Campus News

Bowdoin Celebrates Baccalaureate 2010

Story posted May 28, 2010

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Bowdoin College held its 2010 Baccalaureate ceremony Friday, May 28, marking the official close of the academic year and celebrating the College's 205th Commencement (to be held Saturday, May 29).

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Baccalaureate speakers Nathan Isaacson '10 and Joan C. Countryman.

Bowdoin President Barry Mills presided over the ceremony. In addition to his welcoming remarks to the Class of 2010, Mills spoke about the state of higher education in America.

Mills says the College's yield of accepted students for the upcoming academic year is the highest in the past ten years, noting this is happening during the worst financial crisis the country has seen in decades.

"It is surely not wise to draw conclusions from a single year, but there has been a pattern over the past few years that is unmistakable," says Mills.

"Despite the economic downturn, or perhaps because of it, there is a 'flight to quality' by students and parents as they think about college. The good news for Bowdoin is that we are justifiably among the 20 or so private colleges or universities in America at the top of everyone's list."

Mills says it's neither a time for celebration nor complacency, noting that while the demand from highly qualified students is strong, the number of students who have the ability to pay for the education is steadily decreasing, and the demand by students who need help to attend college is increasing.

"All of this is happening in a period when the costs to operate a college — even in this deflationary period — continue to rise," says Mills.

"So much so, that it now costs us approximately $83,000 a year to educate a single student at Bowdoin, well above what for many of you has been a very painful fee of more than $50,000 a year. What this says to me is that while the demand by prospective students is there because of the quality of our program, the program is being provided at a cost that is unsustainable for many colleges and universities. Our challenge, then, is to figure out how we can continue to educate young men and women in ways that allow them to be productive and satisfied within an economic model that is sustainable."

Mills says the College is relatively secure financially and can therefore continue to provide and enhance Bowdoin's academic program. "That said, it won't surprise you to hear me say that we will always need additional resources to sustain and improve the College," he added.

In closing, Mills thanked the faculty and staff for their dedication and wished the Class of 2010 "success and a life of learning and deeds well done."

Read the full text of President Mills' Baccalaureate address.

Voices from Bowdoin's Past

Dean of Student Affairs Timothy W. Foster delivered "Voices from Bowdoin's Past," a Bowdoin Baccalaureate tradition. Highlighting the popularity of the new Peter Buck Center for Health and Fitness, which opened in the fall, Foster recalled the contributions of Dudley Sargent, after whom Sargent Gymnasium is named. Originally hired in 1870 by President Samuel Harris, Sargent, formerly a circus performer, taught gymnastics and a year later, decided to pursue a degree at the College — a dual role that didn't always sit well with faculty and fellow students.

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Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster

"The idea of a freshman director did not answer too well for success in the gymnasium," observed Sargent in his autobiography. Foster noted with a chuckle that President Harris suggested Sargent gain some training in boxing in order to command the respect of his fellow students.

"Sargent began outfitting the gym, often at his own expense," says Foster. "He ordered weights, rings, bars and apparatus adapted from his circus days. Many of the pieces were of his own design."

For Sargent the quest for physical fitness was as much about character as anything else. "The good effects of the exercise has made itself manifest in raising the average health of the students ... and — in elevating the tone of college morals," wrote Sargent.

"The moral standing of the students at Bowdoin has been in the ascendency for the last five years and it is at present equal if not superior to that of any other college in the country."

Read the full text of Foster's "Voices from Bowdoin's Past" address.

DeAlva Stanwood Alexander First Prize Winner Nathan Irving Isaacson '10

Graduating senior Nathan Isaacson delivered the address, "Whither a Small College and Maine," in which he expressed the depth of his roots at Bowdoin and in the state of Maine, and how the two are inextricably linked.

Baccalaureate Student Speaker
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Nathan Irving Isaacson '10, from Brunswick, grew up living so close to the College that he barely had to do more than cross the street to come to Bowdoin. He has been both a camper and a counselor at several different summer camps on campus, and he even learned to swim in Greason Pool.

He is graduating with a history major and a minor in government and legal studies. Isaacson could been seen — and heard — around campus singing with The Longfellows or — if you were one of the more than 18,000 fans at the Celtics-Wizards game in Boston last March, you might have caught him singing the national anthem at center court.

Isaacson has been working this spring on an independent study with Professor Denery, exploring the leadership of Pericles in the Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. In addition to Professor Denery, Nate says that Professors Jean Yarbrough and Paul Franco and their courses on political theory have been great influences on him.

