Campus News

Bowdoin to Award 451 Degrees at 204th Commencement May 23

Story posted May 21, 2009

Bowdoin will hold its 204th Commencement ceremony at 10 a.m., Saturday, May 23, 2009, and confer bachelor of arts degrees on 451 graduates.

President Barry Mills will preside over commencement and award degrees on the terrace of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art on the Quad. In the event of very severe weather, commencement will be held in Sidney J. Watson Arena. (Bowdoin has not held an indoor commencement since 1986.)

Of the 451 graduates, 56 are from Maine. Thirty-seven U.S. states are represented, including Massachusetts with 89 students, New York with 64, California with 36, Connecticut with 25 and New Jersey with 21.

Commencement Weekend Speakers

Since 1806, Bowdoin has given the honor of speaking at commencement to graduating seniors. Until 1877 every graduate had a speaking part. The custom of selecting student commencement speakers through competition began in the 1880s.

Past speakers have included poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1825, House Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed 1860, Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary 1877 and biologist and researcher Alfred Kinsey '16.

Samantha Lena Scully of Covington, Ga., and Ian Fisher Yaffe of Rockville, Md., are this year's commencement speakers.

Other participants include former Governor John R. McKernan Jr., who will deliver greetings from the State, and former Penobscot Indian Nation Chief James G. Sappier, who will deliver the invocation.

Bowdoin will award honorary degree doctorates to Edward Albee, one of America's most esteemed playwrights; renowned landscape artist Stephen W. Hannock, a member of the Bowdoin College Class of 1974; Dr. Olufunmilayo Olopade, an international leader in breast cancer research; Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch; and noted Canadian environmentalist Sheila Watt-Cloutier.

While the honorary degree recipients will not give speeches at the commencement ceremony, they will participate in a variety of events with members of the campus community.

On Friday, May 22, Hannock will present the talk, "From Paint to Pixels: Influencing the Culture from the Liberal Arts Community," at 1:15 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium, Visual Arts Center.

At 2:30 p.m. Watt-Cloutier will present a talk titled "Bringing the Right to be Cold into the U.S. Climate Consciousness," also in Kresge.

Edward Albee is the guest of honor at a meet-the-playwright gathering in the Shannon Room, Hubbard Hall, beginning at 3 p.m.

The College's baccalaureate ceremony, marking the official end of the academic year, will be held at 4:30 p.m., Friday, May 22, in Sidney J. Watson Arena. Roth will deliver the keynote address, "How Should We Right the Wrongs Committed in Fighting Terrorism?" Graduating senior Mary Helen Miller will also speak at baccalaureate.

Commencement History

Bowdoin College was chartered in 1794, and held its first commencement ceremony in 1806 in the second meetinghouse of First Parish Church across the street from the College. There were seven graduates in the Class of 1806. The following year saw the smallest graduating class in the College's history, with just three members in the Class of 1807.

The best-known class was the Class of 1825. In addition to Longfellow, the class included writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. In 1875, on the day before commencement at the 50th reunion of the class, Longfellow recited his poem "Morituri Salutamus," an elegiac reflection on youth and age.

Other notable Bowdoin graduates include President Franklin Pierce 1824, African-American newspaper editor John Brown Russwurm 1826, Civil War hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain 1852, former U.S. Senator and current U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell '54, former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen '62, and Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson '79.

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