Campus News

Convocation 2010: Voices from Bowdoin's Past

Story posted September 02, 2010

"Voices from the Past"
Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster

Bowdoin College's 209th Convocation was held Wednesday, September 1, 2010, in Pickard Theater, Memorial Hall. Following is the text of Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster's reading.

Good afternoon. I'm pleased to participate in this opening of Bowdoin's 209th academic year, and especially to greet members of the Class of 2014 once again.

Tim Foster

I had the opportunity on Sunday night to welcome you as a group, and I look forward to getting to know all of you individually over the next four years.

Tomorrow, you begin a journey here that will be rewarding, challenging and fun.

There will also be a significant amount of work, and it is that work that will chiefly define your time here.

As a student wrote in the 1920s from his room in Hyde Hall:

When you come here, don't let anyone persuade you that you won't be more respected if you keep up good standing in your courses.

These words are contained in a series of letters written by Bowdoin students published in 1921 as Life at Bowdoin: A Pen Picture of the Life of Bowdoin Undergraduates.

The author of this particular letter is identified only by his initials — "P.D.C." — but we suspect he was Philip D. Crockett of Everett, Massachusetts, a member of the Class of 1920, who would graduate with honors and become the seventh Bowdoin student to earn a Rhodes Scholarship.

In his letter, Philip writes in response to a young friend and an incoming student named "Bob." Bob had written with congratulations following Philip's election to Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest and most widely known academic honor society. Bob had lots of questions about Philip's success.

Dear Bob,

You want to know how I got my key. Just by sticking at it, I suppose, and using a little system, so that athletics and other activities didn't get more than their share of time. You will be surprised to see how many athletes are high in their courses.

That would be athletes in high standing.

While this remains true of our athletes today, it is of no great surprise.

Philip goes on. He underscores what many of you have been told, and will continue to be told during your time at Bowdoin: Avoid the "culture of caution." Ask hard questions of one another, move outside your comfort zone, reach and explore.

It is not just a question of not wasting time. One thing I didn't do, and that was to pick my courses with the idea of getting high ranks. Some [students] do it, but I think it is a poor policy to concentrate on just those things that you like best or find easiest.

Philip also offers his friend some advice about variety:

Of course, there are a lot of things you have to take. You can find out about these in the Catalogue. But there is room for spreading and I believe in it. The college tradition is that a student ought to have an all round education, and you can surely get it here.

All of this is great advice, and it still applies today: work hard, manage your time and take advantage of all the opportunities for learning that are available here. And get to know your professors. Philip discovered nearly a century ago what you are about to find out: that it is these remarkable men and women who set Bowdoin apart. As he wrote:

After all, it isn't so much the subject as the way it is taught, and that is where Bowdoin ... scores. You can get mere facts in any high school or second-rate college, or in a public library for that matter. But you won't get what you need far more: practice in picking out the facts that matter, joining them up, working out conclusions, and arguing on the conclusions that you get. And practice of that sort is one of the Bowdoin specialties.

There are a lot of specialties here, and a lot of very special people. You — the Class of 2014 — are now a part of that. You will be busy here. Sometimes it may seem like you're too busy. But if you maintain the proper balance, take care of yourselves and your friends, and engage Bowdoin, you, like Philip will see a satisfying end to each day.

Philip concludes his letter:

Well, Bob, it's getting late. Chapel at 8:20 and then a lecture and two conferences unless one of the professors gives an "adjourn" by not turning up for five minutes after the chapel bell rings. They don't do that very often nowadays. Now here's a little dope for you: Get your entrance requirements fixed up in good time so you can start even with the game, keep your eye on the ball when you get here and you'll make good.

Wise words from Philip D. Crockett of the Bowdoin Class of 1920.

Thank you for listening.

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