Commencement 2009 Address: Samantha L. Scully '09
Story posted May 23, 2009
By Samantha L. Scully '09
Class of 1868 Prize Winner
May 23, 2009
When the class of 2009 matriculated in the fall of 2005, we were greeted graciously by everyone on campus. In his welcoming speech, President Mills read us "The Offer of the College," adapted from former Bowdoin College President William DeWitt Hyde's version. I want to read it for everyone here today, for those who may have forgotten exactly what that offer entailed and for those who have never heard it before.
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.
I first read this offer on Bowdoin's Web site when I considered applying to the College. I was impressed by what this institution could offer me, and I was curious as to how it would do that in four years. When I arrived on campus I learned that the real question was, "Would I accept Bowdoin's offer?"
At first, the line, "To count Nature a familiar acquaintance," worried me a bit. On the College's Web site students talked about connecting with nature as they studied amongst the pines. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Therefore, I had this idea of a pine forest and Bowdoin in the middle of it. I was nervous as I traveled here on experience weekend, but I wanted to see the institution that offered me the keys to the world's libraries.
During my first visit to Maine, I could not understand why I was in a wool coat while all the students were enjoying 30-degree weather. However, I now know why. On the last day of experience weekend I walked out onto the Quad and just looked around. After a deep breath I told myself, "I can do it here. I can become the person I've dreamed about becoming. I can do four years here." Now when I look around I am not concerned with finishing a race, and memories of studying under pine trees, playing broom ball on the Quad and enjoying Ivies outside rush back to me. Nature has become a familiar acquaintance.
Originally I saw Bowdoin as a stepping stone to a future in law. Thankfully I quickly realized that four years at Bowdoin need to be savored and reflected upon. I did not come to Bowdoin with the ability to be "at home in all lands." I learned how to do that here. This is a common story amongst many of my fellow classmates. We were given the opportunity to see and experience places like England, Greece, Cambodia, Vietnam and many others. Bowdoin gave me the opportunity to visit Japan and the trip shaped my life. What started as a minor interest and a few classes in Japanese history became a major and a passion. Bowdoin ignited in me the fire to seek answers to questions I never had before.
In my sophomore year I told my mom I was considering a major in either East Asian history or Asian studies. She was curious as to what Bowdoin had done to me. Several students have gone through that conversation about one, two, three or more major changes with family members. When I arrived at Bowdoin the world became open to me. No longer did I have to study for AP, IB or SAT exams. As Bowdoin students we began learning for our own happiness and our future. You come here with one mindset and Bowdoin challenges how you see the world, how you see yourself, and how you will deal with the end results of your quest for knowledge. My family, like many other people, do not know much about itinerant performers during the Tokugawa era in Japan, but they supported me and knew if I was learning it at Bowdoin College I would be able to use it in my future.
As I got on the plane to Japan I thought I would return with just a deeper understanding about Japanese culture. By the end of my month-long stay I learned a lot about myself. I came to understand that through our education we have the rare opportunity to redefine our role in society through insight and action.
This semester Robert Johnson Jr., Bowdoin Class of '71, and the first president of the African American Society, gave a lecture about his research and time at Bowdoin. He mentioned a quote from former Bowdoin professor Thomas Cogswell Upham's book, The Manual of Peace. Upham wrote, "I thought I was an American but realized the world is my country." The quote reflects the mindset Bowdoin has helped me develop. I am now invested in finding ways and methods to strengthen the relationship between America and other countries, because I believe the global and national issues we face can be solved through mutual understanding and cooperation between nations.
When I returned from Japan I began to better understand the Offer of the College. However, until recently I was confused by the line, "To make hosts of friends..." After the line there is an ellipsis and I wondered why. I felt as if we were being asked to fill in the rest of the sentence. Is it to make a host of friends who stuck by you as you wrote papers, partied with you at the pub, helped you find the lost back to your cell phone, listened to your issues, were there when an honors project became an independent study, brought you food when you were sick, mentored you, or just lent you a shoulder to cry upon? To me, it meant all of those things; The Offer was to make hosts of friends who did all those things and became my family.
Bowdoin gave the Class of 2009 an offer and we had to decide if we would accept it. Time and time again I have heard "Samantha, you have great potential." We the graduating class of 2009 have the potential to do great things. We will leave Bowdoin today able to research, write, analyze and reason like scholars. Some of us will continue our education and others will enter their field. Despite the different paths we take, in different states and countries, we are prepared for the road ahead of us. We have made it this far because we acknowledged our potential.
While the degree is a symbol of our accomplishment the entire value of our experience cannot be held on paper. No, it is in the crowd, the tear-filled eyes of family and friends, who have cheered us on relentlessly for four years, shows us a glimmer of our success.
I wondered how I would demonstrate that I have fully accepted The Offer. Then I remembered that The Offer was also, "To be leaders in all walks of life . . . And cooperate with others for common ends." We will also measure our success by our sense of self-fulfillment and the positive impact we have made on society. My greatest mentor at Bowdoin, professor Thomas Conlan, told me, "You want to go through life with as few regrets as possible." Class of 2009, I hope when you look back on these four years at Bowdoin, take your next step in life, and find your place in this world that you, too, have as few regrets as possible. I plan to use the resources and tools given us wisely and I encourage you to do the same. When President Mills addressed our class in 2005, he also told our group of bright-eyed first years that it was going to "be a great adventure and the best four years of our life." It has been, but it does not end here.
President Mills, members of the College and guests, I have accepted The Offer, the Class of 2009 has accepted The Offer. Our adventure continues. Congratulations to everyone, and thank you.
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