Office of the President

May 26, 2007

Good morning and welcome to this joyous occasion and to our beautiful campus in the glorious 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 202nd 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.

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 today celebrating in front of our nearly fully renovated Walker Art Building which will reopen next October.

Today is a magnificent day filled with pride, accomplishment, and celebration. To the Class of 2007 – 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 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 and staff. 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.

Thank you.

I would like to welcome Howard Dana of the Class of 1962, a recently retired associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine, who is 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.

Geoffrey Canada ’74, Roberto Díaz, Stanley Druckenmiller ’75, Drew Gilpin Faust, Governor Angus King.

Thank you to all of the parents and families for your commitment to Bowdoin. It seems like yesterday that I greeted you as new members of the Bowdoin community. It is always a sad day to see the seniors leave our residential community, and it is also a day filled with emotion as we say goodbye 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.

It had been my tradition at this commencement occasion to speak with you all briefly about leadership; to offer a call to leadership for our graduating seniors in an abstract and objective way. However, with this Class of 2007, speaking about leadership in any way other than in the personal is just not appropriate. That’s because this graduating class is genuinely a group of individuals who have shown leadership at this College in ways that in my six-year experience as president make this group of remarkable students stand out in our history. Now, you might think I say this about all the classes – and every class at Bowdoin does have its share of strong leaders – but I just want to underscore my belief that this is a special class of leaders who will make a profound difference in their communities and societies, as they have at Bowdoin College.

The talents in this class of students make us proud. These students have completed their studies at Bowdoin at the highest level of achievement. We count students among us today who have completed elegant honors projects, played glorious music, created fantastic art and performed wonderful productions and improvisations – even impersonating a college president (perhaps something our honorand Drew Faust has to look forward to!).

These students have been recognized as Watsons and Keasbies, bringing honor to themselves as scholars and to Bowdoin. Our students graduate today as the finest examples of our liberal arts tradition.

This level of achievement is superb, but it is not what truly sets this class apart. That would be leadership; the principled leadership demonstrated by so many in this class that we will always remember.

This College will forever be a better place because of the leadership these students have shown in efforts like BeMassive (a group organized to educate on sexual violence against women), and in their efforts to educate us all on issues related to discrimination and harassment based gender and sexual preference. These are students who organized to support social justice in this world and particularly in Darfur, and who organized to create and demand academic success for African American men at this College, and to demand diversity within our faculty ranks. Many of these gradates are student leaders who have had important influence on curriculum and college governance. And, finally, students in this class have led Bowdoin to a commitment to environmental sustainability. These are true leaders on important issues of our time.

Let me give special recognition to the students, Larissa Curlick, Katherine Kirklin, and Mike Taylor, who have educated us and led us on issues related to our environment. These student leaders are people who understand the issues. They have moved beyond political rhetoric or “inconvenient truths.” They are students who understand the science and who understand the policy, and have translated science into policy and economics, finance and practice. All of the energy that Bowdoin now purchases and utilizes is “green” because of the efforts and dedication of students graduating today. And I am proud to announce that because of the work and education arising out of the independent studies of two students in this class (Holly Kingsbury and Katherine Kirklin), Bowdoin will sign on to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, pledging the College to carbon neutrality.

And so, the graduates sitting before you understand leadership. They have lived it here at Bowdoin. We have every confidence and an expectation that they will continue this leadership – this principled leadership – into the future, reflecting vividly the principles of the common good that we at Bowdoin so proudly represent.

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 the 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-five years ago right where you are sitting today. I am confident that in 35 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 fellow alumni 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 – the 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 2007, and Godspeed to you all!