Campus News

451 Degrees Awarded at Bowdoin's 203rd Commencement

Story posted May 24, 2008

Click below for Commencement remarks by:

During Bowdoin College's 203rd commencement ceremony, 451 bachelor of arts degrees were awarded to students from 38 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and 15 foreign countries.

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(L. to r.) Class President Andrew Fried '08 and Commencement speakers Vanessa Castellanos '08 and Nathan Chaffetz '08.

Bowdoin President Barry Mills presided over the commencement ceremony.

In his remarks Mills spoke of two components of leadership: a sense of humility and a sense of humor.

"A shining characteristic of the Bowdoin leader is we 'leave our ego at the door,'" Mills said.

"And so, on this very self-important and celebratory day — I remind us all of our responsibility to lead — but also our responsibility to continue to learn and to listen."

Mills said the most underrated component of leadership is a sense of humor.

Commencement Weekend 2008
HubbardPanorama200.jpg Click here for a summary of Bowdoin's 203rd Baccalaureate ceremony, which included talks by Daniel Brady '08 and Gina Kolata, honorand and science writer for The New York Times
Photos from Commencement Weekend can be viewed and ordered here .

"A reminder to us all, that as we seek to lead through serious issues and problems — that we leave room in our sense of ourselves not to take ourselves too seriously — a sense of perspective and irony is essential."

Greetings from the State of Maine

State Representative Emily Ann Cain (D-Orono) delivered greetings from the State, in which she spoke of enrolling in college and finding yourself in Maine, and being present so as to take in unexpected splendor and experience unforeseen adventures — wherever you may be.

"The lesson here is to engage in what's around you and to own every minute of it.

Take advantage of the situation you are in, even though it is not the situation you may have thought you would be in.

It will probably turn out better than you ever could have imagined."

Cain also spoke of choosing Bowdoin and getting more than an undergraduate degree. "Maine is self-reliance, perseverance, ingenuity, community, entrepreneurship, hard work, humility, honesty, resourcefulness," Cain said.

"As you graduate today, you are taking a little bit of Maine with you — no matter where you go or stay."

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Commencement Speakers

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 Nathan Reuben Chaffetz of New York, N.Y., and Vanessa Lisbeth Vidal Castellanos of Los Angeles, Calif.

In his speech, titled "Striving for Intellectual Tolerance: A Challenge to Graduates," Chaffetz spoke of his experience hosting an editorial segment, "The Bowdoin Reality Check," on BCN, in which he often took a perspective that differed from what he called "the standard college student orthodoxy" on a given issue.

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One installment discussed the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, and whether it was required by the Constitution or was a political decision.

"My hope was that my segments would inspire debate and force people to think about why they held certain beliefs so firmly," said Chaffetz.

He said he knew his shows would create controversy, but was troubled by the degree of hostility they sometimes provoked, including emails with curse-laden personal attacks. "In media we see similar attacks on people's character all the time," Chaffetz said.

"All you have to do is turn on shows like The O'Reilly Factor or Lou Dobbs Tonight and watch the talking heads scream at each other. But what disturbs me is that on elite college campuses, where the liberal ideal of intellectual tolerance is supposed to be revered and protected, too often here and across the country, so many students imitate those same intolerant pundits. Some students here and everywhere too often get into the habit of thinking that people who disagree with them are not only wrong or misinformed, but inherently stupid and morally challenged. This trend is especially disturbing, because these same students are likely to have a significant influence in the world. It is important that these future leaders have the wisdom to be tolerant."

Chaffetz said the challenge as new graduates is to help the diverse peoples of the world construct a thriving global economy and a peaceful framework that fosters mutual development, respects cultural differences and protects the environment shared by all.

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"We need to start here at Bowdoin though," he said. "We are not yet as open-minded on religious, social or economic issues as we need to be. The people of the world are for more different from each other than we are at Bowdoin. If we can't accept each other here, how do we expect to bring this mindset to the worldwide stage?

"[T]he energy and intelligence of our graduates, the quality of our education and our exceptional character make it likely that we, as a group, will have an impact on the world. I believe that we as individuals — as Bowdoin graduates — can greatly enhance this impact by developing a habit of rigorous intellectual tolerance. We are very good at tolerating people who look different, but we also have to learn to tolerate people who think differently."

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President Barry Mills '72 and Peter Small '64, Chair of the Board of Trustees, watch the Commencement procession as it passes Massachusetts Hall.

In her address, "A Continuous Journey Before & After Bowdoin," Castellanos spoke of her Latin American roots, her North American existence and the internal struggle that results from such a culture clash.