After graduation, Isaacson plans to move to Boston, where he will live with friends from Bowdoin and begin a job with Deloitte Consulting, a strategic business consulting firm.


Noting the difficult economic times facing the state, Isaacson acknowledges a temptation "to disregard the challenges confronting Maine and engage the larger world with its prospects of personal accomplishments and prosperity."

To do so, says Isaacson, is to run the risk of severing those roots and losing something precious in the process.

Let me be clear, I am not calling for Bowdoin to rush to Maine's rescue. Maine does not need saving, even if it needs help, nor do I think that burden should fall on Bowdoin's shoulders. The resourcefulness of Mainers must be the wellspring for Maine's economic revitalization.
What I am calling for, however, is a reaffirmation of, and appreciation for, the relationship between the College and the State, a relationship that may find itself in a moment of peril.
From Maine, Bowdoin draws its spirit and principles. In turn, Bowdoin provides Maine with a model of excellence and a tradition of leadership. Harkening back to Lewis Hatch's reflections on Bowdoin's founding, providing leadership to Maine is part of Bowdoin's mission. Unlike an obligation, however, a mission is a loftier goal and an aspiration. Maine is a small state where individuals can make an enormous difference, and historically Bowdoin has provided the State with great men and women to guide it.

Isaacson says the purpose of his remarks is to help focus reflection upon the bond that exists between the new graduates and Bowdoin and Maine.

"Do not leave them untended, or they will wither away. You are now alumni of the College, and, in no small degree, fellow Mainers. This is an association I hope you savor, relish, and nurture, and I hope that it will enrich and strengthen your ties to Bowdoin."

Read the full text of Isaacson's address.

Keynote Address: Joan C. Countryman

Pioneering educator and author Joan C. Countryman delivered the keynote address, "If Nothing Else, Remember This," in which she reminisces about commencement addresses of days gone by, the early '60s at her alma mater, and her entre into the field of education.

Baccalaureate Keynote Speaker
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Joan C. Countryman has a long and distinguished career in education. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, with a master of urban studies degree from Yale University, she was a Fulbright fellow at the London School of Economics. She began her teaching career as coordinator of community schools in Philadelphia, and then was a lecturer and assistant dean of students at the University of Pennsylvania.

From 1970 to 1993 she taught mathematics at the Germantown Friends School, where she was director of studies, director of independent studies, and assistant head. Countryman was head of the Lincoln School in Providence, Rhode Island, from 1993 until her retirement in 2005. She was drawn out of retirement to serve as interim head of Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2006, followed by a one-year term as interim head of the Atlanta Girls’ School.

She has been a board member at Sarah Lawrence; the National Center for Independent School Renewal; Women and Infants Hospital; the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools; and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, among others. She is the author of Writing to Learn Mathematics (1992) and Black Images in American Literature (1977).


"The purpose of a liberal arts education, the education you have received here at Bowdoin and I at Sarah Lawrence, was to provide the skills needed to blend intellectual rigor with passionate concern for the larger community," says Countryman.

"The idea was that a healthy society consists of free individuals associating freely. That message led many in my generation, I was certainly one of them, to march right from college in the spring of 1962 into poor black communities in the rural South or the urban North, to create and support organizations that promoted voting rights, quality education, public accommodations and the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom."

Countryman spoke of her work in South Africa &mdasha; first in Cape Town and Johannesburg in 2002, as part of a "Delegation for Diversity," a group of teachers and administrators scheduled to meet with their counterparts in South African government and independent schools, and back in Johannesburg again in 2006, when she was asked to help launch the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls.

The academy's first class graduates in 2011. Nominated by their teachers and principals, the girls have the opportunity to attend, at no cost to their families, a school designed to develop skills and talents "that will enable them to lead their communities, their provinces, their nation, indeed Africa and the world."

Countryman relays the story of interviewing 11- and 12-year-old girls, some who had traveled great distances and whose enrollment would mean separation from their families.

"Why do you want to come to the school?" Countryman asked one of the students, who replied without hesitation, "It's my tomorrow."

"If you remember nothing else of what I've said today," said Countryman to the Class of 2010, "remember this: Her education is your tomorrow."

Read the full text of Countryman's keynote address.

Baccalaureate Music

Music for the Baccalaureate ceremony was provided by pianist Abriel Olivia Ferreira ’10, who performed "America the Beautiful" and accompanied the audience with "Raise Songs to Bowdoin." Ferreira on trumpet, accompanied by Sky Michael Bischoff-Mattson ’10, French horn and Eugene Yu Sun ’10, Trombone, performed Poulenc's Sonata for Horn, Trumpet and Trombone.

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