Sarah and James Bowdoin Day 2010 Address: Gina Lonati '12

Story posted October 22, 2010

"Can We Give More?"
Gina Lonati '12
Sarah and James Bowdoin Day 2010

Bowdoin College's 2010 Sarah and James Bowdoin Day ceremony was held Friday, October 22, 2010, in Morrell Gymnasium. Following is the address by student speaker Gina Lonati '12.

First, I would like to start by congratulating all the Sarah and James Bowdoin Scholars who are being recognized today. It is truly an honor to stand amongst you all, for Bowdoin offers its students such a dynamic education, and being able to maintain such a high level of performance is definitely a remarkable feat.

Gina Lonati200.jpg
Gina Lonati '12

It is extraordinary that we can make so much of the brief time we spend here; not only are we engaged in challenging coursework but we are also busy exploring social relationships, networking in our selected areas of interest, participating in clubs and athletics and learning about the world beyond Bowdoin's campus. In the end, our hopes are not simply to graduate and pass all these daily tests, but to have succeeded at something greater. And that achievement is sometimes only apparent when we reflect upon it.

As a biology major, I have become familiar with one very basic, yet especially important fact: humans are a unique species. Yes, we have opposable thumbs, we have the most complex brain of any known animal, and we have been able to establish intricate systems of language, commerce and government. But perhaps what sets us apart most from any other creature is our intrinsic tendency to question everything. It is more fascinating than the cheetah's 70-mile-per-hour sprints, the iguana's useful camouflage or the peacock's unique beauty. These few traits are beneficial for survival, but as humans, it seems as if we seek to do more than just survive. We seek to thrive. Thanks to our inquisitive nature, we are led down paths unexplored, through mysteries unsolved, and even into the innermost chambers of our being.

We fear, we challenge, we contemplate, we love. But as we continue on in life, it is our questioning mind that gauges our progress, makes us wonder what else we can achieve, and even what else we can fathom to achieve. I do not think there is one person sitting here who has not asked him or herself whether he or she could do better. Can I offer more in the class or on the court? Can I reach out and connect with others both near and far? When we watch the sun set, not only do we see the pretty colors across the sky, but we also ask questions about it. Why does the sun set? Why does it produce such colors? How does it make me feel? Humans do not just interpret their observations; they search for higher levels of comprehension. In a sunset we see the end of a day, the memories made, the things we learned and the people we met. We can write stories and poems and songs about our experiences in hopes of conveying them to others. We have faith and hopes and dreams.

This being said, we must never stop asking questions. We must never cease to think about the things beyond this universe or deep inside the center of the earth. As students in our intellectual prime, we must continue to press our instructors and our peers for answers and challenge each other for results. With integrity, communication and teamwork, we can hope to find more and more answers in order to build better communities, better lives and better futures.

I believe there is a cycle in life that consists of three things: learning, growing and giving. First, when we are young with impressionable minds, we soak up information and strive for stimulation as we learn about the world around us. Discovering new things at every turn in life, we then harness what we have learned and use it to grow. Our past experiences affect us, and nurture us into mature citizens, including businessmen, scientists, politicians, activists and teachers. But the third stage is the most important: the giving. It is what we make of our hard-earned knowledge and maturity that defines us and our community. As hard-working, aspiring college students, we cannot take for granted the countless opportunities that lie before us. We have been more than sufficiently equipped with knowledge and reason thus far, so that now we can perform the final part of this cycle.

Often times the most rewarding form of giving comes when there is nothing tangible in it for the giver. This past summer I worked in the rescue/rehabilitation department of the New England Aquarium in Boston and realized that the human species is the only one that goes out of its way to help other species without direct benefit for ourselves. While working with injured or sick sea turtles, many people would ask me, "Why are you doing all this for just a turtle?" Sure, it is an endangered animal, but why spend hundreds of dollars on medical treatments or perform biopsies and endoscopies on a turtle that might get attacked or relapse when it returns to the ocean? They are slow, not very intelligent, and can die easily if exposed to temperatures that are too cold or too hot.

It got me thinking, "What if we didn't do all this for just a turtle?" That is when I realized that turtles, just like people, are part of a broader system. Without turtle hatchlings, shorebirds might be out of a meal. The grasses turtles feed on might outcompete other grass species that are crucial to an ecosystem. Even barnacles that cover some turtle shells would have one less place to settle. It would throw the whole system off balance. Environmental efforts like sea turtle rescue would not be happening if people were not asking questions such as, "How many turtles are left in the oceans?" "What is responsible for the decline in their population?" and "What can I individually do to help the cause?" It all starts with questions. And it was exciting to help find the answers while working with the aquarium staff this summer.

Although I did not receive anything concrete in return from the turtles (they never thanked me or showed any signs of gratitude), watching the last rehab turtle make his way down the sand and into the ocean water was one of my most rewarding experiences. Why? Because I knew there was a reason for what I was doing; I was contributing to the cycle; I was giving back what I could and hopefully making a difference in the long run.

The cycle does not end there. In times of giving, we often learn. For example, we learn the stories of others, the lives beyond the walls of our day-to-day activities. I recall being inspired by stories of volunteers who spent sleepless days in the Louisiana summer heat helping de-oil turtles from the Gulf.

We learn to accept tragedy along with miracles. Some turtles did not make it while others made incredible comebacks against the odds.

We learn to enjoy the simple things, like laughing and good health and friendship. Not only this summer, but over my time at Bowdoin, I have shared so many memories with so many fantastic people — some close friends and some mere acquaintances. And I reflect on these shared experiences and appreciate that my life and perspective on the world have been enriched by them.

We learn that we must make the most of every day we are given. I think of the injured marine animals that have to be put down because they are struck by boats so suddenly; it makes me realize that life is a very precious gift.

And finally by learning all these ways of life, we grow more, becoming parents or teachers or mentors so that we can give more. Over the summer, I sat next to a seven-year-old girl on a plane who told me she wanted to be a marine biologist and help the animals. I was able to give her advice and information about what I have done and where I have been. I hope that, if anything, I was able to initiate the cycle for that young girl.

In the end, never stop asking, "Can I give more?" Eventually, we can hope to look back and say that we have made a great achievement: we finally understand that the answer is always, "Yes."

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