaining a strong respect.
I learned this story from another one of my political icons, my father. As a college student in Chile during the government of socialist Salvador Allende, he supported Allende's policies and vision for a better Chile. Despite such ideals, there was a great deal of political and economic turmoil caused, in part, because of the Allende government. My father recounted his feelings of personal tension between him and family and friends who believed Allende was doing more harm than good. While Allende and his Popular Unity's ambitious plans for Chile were ultimately abandoned, my father remained close to many of his anti-Allende family and friends despite political differences. For there were those my father knew who had been the first to oppose Allende and were subsequently the first to lend a hand to those singled out for oppression by the regime that replaced Allende. I came to Bowdoin with this wisdom of being open to friendships despite ideological differences, and I believe that has made all the difference. As Robert Frost would say.
But shared politics do create bonds. I forged many friendships and relationships through my participation in electoral campaigns and my pursuit of social justice. But when we only allow ourselves to be around those we find agreeable, we never allow our ideals to be truly challenged. We may have found it hard befriending certain members of the Bowdoin community because of their beliefs. There are a few bad nuggets here and there. It is only natural that strong disagreements would arise that could make forging relationships difficult. But I come here today not to talk about our failures, but to praise those who bring the best out of us.
And I believe as I stand here today that the challenges to ideas that I have given and received created greater understanding on both sides. To understand my feelings on this I want to tell a story from my junior year. I heard that my friend, who has asked not to be named, had taken down a left-wing political poster solely because he disagreed with its message. I was furious to say the least. I sat on the incident and let my emotions stir in me for a week until I found the gentleman at Super Snacks. Without even a hello I confronted him about his actions and stated, "How can you tell me you stand for freedom when you take down other people's signs?" I self-righteously added that I never took down signs, no matter how much the material offended me. My friend, clearly overwhelmed by this at the midnight hour, retorted that I was out of line, and returned to his friends.
Time apart allowed for our emotions to cool and gave us each time to reflect on the situation. I believed my message had been sound, but my actions far from appropriate. We finally met again, at a lecture given by prominent left-wing Columbia professor, Manny Marable. To say the least I was surprised to see my friend there. At the end of the lecture I went to apologize for my behavior. Before I could even utter a word he told me that he had given thought to what I said, among other things, and realized the error in his ways. He accepted my apology, as I did his. We both grew from this moment by realizing that there are more important aspects to life than promoting one's own agenda, such as respect for one another, acceptance of other ideas, and the ability to communicate without sliding into belligerence.
As I turn from this uplifting story to the critical issue I want to address today, I hope you see the benevolence that I wish to send in my words. We should have no illusions of being able to change the mindset and beliefs of every individual, nor should we see that as a proper end. We must embrace the diversity of ideas and different schools of thought. We all should continually promote the variety of beliefs at Bowdoin, while discouraging those who wish to silence and discredit those they do not agree with or understand. As liberal arts students it is not enough to be tolerant; what is essential is to be accepting. Anyone can tolerate a person or subject they loathe. You can easily ignore a man's lifestyle or avoid a woman's beliefs simply because they don't match with yours. The struggle lies not in tolerating those we find different, but accepting and embracing their rights to live freely and trying to understand where those ideas come from.
As Bowdoin students we should demand more than just tolerance. In promoting acceptance, I am disposed to question the current state of dialogue at our school today. So-called campus debates too often center on the sole promotion of an agenda of preaching to the choir. Too often, students merely try to emulate their favorite political pundits, not great statespeople or philosophers. Too seldom do students engage in discussions and not allow their minds to be truly open to change. This problem is not universal, but it is growing. We cannot solve this problem through an administration mandate or a campus movement. This is an issue that each individual must tackle by and within themselves.
But opening up to friends, even those I politically disagree with, does not mean I came to Bowdoin with an open mind. But within my first weeks as a college student, my first-year seminar professor Pamela Fletcher instilled in me a notion that I will never forget. She called upon her students to listen closely to what other students are saying and not to prepare our next response or rebuttal while someone else talked. Any student can respond to a comment they disagree with, but it takes a stronger student to learn how to understand where another's ideas are coming from.
As I close today, I believe some of you may wonder why I'm calling to graduating seniors to foster better dialogue on campus. I do so because the quest for understanding and openness does not end when we part with these Bowdoin pines. It is a personal struggle we should continue as long as we live. And as an institution, Bowdoin and its students must continually work to live up to our full potential. And I know we can find comfort in the notion that the practice of politics may be flawed, but it should never flaw our relationships. Growing with, befriending, and loving people who are different can grant happiness and a deeper understanding than you would otherwise have known. I would like to take this moment to thank those who have opened their minds and homes to me: Andrew Combs and his family, Chris Averill, Gardiner Holland, and Paul Kohlenberger. Our differences may not be small, but our bonds are much larger.
Thank you and stay true.
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