President's Speeches and Remarks

May 23, 2008


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 203rd 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 fully renovated and reopened Walker Art Building.

Today is a magnificent day filled with pride, accomplishment, and celebration. To the Class of 2008 – 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 challenged you as you began your Bowdoin career.  That challenge was my encouragement to you to be intentional, active learners who engage in all that Bowdoin has to offer.

I am pleased to announce that you all have met that challenge with distinction, and I congratulate you and the Bowdoin faculty and staff who through their excellence, hard work and commitment to you and to this College have enabled you to meet this challenge. 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 State Representative Emily Ann Cain, 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, criticism and inquiry, to creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, to principled leadership, and to good deeds.

Peter Buck ‘52, Yvon Chouinard, Gina Kolata, Lucy Lippard, Earle Shettleworth, Jr., Barry Wish ‘63.

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 has been my tradition at this commencement occasion to speak with you all briefly about leadership; to offer a challenge to leadership for our graduating seniors.


So today – as my final word of advice to you our graduating seniors as you are still Bowdoin students, I remind you of two important components of leadership – a sense of humility and a sense of humor.  We at Bowdoin understand that leadership requires empathy – it requires at its best – a person who understands in their heart and head the issues and problems they seek to lead to solve and improve.  A shining characteristic of the Bowdoin leader is we “leave our ego at the door.”  And so, on this very self-important and celebratory day – I remind us all of our responsibility to lead – but also our responsibility to continue to learn and to listen. A capacity and an openness to listen will allow you as leaders the perspectives necessary to, as President Bollinger at Columbia said at Commencement this week, the opportunity to reflect as you consider the necessity for action.

And I remind you of the most underrated component of leadership – a sense of humor.  A reminder to us all that as we seek to lead through serious issues and problems – that we leave room in our sense of ourselves not to take ourselves too seriously – a sense of perspective and irony is essential.

Knowing and admiring this Class of 2008 as I do, let me take a moment to compliment them on their achievements. 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. A special recognition goes to three of our graduates who through determination and talent led our women’s field hockey team to the Division III National Championship – Val Young, Hillary Hoffman, Meaghan Maguire.

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

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.

And, remember to be generous to Bowdoin as you achieve fame and fortune, for in the words of businessman and philanthropist Frank Lowy, this year’s recipient of the Henny Friedlander Award – I give because it is important and it makes me feel good.

And now, let us 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 2008, and Godspeed to you all!