Campus News

451 Degrees Awarded at Bowdoin's 204th Commencement

Story posted May 23, 2009

Commencement photos available here.

Click below for Commencement remarks by:

During Bowdoin College's 204th commencement ceremony, 451 bachelor of arts degrees were awarded to students from 36 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and nine foreign countries.

Bowdoin President Barry Mills presided over the commencement ceremony.

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(L. to r.) Class President Christian Adams '09 and Commencement speakers Samantha Scully '09 and Ian Yaffe '09.

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

"We at Bowdoin understand that leadership requires empathy; it requires at its best a person who understands in their heart and head the issues and problems they seek to lead to solve and improve," Mills said.

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

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

"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."

The eagle feather given to President Mills and Peter Small '64, chair of the board of trustees, by Penobscot Nation Chief and Wabanaki Leader Kirk Francis.


The invocation was delivered by James G. Sappier, former chief of the Penobscot Nation.

Penobscot Nation Chief and Wabanaki Leader Kirk Francis was also in attendance and presented an eagle feather, a high honor customarily given to great leaders, to President Mills and Chair of the Board of Trustees Peter M. Small '64.

Greetings from the State of Maine

Former Governor John R. McKernan, R-Maine, delivered greetings from the State.

"Through the generations, Bowdoin has remained the physical embodiment of the cultural and civic aspirations of the great and good in the state of Maine," McKernan said.

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"As you enter the future you will one day lead, I urge you, with the knowledge and wisdom you’ve gained here at Bowdoin, to choose precisely how you can employ your specific individual talents to be important to the world around you, to choose to be all you can become, as those who have attended Bowdoin before you have done."

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President Barry Mills '72, former Gov. John R. McKernan and Chair of the Board of Trustees Peter M. Small '64 watch as the procession makes its way toward Massachusetts Hall.

McKernan passed on advice he said was once given to him.

"Your success will be profoundly influenced by intangibles that can best be described as your attitude," he said.

"It is your attitude as much as your aptitude that determines your altitude."

Commencement Speakers

As has been the tradition since Bowdoin's first graduation ceremony in 1806, commencement addresses were delivered by graduating seniors.

This year's speakers, chosen through competition, were Samantha Scully and Ian Yaffe.

Class of 1868 Prize Winner Samantha Scully '09

Scully's address, "Offer Accepted," examines how she has encountered "The Offer of the College" in her journey to graduation day, beginning back in high school.

"At first the line, 'To count Nature a familiar acquaintance,' worried me a bit," Scully remembered.

"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."

Scully spoke of savoring the opportunities she's had, and how a minor interest in Japanese history became both a major and a passion.

"Bowdoin ignited in me the fire to seek answers to questions I never had before," she said.

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Scully said the Class of 2009 has tremendous potential and is prepared to accomplish great things, recalling The Offer's words, "'To be leaders in all walks of life . . . And cooperate with others for common ends,'" and adding her own: "We will also measure our success by our sense of self-fulfillment and the positive impact we have made on society."

As for the outdoors, the city girl who once surveyed the campus and told herself, "I can do it here. I can become the person I've dreamed about becoming. I can do four years here," now views it with a different perspective.

"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," Scully said. "Nature has become a familiar acquaintance."

Goodwin Commencement Prize Winner Ian Yaffe '09

Yaffe's talk, "Moving Forward with the Common Good and Bowdoin," addresses the commitment to making the world a better place.

"Being committed to the common good is not a chore nor is it a choice," said Yaffe.


"It is about treating people as you want to be treated and in that sense, commitment to the common good means more than community service. In that sense, the pursuit of the common good is a selfish aim for the very simple reason that improving the world for others means that we live in an improved world ourselves."

Yaffe spoke of D.C. Central Kitchen in Washington, D.C., an organization that recovers un-served food from area restaurants in order to feed the hungry. The Kitchen inspired Yaffe to lead the creation of Bowdoin's similar Food Forward program, and he shared with the commencement audience the organization's motto: "Waste is wrong, be it related to food, money or the potential for productive lives."


Yaffe challenged listeners never to accept the status quo, but instead to solve problems with independent thinking and constant innovation.

"Let's make the world a better place the same way we've made Bowdoin a better place during these past four years," he said.

"I recognize that this is no easy task and it's a lot easier to say than to do. In order to make it happen, we will have to be incredibly vigilant, with sharpness of mind and certainty of character. I'm confident that we are prepared to set forth on this endeavor and so very hopeful for the future."

Senior Class Gift

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Senior Class President Christian Blake '09

Senior Class President Christian Adams, of Sedgwick, Maine, presented a gift on behalf of the Class of 2009.

Adams noted that exploring was what Bowdoin students enjoy most as he announced a gift of more than $5,000 to the College's financial aid program, "so more students will have the opportunity to explore in the future."

Adams also announced a donation to the Bowdoin Organic Garden.

Honorary Degree Recipients

Bowdoin awarded five honorary doctorates at the commencement ceremony:

  • Edward Albee, one of America's most esteemed playwrights, Doctor of Humane Letters
  • Stephen W. Hannock '74, renowned luminist landscape painter, Doctor of Fine Arts
  • Dr. Olufunmilayo Olopade, international leader in breast cancer research, Doctor of Science
  • Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, Doctor of Laws
  • Sheila Watt-Cloutier, noted Canadian environmentalist, Doctor of Humane Letters

Student Commencement Address Prize Winners

Samantha Lena Scully, of Brooklyn, N.Y., is a history major with a focus on East Asia. At Bowdoin, she has been a captain of Unity step team, a contributor to Q magazine, a member of the African American Society and president of her class.

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Samantha L. Scully '09

She has also been a programmer for the Howell House, a member of the Inter House Council, the Young Alumni Leadership Program and Bowdoin Student Government.

During the summer of 2007, she went to Japan as the first Bowdoin delegate to attend the Japan America Student Conference, a student-run cross-cultural program. The following year, she served as chair of the conference.

Scully has just completed an independent study examining the dissemination of Japanese culture through Japanese itinerant performers, who were also prostitutes. After graduation, she will be working with the Japan Exchange Teaching (JET) program, planning cultural events, teaching English, and continuing her research and learning Japanese.

Ian Fisher Yaffe, a Rockville, Md., native who has since made his home in Chilmark, Mass., is graduating with a major in Latin American studies and a minor in teaching.

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Ian F. Yaffe '09

He is the Class of 2009 representative to student government, serves on the board of directors for the Brunswick-Trinidad Sister City Association, and is co-founder of Food Forward, a student organization that partners with Dining Service and the McKeen Center for the Common Good to recycle food and deliver meals to the MidCoast Hunger Prevention Program, and that educates students about fighting hunger and its causes. He is also the executive chef for Taste for Change, a non-profit restaurant that is part of Food Forward and that offers volunteer opportunities, educational events and financial support for community partners. He was one of five students from across the country selected last June to receive the Campus Compact's 2008 Howard R. Swearer Student Humanitarian Award for showing an extraordinary commitment to improving local and global communities.

Yaffe is also a CPR and first aid instructor, and has been a firefighter since he was 18 at his home in Chilmark, Massachusetts. He joined the Topsham Fire Department as soon as he arrived at Bowdoin. Since then, he has continued his training, learning how to drive fire trucks and run into burning buildings.

Ian spent a semester at the University of Havana in Cuba, which resulted in an independent study on Caribbean thought and identity. When he leaves Brunswick, he will take up a post he has held previously as Assistant Harbormaster and Firefighter for the Town of Chilmark. He has applied for a spot in the U.S. Coast Guard's Officer Candidate School and hopes to start that training in August.


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