Campus News

Bowdoin Celebrates Baccalaureate 2009

Story posted May 22, 2009

Click below for Baccalaureate remarks by:

Bowdoin College held its 2009 Baccalaureate ceremony Friday, May 22, marking the official close of the academic year and celebrating the College's 204th Commencement (to be held Saturday, May 23).

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Addresses were delivered by graduating senior Mary Helen Miller and Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

Bowdoin President Barry Mills presided over the ceremony.

In his welcoming remarks to the Class of 2009, Mills said the College has never wavered in providing strong leadership in higher education while also educating leaders for our country and the world.

"These fundamentals define our college, set us apart, and have guided us through periods of instability and challenge," said Mills, adding, "Today, we are in such a period."

Mills spoke of the current economic environment and of challenges the Great Depression posed for his predecessor, President Kenneth Sills.

"Bowdoin is better positioned to deal with our country's economic issues that at any time in its history," Mills said. "Nonetheless, I do believe we are at a point of fundamental change for colleges and universities in America."

Mills spoke of the endowment — how it covers the part of a student's education that tuition and fees do not and how it has performed in the economic downturn — and how Bowdoin has positioned itself well for the future in meeting the architectural needs of the 21st century.

"As Sills knew in his time, and as we recognize still today, it is that constant questioning of our worth that should propel us forward," Mills said.

"The strain of these economic times has a 'silver lining' as it forces us to rebalance and reset our aspirations squarely focused on our mission and principle. As we move into this next period in our history, we do so with pride in our history, with confidence in our abilities and in our guiding principles, and with the resolve necessary to continue to provide a Bowdoin education to future generations of students and a vibrant intellectual community for our faculty and staff."

In closing, Mills thanked the faculty and staff for their dedication and wished the Class of 2009 "success and a life of learning and deeds well done."

Voices from Bowdoin's Past

Dean of Student Affairs Timothy W. Foster delivered "Voices from Bowdoin's Past," a Bowdoin Baccalaureate tradition. The readings came from a letter written by Arctic explorer Admiral Robert E. Peary to his mother as he approached his own Bowdoin Commencement in 1877.

I have thought more of the future this spring than I ever did before . . . I have asked myself a thousand questions, which only time can answer. Where shall I be in ten years, in twenty years? Shall I be alive or dead, fortunate or unfortunate, shall I be trudging along in the narrow tracks many men make for themselves or shall I be known outside the circle of my acquaintances? All these [thoughts] and many more present themselves to me whenever I have a chance to think.

Foster said that Peary, who would become known the world over for fortitude, courage, ingenuity and bold action, revealed a sentimental side of his personality, expressing feelings possibly shared by the soon-to-be graduates.

If I am to say good-bye to someone for a long time, I never want to say it in the daytime. It is too real. It is much better said under the enchantment which night always breathes upon everything, when the dusk may help a tell-tale face to hide too great emotion, when the shadow of a dream is over all, half persuading you that you are merely saying 'Goodnight' and not 'Good-by,' keeping from you all the meaning of good-by until time and sleep and the light of another day enable you to face the fact.

DeAlva Stanwood Alexander First Prize Winner Mary Helen Miller '09

Graduating senior Mary Helen Miller gave a speech titled, "Bowdoin Space," in which she juxtaposed the concept of space her parents tried to give her ("Don't expect to hear from us, ever again," Miller recalls her mother yelling from inside her parents' departing car after bringing her to campus her first year) with that which she shared in so many ways during the past four years.

"But the truest shared space here is the space above and within — the metaphysical space that is Bowdoin," said Miller.

"This is the place where we commune with each other and with those who have come before. All we really share with every other alum — living or dead — is the years of space in between coming and going that we've had at Bowdoin. And, many of those who have passed through never really left. They dwell here, beckoning us to join them in contemplation and scrutiny of what it means to be human, and what it means to be human today. Russwurm asks us to think about equality, and Longfellow lingers to show us beauty. Hanley Denning speaks with us about service."

Miller spoke of living in a world of ideas, studying new concepts of great thinkers and wrangling with numbers and theories.

