Student Profiles

Gemma Leghorn '10

Gemma Leghorn

Gemma Leghorn '10

Major: English; minor: Education
Hometown: Needham, Massachusetts

Why did you choose to come to Bowdoin?
From an early age I had wonderful memories of Maine, and specifically the Brunswick area. My dad is a Bowdoin alumnus, and our family friends live a few miles down Harpswell Road from the College. It was always a treat to stay with them during Reunion and Homecoming weekends, when we were attending Bowdoin events. On one weekend, I learned to figure skate at Dayton Arena, and on another occasion I jumped off the diving board at the pool—though not without at least 20 minutes of convincing. Although having fond memories of Maine was important, I considered Bowdoin just as critically as any other school to which I might have applied. In the end, I was lucky—Bowdoin was everything I wanted in a school: intelligent and lively professors, an engaged and friendly student body, and a beautiful campus.

Why did you choose your major?
Although I was completely willing to discover that another major was my calling, I came to Bowdoin wanting to major in English and never changed my mind. As a prospective student, I attended a literature and film class taught by Professor Aviva Briefel, and I enjoyed it so much that I enrolled in Professor Briefel's first-year seminar called The Victorian Fantastic. Our texts included ghost stories and narratives about vampires, and from that moment on I was hooked. The department has broadened my interest in literature, and introduced me to authors and texts I would have otherwise overlooked. Since sophomore year, my schedule has been monopolized by English courses—and I wouldn't have it any other way!

What has been a course you especially enjoyed at Bowdoin?
Looking back to my first year, I loved Mona Lisa and the Mafia with Professor Arielle Saiber in the Italian department. Our class discussions were lively and interesting, and we studied everything from canonical works like Dante to contemporary films. Last semester, I took a course devoted to studying Oscar Wilde with Professor Briefel, and it was phenomenal; I always looked forward to both class time and the readings. I had never properly studied or read Oscar Wilde before the class, and it was fascinating to read the work of an icon on a detailed and critical level.

What professor or professors have especially inspired you during your time at Bowdoin?
I worked with Professor Anthony Walton last semester on a creative writing independent study in poetry. I took my first class—Nonfiction Literary Narrative—with Professor Walton at the beginning of my sophomore year. It was then I realized that despite my love of creative writing, I had barely chipped the surface of what I needed to learn. Professor Walton was a patient and wonderful teacher. It is a considerable privilege to have someone who is so knowledgeable about the writing world as a mentor.

In addition, I have always loved taking English courses with Professor Briefel, thanks to her intelligence and enthusiasm. She was exceptionally helpful and caring as a first-year seminar professor. Over the courses I have taken with her, I have become far more confident in my ability to think critically and creatively about texts.

Gemma (left) working with the editorial board of The Bowdoin Orient: (l. to r.) Seth Walder '11, Will Jacob '10, Piper Grosswendt '11.

What extracurricular or work experiences have you had at Bowdoin?
My primary extracurricular activity has been working for The Bowdoin Orient. In my first year at the College, I was a news writer for the paper. In my sophomore year I was the Features editor, a position I loved because of the variety of stories that go into the section. For Features, I've written stories ranging from vehicle collisions with moose to sexologist Alfred Kinsey's life as a Bowdoin undergraduate. During my junior fall, I was the News editor. It was an exciting time to be in charge of News—one of my favorite issues was one covering the results of the 2009 presidential election. Now, I am Editor-in-Chief with my fearless co-leader, Will Jacob. It's a huge time commitment, but we work with a great team of section editors and writers. Though I never expected so much of my time at Bowdoin would revolve around the newspaper, I am very attached to the Orient and happy that it's played such a large role in my life.

In addition, I also worked as a writing assistant for the Writing Project for two years. I really enjoyed helping students with their current projects, whether it was a first-year seminar paper or a grant application. Being a writing assistant also taught me to think methodically about my own writing, and I often refer back to my training.

Gemma in Italy.

Did you study abroad during your time at Bowdoin?
I studied abroad in Florence, Italy, during the spring semester of my junior year. I lived in an apartment on a small street off the Piazza Santa Croce, and my walk to the NYU in Florence campus was about 45 minutes. I had taken Italian language and culture classes at Bowdoin, and was able to continue my study of both while in Florence. In addition, I took a course focused on relics and sainthood, which combined religion and art history—two subjects that I had never formally studied before. Though I missed Bowdoin, I loved being in Florence. The locals were friendly, the city and surrounding countryside were beautiful, and its small size allowed me to walk anywhere and everywhere.

What have you done during your summers?
Before returning home from my study abroad program this past summer, a friend and I traveled through countries in Western and Central Europe for two months through a host-traveler program called Servas. As Servas members, we were given lists of families who had opened their doors to travelers, and it was up to us to contact people in the places we wanted to travel. Although we generally stayed with each family for two nights before moving on, some families invited us to stay longer. I was so touched by the overwhelming generosity we encountered while traveling. Our hosts went above and beyond the expectations I had—though we were strangers, most of the time they treated us like members of their family.

After returning home this summer, I also attended Middlebury College's Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in Ripton, Vermont. It was thrilling to be in an environment so devoted to writing, and I often felt overwhelmed by the amount of talent around me. Though the days were filled with readings, classes, and lectures beginning early in the morning and continuing late into the night, I was inspired by the energy around me. Despite my usual shyness about public speaking, a friend persuaded me to sign up for an event, which featured 60 writers reading for one minute each. "It's the same podium that Robert Frost read at," she said. "How can you not?" Despite being terrified, I read, and was ultimately happy to have participated.

For the past three summers, I have taught swimming lessons at a lake in Orleans, Massachusetts. Though I have returned to the same job for several years, it can often be the most rewarding part of my work to see kids improve their skills and confidence. There's never a dull moment—if it's not a rowdy class of 12 three-year-old boys, it's the giant, fabled snapping turtle named "Oscar" swimming through my lesson.

What is your best Bowdoin memory?
Oddly enough, many of my favorite Bowdoin memories fall during finals periods: putting the Orient joke issue together, getting take-out Indian food with friends for "study breaks" while listening to music from A Charlie Brown Christmas, and dropping everything to run around in the snow.

What are your plans for after graduation?
Though I would like to attend graduate school, I plan to take a year off before applying. As for next year, my plans change every day! I would like to eventually wind up in a job that allows me to write and teach in some capacity, but for next year I'm considering applying for an AmeriCorps position in Maine or Boston. I've also considered the SALT Institute in Portland, Maine, or interning at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts—but nothing is certain yet.

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first-year about the Bowdoin experience?
Though some people thrive at the beginning of school during Orientation, many don't. If you feel out of your element, it's not because you made the wrong decision about what school to attend. There are some things about Bowdoin that you will love immediately, and there are some things that will take time to grow on you.

What quirky or fun thing do you wish you had known before you came to Bowdoin?
Most people would consider this common knowledge, but L.L. Bean moccasins aren't exactly your best defense against 3-foot snowdrifts, despite my stubborn attempts to prove the opposite!

Story posted on March 03, 2010

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