Commencement 2010 Address: Jessica Jung Eun Song ‘10
Story posted May 29, 2010
By Jessica Jung Eun Song '10
Class of 1868 Prize Winner
May 29, 2010
On February 27, 2010, the Sidney J. Watson Arena was filled with over 2,300 fans, and I was one of them. I do not know much about ice hockey, but it was the quarterfinal game against Colby — so, I had to be there. The pressure and nervousness of the crowd went through the roof as the third period ended with a tie at one-even.
Then, with just four minutes and 26 seconds left in overtime, the Polar Bears scored the winning goal. The crowd went wild and the chant, "This is our house," was repeated over and over again, filling up the arena with joy and excitement. I was shouting my lungs out as well and then suddenly, I realized — this is our house.
Ours, including myself. Us. Together. And that idea struck me in the oddest way. How is it, that Bowdoin can be just as much a home for a Korean kid, who is from a country thousands of miles away, as it is for someone from just outside of Boston or Aroostook county? And I have been thinking about that.
How does one belong to somewhere? The simplest way is to be born into an environment and be surrounded and supported by those like us. In my case, it is Seoul, Korea, and a warm and caring family. Some of you are from big cities, others, small towns and suburbs. Some have single parents and others, large extended families. As we inherit a culture, we gain the sense of belonging.
Yet, we can also find home and belonging from adaptation. When I was 15, my father said that we would be moving to Maine. "Where's Maine?" I asked. He said "It is a state in America where there is a lot of snow." We moved to Falmouth a few months later, and what my father told me was true.
When I first arrived, I felt out of place. Suddenly and apparently, I was now a minority — racially, nationally and culturally — something I had never been before. People spoke a different language and had a different culture. When someone said, "What's up," I responded by looking upward. I was lost. Over the course of four years, I learned English and American culture. I made American friends, listened to Britney Spears, and memorized the "Bill of Rights" in History class. And sometimes, I used the word "wicked." I adapted to the new environment and came slowly to belong to the Falmouth, Maine, community.
Well, over half of my classmates know this feeling from having studied abroad. When we study abroad, we not only learn new languages but keenly observe what is taken for granted at home and adapt different customs and views. The unfamiliarity can be scary and overwhelming, but it is exciting and expansive as well. Before we know it, we learn to fit into a new place, and most wish to return to this new "home" as soon as possible. We feel we belong there.
If coming into our families and venturing into new cultures is about assimilation, creating the Bowdoin community is more about finding cohesion among the diverse groups of individuals. It is about shared experiences, challenges, defeats and successes. It started when we all signed the matriculation log during orientation. We took classes in Sills, Searles and Kanbar. We struggled with problem sets and stayed up late trying to get a thesis that would make the draft work. We exercised in Buck and performed in Pickard. And yes, we all had to make the tough decisions — Moulton or Thorne. These were important shared experiences, but there is more.
Bowdoin challenged us academically. We had to think harder. We read works we never knew about and learned to dig deeper. My first economics course captured me, and I changed my planned major. The ease of the first class gave way to demanding problem sets, research projects and nearly impossible finals. Then I got the chance to design my own independent study, mentored by my finance professor and developed my own thesis on economic fragility.
Many of you have experienced similar challenges in government, English, biology or anthropology. It was not easy, but we found our passion in these subjects with the guidance of inspiring professors.
Outside of class, we were challenged to recognize our own assumptions and biases. We were confronted with ideas we might not have encountered: poverty, extreme affluence, political antipathy, gender quandaries, and race stereotypes and segregation. Here, we are fortunate to have lived side by side with people who gave a real face to these issues. We learned to be accepting and tolerant about what is unfamiliar to us.
It is not easy to be inclusive of all these unique individuals. But we have learned to listen to and try to appreciate the perspectives they bring. We have learned their experiences and views contribute to the Bowdoin community just as mine and yours do. Bowdoin helped us develop ownership of the college. We stepped into the Bowdoin community and made it our own.
Happily, our community will continue to exist even when we leave Brunswick and the Pines.
Bowdoin communities are everywhere. Hundreds of alumni and students attend the biannual events in major U.S. cities like New York, Boston and Washington. And even if we go little bit farther away, Bowdoin Clubs exist throughout the world. Last summer, I caught a glimpse of what this will mean to us after today. I went to Shanghai for a weekend to attend a Bowdoin Club of Asia event. Alumni and students of various class years came from Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Beijing for this event to meet other Polar Bears. I don't speak Chinese and had never travelled to China before. But in Shanghai, miles away from my comfort zone, I felt I belonged to a community with warm welcoming alumni. I believe this comes from our shared Bowdoin experience, which we take with us as we build new lives away from Bowdoin.
What happened in the last four years that gave me a sense of belonging in this community? Is it all those hours we spent together in Smith Union? Maybe. But I think it is more because we had opportunities to share experience, build our own community, and make our own culture.
It is a day to celebrate our Bowdoin community and, of course, appreciate those who led us to become a part of this great place. On behalf of the class of 2010, I would like to thank proud parents, professors, trustees, staff, alumni and friends who helped us through this privileged journey.
In just an hour, we will join George J. Mitchell, Stanley Druckenmiller, Geoffrey Canada, and Joan Benoit Samuelson and thousands of others in the ranks of the loyal sons and daughters of Bowdoin. And with that, we will leave the campus. Yet, "this is our house." We gained so much from the school and are prepared for our next challenge. We will be all over the world, and we will make our marks. But, we will miss this place greatly, and the experience will never leave us.
Congratulations class of 2010! Chuka Hamnida — congratulations in Korean! Bon Voyage!
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