Campus News

Commencement 2010 Address: U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree

Story posted May 29, 2010

Greetings from the State
By U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine)
May 29, 2010

It's wonderful to be with you on this spectacular Maine day. Congratulations Bowdoin Class of 2010.

Chellie Pingree150.jpg
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree

To all of the family, friends and honored guests here today: welcome and greetings from the State of Maine.

I know that many of you here today are from Maine, but many of you are "from away." And that's OK. In fact, I myself wasn't born in Maine — I was born in Minnesota. You know, where we say, "Yeah, sure, you betcha."

But I came here when I was a little younger than you, a teenager, fresh out of high school. I came to the Island of North Haven, a town of 350 year round residents, 12 miles off the coast about an hour north of here. You travel there on a ferry that takes an hour. I was armed, with a book called Living the Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing, Maine's most famous sustainable farmers, I had a plan...

Somehow 40 years later, I ended up representing the first congressional district, but nothing should say more about Maine than the number of hats nearly everyone here wears. Maine is where I have come to learn the value of small-town wisdom and the true meaning of "common sense." From the best day to start your tomatoes for the garden, to how to deal with health care in a rural isolated community — Maine is the best place to gather your inspiration, learn from the people around you and toughen your skin.

Maine is where I have learned how to live with and work with people that I like and agree with, and also those who I disagree with and can't stand. When you live in a small town you learn how to bridge differences and solve conflicts, there is nothing like Town Meeting day, the first Saturday in March for tempers to flare and tough decisions to be made — sometimes taking all day. In the end, no matter your differences, people remember that they are all in this together and we have a shared stake in making a better future for our children. When people ask me how I am faring in one of the most difficult Congressional sessions — and challenging year for our country and state — tell them that you couldn't have had a better training for being there than a small town in Maine.

Maine is where I chose to raise my children. And, if anyone tells you, you can't get a great education attending the smallest high school in the state, where the average graduating class is around three to five students — they haven't met my oldest daughter, Hannah, who is ending her eight years as a Maine legislator, the last two as the youngest Speaker of the House in the country — at age 33. As you graduates consider your own role in our civil society, never say you are too young for politics, whether it is voting or serving yourself. In fact, the Bowdoin campus is represented by a graduate, Alex Cornell de Houx.

And for young women, in particular, we have a strong tradition of sending women to our state capital and our nation's capital. In fact, when I was sworn in last year, Maine became the first state in the history of this country to have women make up a majority of our congressional delegation.

Of course Maine isn't all about politics — ours is a where our rich coastal tradition started with explorers like Champlain, Verrazano and Captain John Smith, and produced generations of hard working fishing families. And now, we stand on the verge of a new era, ready to build an offshore wind industry that we hope will power our future economy.

And, if there is one thing you have learned, I am sure — you are never far from a good meal when you are in Maine. Last year, The New York Times called Portland, Maine, "the controlled fermentation of culinary ideas," and I am sure you have sampled our great restaurants from Brunswick down the coast. But, I hope you have also tried the best banana cream pie on the planet at Moody's Diner, or the largest cup of coffee in Dysarts Truck stop in Bangor, or a delicious buckwheat Ploye up in the County. We Mainers like to eat!

And Maine is where you are about to graduate from college. I know many of you will head off to other states. To graduate school. To a job, to start a career. While I am not the speaker who is here to inspire you, I can tell you one thing from my own 55 years of experience — life is unpredictable, you will do great things and you couldn't have come from a better base than Maine. Whether you stay here to start your career or just consider us your favorite second home to visit — we will always welcome you back and you can always call us home.

I wish you all the best from the State of Maine.

Thank you.

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