269 Scholars honored at 2008 Sarah and James Bowdoin Day Ceremony

Story posted October 31, 2008

Bowdoin's highest-ranking scholars were recognized at the College's Sarah and James Bowdoin Day exercises Friday, October 31, 2008. Sarah and James Bowdoin scholarships are awarded each fall on the basis of work completed the previous academic year.

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Goodwin Prize winner and student marshal Kerry Persen '09 and student speaker Samuel Waterbury '11

The award is given to the 20 percent of all eligible students with the highest grade point average. Book Awards are presented to every Sarah and James Bowdoin Scholar who earned a GPA of 4.00. The Award bears a replica of the early College bookplate serving to distinguish the James Bowdoin Collection in the library.

A total of 269 students were named Sarah and James Bowdoin Scholars, with 10 of the Scholars earning Book Awards.

The Almon Goodwin Prize, presented to a member of Phi Beta Kappa chosen by vote of the Board of Trustees of the College, was awarded to Kerry Ann Persen.

Other Phi Beta Kappa members from the Class of '09 are:

Archibald Kenyon Abrams
Nicholas Charles Dunn
Erica Lynn Hinteregger
Caitlin May Hylan
Joseph Martin Kellner
Susanna Ruth Kimport
Mark Ralph McGranaghan
Kelly Anne Overbye
Marie Andrea Foster Sears
Tanya Todorova Todorova

Sarah and James Bowdoin Day speeches are delivered by a highly recognized practitioner in one of the liberal arts disciplines and an outstanding Bowdoin student. This year's speakers were David Kertzer, Provost and Paul Dupee Jr. University Professor of Social Science at Brown University, and Samuel Ross Waterbury '11.

Kertzer's talk, "The Perils of Anti-Intellectualism," focused on the need for an informed citizenry that understands the rest of the world.

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President Barry Mills and David Kertzer

"The proportion of Americans ignorant about the peoples of the rest of the world is truly alarming, and dangerous given the role that the U.S. plays in the world," said Kertzer.

"Part of the problem here is a kind of mindless nationalist chauvinism that is all too commonly found in the U.S."

Kertzer said that people everywhere tend to think their values and world views are the best and to think otherwise would be to consider one's culture in crisis.

"In light of this aspect of human nature it should not be surprising if Americans tend to view our own society, our own ways of doing things, our own values as superior to others, for this is exactly how other peoples view the world," he said.

"But given the role that the U.S. plays in the world today, if we don't recognize the limitations of our own self-glorification, and don't understand how the rest of the world views us, we are going to continue to be in trouble and to create problems in other parts of the world. And here is where scholars have such an important role, for it's our job to help overcome the passions of group think and the strong siren call of social solidarity, to help puncture the chauvinisms that pass for God-given truths."

Read the text of Kertzer's address here.

In his talk, "The Point of Bowdoin," Waterbury questioned the use of higher learning. He said the goal of learning everything is unattainable and that focusing one's learning on a single subject is limiting and at odds with the liberal arts model.

"When I talk about learning being the reason to be in school, I am not talking merely about the acquisition of knowledge," said Waterbury. "Knowledge is valuable, but only as it is a byproduct of learning."

Waterbury said he sees learning as the act of attaining sophistication in one's understanding of and taste for music, art, literature, science, mathematics and language.

"When I talk about learning, I'm talking about developing an appreciation for the finer pleasures that life has to offer, the finest of all being learning itself, the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake," he said.

"With this new discerning palate, understanding and appreciation I believe that we will then develop a love of the liberal arts education that Bowdoin offers. When I say that the point of Bowdoin is for us to learn, I mean that it is for us to learn to love learning."

Read the text of Waterbury's address here.

President Barry Mills congratulated the scholars on their academic achievements and encouraged all to be fearless learners, whether that be questioning conventional wisdom or visiting the Museum of Art.

Regarding the current economic downturn, Mills spoke of the College's firm foundation, calling Bowdoin "phenomenally strong and secure."

Mills cited four guiding principles, the first of which was met with immediate applause; Mills said the College must support students who require financial assistance, adding, "We cannot abandon them, and we won't."

Mills also said the College will continue to maintain the highest education standards and pay attention to the stewardship of the facilities. Lastly, Mills cited the Bowdoin Community, saying its members will continue to support each other.

During the Sarah and James Bowdoin Day ceremony, the Bowdoin Concert Band led the processional and recessional, and performed an interlude.

The student marshal was Goodwin Prize winner Kerry Ann Persen.

The recognition of James Bowdoin Scholars was begun in 1941 to honor those undergraduates who distinguish themselves by excellence in scholarship and to commemorate the Honorable James Bowdoin III (1752-1811), first patron of the College. James Bowdoin III, who asked that the College be named after his father, was an agriculturist, an art and book collector, and a diplomat who served as Thomas Jefferson's minister plenipotentiary to Spain from 1804-08. In 1997 by faculty vote the commemorative day and distinction as scholar were changed to recognize both Sarah and James Bowdoin, who were married from 1780 until his death in 1811. Like her husband, Sarah Bowdoin gave many gifts to the College, including most of the Bowdoin family portraits, which were bequeathed to the College upon her death.

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