Campus News

2006 Sarah and James Bowdoin Day Address: Alicia Michelle White '07

Story posted October 09, 2006

Appreciating and Utilizing the Offer of this College
by Alicia Michelle White '07
October 6, 2006

The Offer of the College
To be at home in all lands and all ages;
To count Nature a familiar acquaintance,
And Art an intimate friend;
To gain a standard for the appreciation of others' work
And the criticism of your own;
To carry the keys of the world's library in your pocket,
And feel its resources behind you in whatever task you undertake;
To make hosts of friends...
Who are to be leaders in all walks of life;
To lose yourself in generous enthusiasms
And cooperate with others for common ends —
This is the offer of the college for the best four years of your life.

As a prospective student I remember reading the offer of the college and wondering to myself, what is Bowdoin really claiming to offer to its students? How can Bowdoin supply me with "the keys to the world's library" and what access would these keys provide me? As a product of what I have come to consider a mass production educational system, I was skeptical that coming to college would teach me anything more than how to regurgitate information, as I had successfully done in secondary school. However, despite my initial reservations, a part of me still felt it was important and necessary to go to college.

As a high school student I had limited knowledge about places like Bowdoin, and only considered college as a logical next step in the educational process. My college search process and transition was very difficult because I was the first in my family to apply for and attend college. Unfortunately, students like me — first-generation college-bound — do not always have access to the resources necessary to get into college. Often times, these students live in neighborhoods where schools are poorly funded and they receive little, if any, college preparation.

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in a working-class neighborhood. Although I attended a high school that was in a more affluent part of the borough than where I lived, I later realized, I was traveling a farther distance to a different neighborhood and to a different school that did an equally inadequate job of preparing me for college as the schools in my neighborhood. My high school, John Jay, had a student population of 2,500, and during my sophomore year the residents of this upper-middle-class neighborhood petitioned the Board of Education to close the school due to its failing reputation. Pressured by the influence of these residents of the neighborhood, the Board of Education closed John Jay, which forced all of its students to find new schools. The closing of John Jay led me to Manhattan, New York, where I attended the High School for Economics and Finance (HSEF), a school of 700 students, for the remainder of my junior and senior years. While attending Economics and Finance, I realized that going to college really was a priority of mine; however, I had no idea what it would take to get into a good college and have success while there.

These experiences led me to Upward Bound, a federally funded college-preparation program that provided me with assistance and the skills necessary to matriculate into college. This program, which only targets low-income and first-generation college-bound students, gave me the opportunity to take college-level classes and SAT prep courses, and introduced me to colleges like Bowdoin while in high school. The staff taught students how to deal with the rigors of the college application process, prepare academic resumes, and write college essays. With the training that Upward Bound offered me I was able to apply for and received the Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Leadership Scholarship here at Bowdoin.

Even after my involvement in this intense preparation program I wasn't convinced I would be accepted into a college like Bowdoin. Because I perceived myself as behind everyone else, I was intimidated when I came here as a prospective student. Although I attended AP courses and college preparation classes, I was not exposed to much of the history and literature to which my peers were exposed. Nor did I know how to read between the lines and analyze literary works. However, putting my apprehensions aside, I came to Bowdoin with an open mind and prepared myself to be taken on a journey. Now as a senior, I look back on my college career and finally realize what it means to have the "keys to the world's library in your pocket."

When you attend classes at a place like Bowdoin, you are not just learning about the things that the institution or the professor deem important, nor are you merely learning how to collect and repeat information. Instead you are learning how to become a better writer, thinker, researcher, student, critic and community member. You learn to engage the world around you and understand that you play a significant role in the way it functions. You learn that it is important to question what you hear and read because things are not always as they appear. Above all else, you learn how to learn. Education becomes a life process, of which you are an intricate part. No longer are you just an empty vessel to be filled with information, you become a decision maker and take an active role in your own educational development. "[Carrying] the keys of the world's library in your pocket, And [feeling] its resources behind you in whatever task you undertake" means that we have been provided with the skills to unlock information. Being able to do this allows us to "be at home" in any place. We realize that every experience we have is an opportunity to learn something new and a chance to make a difference. I have chosen to use my experience at Bowdoin to help future generations by becoming a teacher. With the help of Bowdoin professors, faculty and staff I have been able to achieve more than I thought I could and now possess the ability to gain knowledge through different mediums.

So, today, as we celebrate Sarah and James Bowdoin Day, I encourage you all to embrace the learning process, because it never stops. Consider looking beyond what is presented to you, and analyze the information given to you. Remember, you have been provided with the skills needed to obtain the information you need in any situation. Take that with you, as you continue this journey called life.

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