Bowdoin Celebrates Baccalaureate 2011

Story posted May 27, 2011


Bowdoin College held its 2011 Baccalaureate ceremony Friday, May 27, marking the official close of the academic year and celebrating the College's 206th Commencement (to be held Saturday, May 28).

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Baccalaureate speakers Aaron Cole ’11 and Mira Nair.

Bowdoin President Barry Mills presided over the ceremony.

In addition to his welcoming remarks to the Class of 2011, President Mills addressed the challenging financial times and the College's efforts to help ease that burden with the no-loan policy adopted in 2008 — noting with an apology that the Class of 2011 benefitted from this policy for only three years.

In sharing his own experiences and insights, Mills asked students to think about taking risks and to make personal connections with fellow alumni out in the world.

Other advice included suggestions to be fact-based, analytical and the most prepared person in the room; to be willing to be the one to write the first draft, create the first proposal or design, or prepare the first plan; and to remain true to themselves and their values.

"Success, in my view, is largely being 'comfortable in your own skin,'" said Mills. "You will be faced in your personal and professional lives with difficult problems. Be genuine. Be true to the values you grew up with that have now been informed by your time at Bowdoin. Serving the Common Good is not a Bowdoin experience, it is a life lesson. And at Bowdoin we expect you will grow not just to be a leader—but also a principled leader."

In closing, Mills thanked the faculty and staff for their dedication and wished the Class of 2010 "success and a life of learning and deeds well done." Read the full text of President Mills' address.

Voices from Bowdoin’s Past

Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster delivered "Voices from Bowdoin's Past," a Bowdoin Baccalaureate tradition.

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Amid the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, Foster spoke of Bowdoin’s place in that chapter of history. He spoke of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, much of which was written inside Appleton Hall, and its author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who President Lincoln described as the “little woman who wrote the book that made this great war.”

Quoting excerpts from the book and letters from Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, commander of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry and a member of the Class of 1852, Foster notes that it’s often said with obvious exaggeration that the Civil War began and ended in Brunswick, Maine, with the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852 and Chamberlain’s acceptance of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House in 1865.

“Ours is an extraordinary connection—through this town and this College—to a monumental period in American history.” Read the full text of Foster’s “Voices from Bowdoin’s Past” talk.

DeAlva Stanwood Alexander First Prize Winner Aaron Cole ’11

Aaron Cole, a biology and religion major from Olympia, Wash., delivered the address, “Schrödinger’s Cat,” in which he took a quantum mechanics approach to talking about unrealized potential.

"We’re going to be successful; it’s not a life or death situation," said Cole. "So we should also remember to take a little bit of joy in uncertainty. We can’t know who will be what, and so I like to think that right now, for at least today, for at least this ceremony we are all each of those futures. We are all CEOs and we are all kindergarten teachers. We are all of those things and we are even more. So today, just as you should rejoice in the collective successes of our years here, marvel and take ownership in the promise of our futures." Read the full text of Cole’s address.

Béla Fleck Performs
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Photo: Michele Stapleton

Grammy Award-winning banjo virtuoso and 2011 honorary degree recipient Béla Fleck performed a solo banjo excursion.


Cole has been a rugby team member, serving this past year as club president, and has said how much he values the relationships that playing rugby at Bowdoin has created for him — with teammates, coaches, alumni and local residents. His campus jobs have included caring for animals in the biology department and refereeing intramural hockey games.

Keynote Address: Mira Nair

Mira Nair, internationally acclaimed filmmaker and producer, and 2011 honorary degree recipient, delivered the keynote address, “Between Worlds,” in which she shared her experiences of having straddled cultures, of being rooted in India, educated in America and producing films considered alternative back home.

"There is a saying in India, 'Dhobi ka kutta, na ghar na ghaat ka,' which literally means, 'the washerman’s dog — neither at home nor of the street, yet at home everywhere,'" said Nair. "In the early years of making films, I felt like that washerman’s dog, not really understood at home, considered a novelty abroad, but at home everywhere. I learned many lessons those days: to prize one’s own intuition, to persist in creating what makes one distinct, to seek courage from rejection. I found that people who inhabit different worlds can see through each of them — it is such people who have a sense of modesty, who know that there are other ways of seeing, who develop appreciation for, rather than mere charitable tolerance for, other ways of life." Read the full text of Nair's address.

Nair founded Maisha, a non-profit training initiative in screenwriting, directing, producing, cinematography, editing, sound recording, and acting for emerging East African filmmakers. In 2007 she was named the India Abroad Person of the Year and received the Pride of India Award for her contributions to the film industry. Nair lives in New York with her husband, Mahmood Mamdani, Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at Columbia University, and their son, Zohran Mamdani, a member of the Bowdoin College Class of 2014.

Baccalaureate Music

In addition to Béla Fleck's banjo interlude (see sidebar above), music for the Baccalaureate ceremony was also provided by pianist Florence Feng Sun ’11 and singers Brian Gregory Lohotsky ’11 and Maryellen Christine Hearn ’11, who accompanied the audience with “Raise Songs to Bowdoin.”

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