May 28, 2005
Good morning and welcome to this joyous occasion and to our beautiful campus in the glorious (but rain soaked) state of Maine. This is a special day for our graduating seniors and for their families and friends. I congratulate you all.
This is the 200th Commencement of Bowdoin College – a college justifiably proud of its history, its traditions, its commitment to the liberal arts, and its dedication to serving the common good.
It’s been quite a soggy week here in Maine. It’s made some of question whether this is REALLY the “way life should be.” But as Dean Bradley reminded us yesterday, we are a college with proud traditions, and all this water seems to be yet another one.
I’m told that it rained quite a bit at Bowdoin’s first commencement in September 1806. The ceremony had been postponed from the day before, but the rains did not abate. So the festivities went forward – inside the town’s unfinished meeting house – with “…President McKeen presiding in the pulpit with an umbrella over his head.”
It rained again one-hundred years later – at our centennial commencement. So the rain we’ve seen all week is really nothing more than our college sticking to its traditions. And, as was the case one-hundred and two-hundred years ago, we have no intention of letting poor weather mar the spirit of this occasion. And what a beautiful day it has turned out to be.
Four years ago, I greeted an exuberant first-year class from these steps promising to meet them at the same spot for Commencement four years later. And here we are. And, weather permitting, I can confidently say that Bowdoin will continue its tradition started in 1970 of commencement on these steps of the Walker Art Building into the future; although over the next two years this spot will more of a construction site.
It may have been dreary outside, but today is a magnificent day filled with pride, accomplishment, and celebration. To the Class of 2005 – the students who arrived at Bowdoin the same year I arrived as the new president – you have achieved so much over these four years. I have been honored to be with you. I will miss you.
Before I hand out any diplomas, I want to ask our graduating seniors to rise.
In what has become a tradition of respect and appreciation at the College, please face your parents, friends, and family – those who have supported and nurtured you – and thank them with a hearty round of applause.
Now, back to that dark Saturday night on the quad four years ago – the night when I greeted you, and you greeted me. On that night, I gave you an assignment. The assignment was to meet a faculty member in your first year and to get to know that faculty member well. You all have gone on for extra credit extending that challenge throughout your careers here.
I am pleased to announce that you all have passed this requirement with honors, and I congratulate you and the Bowdoin faculty. So, please stand again, and offer a second round of applause for the Bowdoin faculty – and staff – who have been committed to your pursuit of learning these past four years.
I would like to welcome the Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives – and our neighbor here in Brunswick – John Richardson, with us today to deliver the traditional greeting from the state.
I also want to offer a welcome and to congratulate our honorands, each a magnificent example of what we value here at Bowdoin: a commitment to excellence, to thoughtful examination and inquiry, to creativity, to principled leadership, and to good deeds.
Jung Chang, Frederick Wiseman, Alan Lightman, Ellen Baxter '76, Fred Thorne '57 and Don Kurtz '54.
We are proud to have each of you with us today and we are grateful for your willingness to help us continue a new tradition of honorand participation in expanded commencement activities during the past two days. We have all learned much from each of you. Thank you!
I would also like to thank all of the parents and families for their commitment to Bowdoin. It seems like yesterday that Dean McEwen and I greeted you as new members of the Bowdoin community. It is always a sad day to see the seniors leave the residential community, but it is also a day filled with emotion to say good-bye to the wonderful families here today - many of whom I know as friends. You are part of the Bowdoin family forever, and please stay close.
As you seniors sit before us today, I know many of you are thinking about your four years on this campus. Some of you may even find it difficult to believe that these four years have now come to an end. Others are likely thinking about tomorrow and beyond – about the next challenges that await you.
Having something to do after you graduate today is a good thing – certainly you and your families won’t mind if you are gainfully employed over these next few years. So thinking about what happens next is appropriate. I simply hope you will do so it in the context of Bowdoin and your experience here.
That will require some time for perspective, because the lessons learned here these past four years are not all vocational in nature. Choosing a career is necessary and important, but you must also choose the manner in which you will pursue your goals. What you will come to know – if you don’t already – is that these past four years have prepared you to serve effectively in LEADERSHIP roles in your professions and in communities across America and the world. They have prepared you to make a living, but they have also prepared you to make a difference.
As you think about your future, I ask that you consider the words recently spoken by Ken Chenault, a member of the Bowdoin Class of 1973, and the CEO of American Express.
“I think that at the end of the day, it is a mistake simply to pursue a job. Instead, you should pursue a way of life. The opportunity for me is to make a fundamental difference in people’s lives. You cannot be a successful CEO (or teacher, doctor, lawyer, professor, artist and on and on, I might add)…if you don’t have…passion for what you’re doing. The challenges and …issues are so substantial that if you don’t have…passion, you’re going to wilt.”
The historic call of this great college to use education in service to the common good – a call ingrained in each of you these past four years – is embodied in Ken Chenault and in each and every one of you. It is exemplified by a wave of people continuing through time – for over 200 years – wonderful people who learned as you have on this campus and have gone off to do important work as principled leaders in their communities. This legacy brings with it a demanding responsibility for our graduates – a vital responsibility to lead with principle in whatever field or pursuit awaits you. I have great confidence in each of you and in your commitment to these bedrock principles of our College.
And now, I would like to add a final word to our graduates.
Look around you. You are surrounded by people who will be your friends for your whole life. Not only your classmates, but also the faculty, staff, and even president of this College. Bowdoin is grounded on yet another essential principle – the fundamental value of enduring personal friendships. My best friends in life are people who sat with me over thirty-three years ago right where you are sitting today. I am confident that in 30 years, when you return for reunion, you will say the same.
Within the hour, you will become alumni of Bowdoin College. In doing so you will join the most loyal and enthusiastic group that any college or university would be proud to call their own. Among these alums you will find old friends, and meet new ones. You will discover mentors and supporters ready to reach out and assist you throughout your lives. I know from experience. Take advantage of these relationships and stay connected and devoted to each other and to your college.
Let us now return to where we began – The Offer of the College by William DeWitt Hyde – seventh president of Bowdoin.
To be at home
in all lands and all ages;
to count Nature
a familiar acquaintance
and Art and intimate friend;
to gain a standard for the appreciation of others’ work
and the criticism of your own
to carry the keys of the
world’s library in your pocket,
and feel its resources behind you
in whatever task you undertake;
to make hosts of friends
who are to be leaders in all walks of life;
to lose yourself in generous enthusiasms
and cooperate with others for common ends--
this is the offer of the College
for the best four years of your life.
Congratulations to the Bowdoin College Class of 2005, and Godspeed to you all.