"As I get closer and closer to the outside world, also known as the working-and-paying-bills world, I realize that my major anxieties and fears do not concern having a job after graduation," Castellanos said. "Rather, they concern the challenges in dealing with my two conflicting cultures and what they mean to my identity, my future career and my familia."

Castellanos spoke of the difficult decision to leave Los Angeles amid her family's expectations that she attend college closer to home. "I vividly remember my papi asking, 'But mija, why don't you just go to USC?' He told me I was crazy and questioned how I'd survive far from home. I explained to my father that going away had been my dream for years, and I wanted, deeply wanted, to gain the educational opportunities available at Bowdoin."


Castellanos says what she found was challenging academically, culturally and financially, and spoke of juggling five work-study jobs and seeking help at the Writing Center. "Even during the darkest nights, when I painfully questioned my being at the right place, I was able to find the support and encouragement from my first-year roommates and their parents, my friends, my professors, my advisors, my counselors and my host parents," she said. "Today, I thank them all for making my four years at Bowdoin an unforgettable experience and the best opportunity of my life thus far."

Castellanos said she has learned that the differences between her two cultures won't stop her from attaining dreams of working abroad and helping her inner-city community — but she has also realized that part of her happiness is keeping her family in mind.

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"Leaving Bowdoin with those two ideas set and clear in my mind, I will now commence another journey to further explore and embrace my hybrid culture in terms of embarking on a professional career in public policy and maintaining the closest ties with my familia."

Senior Class President Andrew Richard Fried '08, of Melrose, Mass., presented the College a gift on behalf of the Class of 2008 — Bowdoin's first solar hot water panels.

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Class President Andrew Fried '08

"The solar panels will expand Bowdoin's use of renewable energy sources on campus while saving money and reducing carbon emissions," Fried said.

"The Bowdoin sun has been shining for over 200 years and the solar panels will harness some of its power for future generations of Bowdoin students."

In addition, Fried said the Class of 2008 is contributing to an emergency scholarship fund to help make Bowdoin affordable for more people.

Honorary Degree Recipients

Bowdoin awarded five honorary doctorates at the commencement:

  • Peter Buck '52, nuclear physicist, philanthropist and co-founder of the Subway restaurant chain, Doctor of Humane Letters
  • Yvon Chouinard, founder, president and CEO of Patagonia, Doctor of Humane Letters
  • Gina Kolata, author and science writer for The New York Times, Doctor of Letters
  • Lucy R. Lippard, internationally known art historian, cultural critic and activist, Doctor of Arts
  • Earle G. Shettleworth Jr., Director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and Maine State Historic Preservation Officer, Doctor of Humane Letters
  • Barry N. Wish '63, Trustee Emeritus and a leader in the worlds of finance and philanthropy, Doctor of Humane Letters

Student Commencement Address Prize Winners

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Nathan Reuben Chaffetz '08

Nathan Reuben Chaffetz is from New York City, where he attended Trinity School. He is an economics major with a particular interest in developing economics. Chaffetz studied away in Stockholm for a year, where he studied international macro-economics, with a focus on the European Central Bank and the labor reforms being put in place by the newly elected Swedish government.

He has been an editorial correspondent for Bowdoin Cble News (BCN), generating more than his share of controversy with segments like one that argued that workers in third world countries benefit from their lower wages and one that supported the faculty decision to end the credit/D/F option for required courses.

Chaffetz's willingness to take risks goes beyond controversial pieces on BCN — he is an instrument-rated pilot, and in his time here he learned to fly a seaplane on the Androscoggin River, north of Lewiston. Finally, in a nod to the Bowdoin tradition of fine food, he has formal training in culinary arts.

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Vanessa Lisbeth Vidal Castellanos '08

Vanessa Lisbeth Vidal Castellanos, of Los Angeles, is a first generation American; her mother is from Salvador, and her father from Mexico. Although she has two sisters also in college, she will be the first in her family to graduate. She is a double major in Latin American studies and Romance languages. A Joshua Chamberlain Scholar and a James and Sarah Bowdoin Scholar, Castellanos has been a busy Bowdoin student, juggling independent studies in Latin American literature with rugby, volunteering, the co-presidency of the Latin American Students Organization, and — as she says — at least five campus jobs at any given time.

She was named to the Maine All-Star team for rugby her first year, and the team went to the nationals in Florida last spring. She has done community service projects in Chile and Peru, and she studied abroad in France. She works with students for whom English is a second language at one of the elementary schools in Brunswick, and her long list of interests includes acting, multimedia and math. Castellanos won't be leaving Bowdoin right away; she is going to be living with her host family for another month, helping her Spanish professor edit a documentary.

After that, she plans to return to Los Angeles to work for the rest of the summer with Planet Bravo, a computer-based multimedia camp, helping second and third graders make movies. Her long-term plans include graduate school in public policy.

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