Campus News

Commencement 2010 Address: Luke John Mondello '10

Story posted May 29, 2010

"A World of Difference"
By Luke John Mondello '10
Goodwin Commencement Prize Winner
May 29, 2010

Today, I want to dispel a myth. This myth is an idea very familiar to every Bowdoin student: something we've been told since the day we first arrived on campus. What I'm referring to is the myth of the "Bowdoin Bubble."

Luke Mondello150.jpg
Luke John Mondello '10

For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, the Bowdoin Bubble refers to the idea that our college community is so safe and so secluded that it cuts us off from the rest of world. We live at Bowdoin, attend class at Bowdoin, eat, sleep and hang out at Bowdoin — students become unexposed and uninterested in anything beyond our campus confines, and the rest of the world simply passes by as we go about our busy lives inside this so-called Bowdoin Bubble. But as my time at this school draws to a close, I question how isolated we really are and wonder what unknown connections there might be between this community and the world beyond the quad.

So, to investigate these potential connections, I did what I do every time there's something I want to know: I went to Wikipedia. Some of you may be familiar with the game, "Six Degrees to Kevin Bacon." Basically, the game is based on the assumption that every actor can be linked through his or her film roles to actor Kevin Bacon within six steps (for example, start with Morgan Freeman: Morgan Freeman was in The Shawshank Redemption with Gary Lee Davis who was in Murder in the First with Kevin Bacon. There you go). Well, I took this idea and applied it to Bowdoin. I started on three seemingly random, unconnected Wikipedia pages and clicked on different links until I found myself back at Bowdoin, using no more than six clicks to get there. I'd now like to share the connections I've found with all of you. Each time I say (click), you can imagine me clicking onto a new Wikipedia page.

So for my first example, I started with mino washi. Mino washi is a type of Japanese paper created in the Gifu Prefecture and used in making traditional fans, lanterns and umbrellas in Gifu City (click). Gifu City is the birthplace of famed marathoner, Naoko Takahashi (click), who currently holds the Olympic record for the Women's Marathon event (click). When the Olympic Women's Marathon debuted in the 1983 summer games, Joan Benoit (click) become the events first-ever gold medalist. Joan Benoit, as you may know, walked down these very steps (click) when she graduated from Bowdoin College in 1979.

Are you beginning to get how this works? I'll give you another example. Germknödel is a yeast dough dumpling filled with spicy plum jam, traditionally served as a dessert in Austria (click). One of Austria's most famous sons is Arnold Schwarzenegger (click) two-time governator of California. In 1987, Schwarzenegger appeared in the sci-fi classic Predator alongside former WWE star, Jesse "the Body" Ventura (click), who would later join Arnold in the ranks of celebrity politicians when elected as Governor of Minnesota in 1998. During his tenure, Ventura was one of only two Independent governors nationwide, the other being Angus King (click) of Maine. Angus, as his students and neighbors affectionately call him, teaches the highly sought-after "Leaders and Leadership" class right here (click) at Bowdoin College. He teaches this same course at Bates, but we won't hold that against him.

You're probably getting the point by now, but I'll give one last example. Los Posadas is a nine-day celebration preceding Christmas, marking the trials of Mary and Joseph as they searched for a place for Jesus to be born. Los Posadas is observed in parts of Mexico (click) and other Catholic Latin American countries. Although futball is the most popular sport in Mexico (click) the nation holds a variety of sporting events each year, such as the Baja 1000 race (click), an off-road race for all types of vehicles — from motorcycles to VW Bugs. One of this race's most famous competitors is Patrick Dempsey (click), who, in additional to being a TV actor is also — apparently — a racecar driver (everyone needs a hobby, I guess). Patrick Dempsey portrays the stunningly handsome neurosurgeon Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd (click) on ABC's hit medical drama, Grey's Anatomy. McDreamy, as any Bowdoin student can tell you, is a fake graduate of our very own (click) Bowdoin College.

By now, hopefully you see what I'm getting at: this campus and each one of us are linked to cultures, customs and people far different from ourselves, and in ways far more tangible and important than Wikipedia articles. And with access to faster, more efficient technology and communications, our world becomes more and more connected each day. So as it turns out, there never was a Bowdoin Bubble. In reality, no place is a Bubble — not really. And as we leave this community for whatever community awaits us next, it is important to remember that each one of us is in someway inextricably bound to the rest of this world, even if were convinced otherwise.

At this point in my speech, you might think I'm implying that in reality, we're all connected, and in a way we're not as different as we think. That's actually not at all what I'm trying to say. Yes, we as a global community are connected. But despite these connections, difference still exists, and always will. There are over 6.6 billion people on this planet, hailing from around 200 countries, speaking almost 7,000 languages and practicing countless religions, philosophies and moral systems. Although the idea that "people are interconnected, and hence more similar than you'd think" is appealing, it's simply not true. People are different in a way far more foreign and deep and complicated than exotic desserts, or holidays you've never heard of, or obscure genres of folk song. And that difference is unavoidable.

So where does that leave us? We are connected, but we are different. What does this mean? It means that from this day and everyday for the rest of our lives each of us will experience innumerable encounters with people, places, cultures and values different from our own. But I have some good news: each member of this class has been handed the tools to encounter this difference and meet it as constructively, as positively, as humanely as possible. As graduates of this college and as products of the liberal arts philosophy, we have spent the last four years learning how to learn. We've been taught to take in information about events, people and places we've never encountered before and thoughtfully and critically extract the truth from what we are told. We have been trained to make connections, find common ground and pull together different strands of a story to create a more complete, more informed picture of reality. And we have learned to take this information and use it — not to prove a point or win an argument — but to advance and deepen our understanding of something that until quite recently, we knew nothing about. This last point is particularly important: it is tempting to argue your own way of thinking or doing as better than any other because it is familiar. But this approach doesn't change that difference still remains; it simply places judgment and limits our ability to accept the value of others.

Im not asking you to not have opinions. Im not telling you to abandon what is important to you to accommodate others. And I know what I'm asking of you very difficult; it's something that I struggle with even while I recommend it to you. Yet still, Im inviting each one of us to try. To attempt to understand the difference we encounter, rather than discredit it. This is an invitation to listen to those lucky enough to speak for themselves and allow people to define themselves on their own terms. Likewise, this is an invitation to strive to be understood by making ourselves available to those willing to hear us and appreciate what is important and different about each of us.

Today, I wanted to dispel a myth, and demonstrate that no place and no person is truly separated from the rest. But I also want to leave us with a challenge, Class of 2010. A challenge to use the way of thinking Bowdoin has taught us to try to create a more educated, open-minded and understanding world. By taking this challenge to heart and striving for the respect and cooperation that comes with listening to one another and being heard, I sincerely believe that each one of us can make a world of difference.

Thank you for listening. I wish you all the best of luck.

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