451 Degrees Awarded at Bowdoin's 207th Commencement

Story posted May 26, 2012


During Bowdoin College's 207th Commencement ceremony, 451 bachelor of arts degrees were awarded to students from 40 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and 15 foreign countries.

View the 2012 Commencement slideshow.

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Bowdoin President Barry Mills presided over the ceremony and after welcoming remarks, continued his Commencement tradition of speaking about leadership.

"There are two critical components of leadership among all the others you have learned and adopted at Bowdoin: a sense of humility and a sense of humor," said Mills.

He told the graduates leadership requires empathy, and an understanding both in one's heart and head of the issues and problems he or she seeks to solve.

"A Bowdoin leader leaves his or her ego at the door — it is not the volume of your voice, but the power of your ideas. And so, on this very important and celebratory day, I remind us all of our responsibility to lead, but also our responsibility to continue to learn and to listen. Listening is a much-underrated element of leadership."

Mills reminded the audience that among the most underrated components of leadership is the ability to maintain a sense of humor.

"As we seek to lead by tackling serious issues and problems, we must also leave room to not take ourselves too seriously. A sense of perspective and irony is essential." Read the full text of President Mills’ remarks.

The invocation was delivered by the Reverend Mary E. Baard, senior minister at Brunswick's First Parish Church, and Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson '79 delivered greetings from the State.

"Having lived in Maine a good portion of my life, it seems to me that Maine and Bowdoin are inextricably linked right down to the roots of the pine trees that define our State and campus," said Benoit Samuelson.

"These roots spread far and wide absorbing what is good and emitting what is even better. I’m blessed to be rooted here in Maine and know that as I run around the world advocating for sustainability of health and wellness and natural resources, I can always come home to a place that is known for its beauty on all levels, especially as it relates to understanding the importance of serving the common good." Read the text of Benoit Samuelson's remarks.

Commencement Speakers
As has been the tradition since Bowdoin's first graduation ceremony in 1806, commencement addresses were delivered by graduating seniors. This year's speakers, chosen through competition, were Chanwoong Baek and William Marvin Alexander.

Class of 1868 Prize Winner Chanwoong Baek '12

In his address, "Preppy Look and Sweatpants," Chanwoong Baek, a government and legal studies major and teaching minor from Bundang, South Korea, spoke of his first days at the College and his anxiety around his desire to fit in.

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Chanwoong Baek '12

"[A]fter I moved all of my suitcases into my room, I was sitting on my couch wondering who my roommates would be," recalled Baek. "Soon, someone came into the room with his mom. I awkwardly stood up and said hello. The boy said, "You must be Chanwoong." Then, he came up to me, shook my hand and said, "안녕하세요? 만나서 반갑습니다," which means, "Hello, nice to meet you" in Korean. It may have not been the most articulate hello I have heard in Korean, but it was the most sincere. In that moment, I received my first true ‘Bowdoin Hello.’

"As soon as I heard him greet me in my native language, my anxiety for the day magically disappeared. It was not because I heard my native language all the way up in Maine; but rather, it was because someone cared enough about me to take the time to learn an expression in a different language. I still remember the initial warm feeling that I had about the Bowdoin community, and I am lucky to have enjoyed that warmth throughout my years here."

Baek advised his classmates, as they make their way in the world outside Bowdoin, to resist the temptation to fit in.

"I urge you to explore who you are and learn about others. This is going to be a difficult task but whether you wear sweatpants or preppy clothes, Bowdoin's liberal arts education has trained us to seek truth, challenge ourselves, ask questions and serve the common good. I believe that we will all rise to the occasion. Trust who you are, and trust what you learned at Bowdoin." Read the text of Baek’s address.

Goodwin Commencement Prize Winner Will Alexander '12

Will Alexander, a religion major and economics minor from Chester, N.J., used his talk “Under the Microscope” to exalt the importance of the critical thinking skills honed at Bowdoin.

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Will Alexander '12

"I like looking through the Microscope," confessed Alexander. "I like finding complexities. But more than that, I like dealing with them; taking an immense amount of information and simplifying it to a solution.

"I believe, in the end, that this is the value of the Bowdoin education, both in and outside of the classroom. First we complicate, then we simplify. And in doing so, we arrive at a far more meaningful conclusion. I've done my best to condense my Bowdoin experience into a short speech, but this is just my take on it. You ask the Bowdoin Class of 2012 about their last four years here, and you will get 489 different answers. You will get an essay, MLA, Chicago or 'Potholm' style, or a poem; a sculpture or a song.

Baccalaureate 2012
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Baccalaureate 2012 in Sidney J. Watson Arena.

Read about Bowdoin's Baccalaureate ceremony, held Friday, May 25, 2012, with talks by President Barry Mills, Dean for Student Affairs Tim Foster, Tanu Kumar '12 and Humaira Awais Shahid, journalist, civil rights activist and 2012 honorary degree recipient.


"The hard part for us now, for this class of 2012, is answering the question we’ve been asked nearly every day these last few months: What next? We’ve been presented with yet another problem, and at times, it has seemed like the most complex one yet. The problem of the rest of our lives." Read the text of Alexander’s address.

Honorary Degree Recipients
Bowdoin awarded five honorary doctorates at the commencement ceremony, and this year, as the College celebrates 40 years of coeducation, the slate comprises women who excel in their chosen field:

  • Margaret W. Conkey, internationally known archaeological researcher
  • Agnes Gund, arts advocate and philanthropist
  • Cynthia McFadden ’78, award-winning network television journalist
  • Humaira Awais Shahid, journalist and human rights activist
  • Carrie Mae Weems, internationally known photographer and visual artist

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Josh Kim '12

Senior Class Gift
Senior Class President Josh Kim, of Busan, Republic of Korea, announced the establishment of the Class of 2012 Scholarship Fund.

"Our legacy will be one which gives future students the same opportunity to forge their own life-changing friendships," said Kim, as he announced the gift on behalf of the graduating class.

Commencement Music
Music for the ceremony was provided by senior members of the Chamber Choir, Chorus and student a cappella groups, who performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "Raise Songs to Bowdoin" accompanied by pianist Craig Comen '12.

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