"Navigating this space has been nauseating, thrilling, infuriating and occasionally calming," she said.

"This is the space we may now enter without hesitation. Its vastness will still awe us, but we have touched — if just barely — what is possible when we tread there."

Keynote Address: Honorand and Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth

Kenneth Roth, one of the five who will receive honorary degrees at Saturday's commencement, delivered the keynote address, "How Should We Right the Wrongs Committed in Fighting Terrorism?"

Roth was drawn to the human rights cause in part by his father's experience fleeing Nazi Germany in 1938, but says he was also a product of the peace-conscious sixties.

"I also went to law school during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, and while he was not the most successful of our presidents, he was the first one to introduce the idea that foreign policy should be guided by human rights," said Roth.

On the subject of torture, Roth echoed sentiments from recent statements made by President Barack Obama, saying that the choice between our values and our security is a false one.

"Respect for our values enhances our security," Roth said. "We need to make sure not to lose the moral high ground, because when we resort to human rights abuse, that generates resentment and animosity around the world. And that anger, that rage is a boon to terrorist recruiters and it undermines the international cooperation we need."

Roth says Obama's intention to revive use of military tribunals for high-profile Guantanamo Bay detainees is a mistake, saying regular courts are much better than the tribunals, which he says still carry a stain from the Bush administration and don’t sit well with Americans.

"They want to see terror suspects treated the same way we treat any other criminal, with the same rights they’re afforded," said Roth.

Roth offered bits of advice along the way; quoting White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, he said, "Never waste a good crisis," adding, "Each crisis brings with it opportunities."

Informed by the passion he brings to his work, he urged those in the audience to stand up for their beliefs.

"As you enter the world, please let your views be known," Roth said. "There is no better tribute to the education you’ve just received than to let your voices be heard."

Baccalaureate Music

Music for the Baccalaureate ceremony was provided by pianist Lydia Tsuei-Ching Yeh '09, who performed "America the Beautiful" and accompanied the audience with "Raise Songs to Bowdoin." The Middle Eastern Ensemble comprising Michael Krohn '09, oud, Zachary Levin '09, clarinet, and James Gray '09, riqq, performed "Nihavent Eseri" and "Nihavent Zeybek."

Baccalaureate Speakers:

Mary Helen Miller '09, of Lookout Mountain, Tenn., is graduating with an art history and visual art interdisciplinary major, with a minor in education studies.

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Mary Helen Miller '09

Miller has been deeply involved with the Bowdoin Orient, serving as opinion editor in her first year, features editor the year after, managing editor during her junior year, and co-editor-in-chief with Nick Day this year.

Miller also completed Bowdoin's acclaimed leadership training program with the Outing Club during her sophomore year, and she has since led other Bowdoin students on various trips, including two pre-orientation trips.

She is the co-winner of this year's English department prize for non-fiction, and she spent last summer at Bowdoin's Scientific Station at Kent Island as artist-in-residence. She will be heading back to Kent Island this summer, both to continue her landscape painting and to serve as the cook.

Kenneth Roth has been the executive director of Human Rights Watch since 1993.

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Kenneth Roth

Born in Elmhurst, Illinois, he graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in 1977 and received a J.D. degree from Yale University in 1980. From 1981 to 1983 he was a litigator in a private law practice in New York, and from 1983 to 1987 served as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.

He was an associate counsel in the Office of Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra before becoming the deputy director of Human Rights Watch in New York City in 1987. Roth's commitment to human rights issues grew from his father's experiences fleeing Nazi Germany in 1938 and his own reactions to the declaration of martial law in Poland in 1981 and top military repression in Haiti.

Under his leadership Human Rights Watch has expanded the scope of its investigations to 70 countries, has quadrupled in the number of staff engaged in human rights work, and has added special programs to address issues of refugees, human rights emergencies, children's rights, gay and lesbian rights, AIDS, terrorism and counterterrorism, and the responsibilities of multinational corporations to uphold human rights. Roth has written many reports on human rights abuses around the world, contributes important articles and essays, and gives interviews and speeches about the ongoing work of Human Rights Watch.

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