Student Profiles

Jason Edward Finkelstein '09

Jason Finkelstein

Jason Edward Finkelstein '09

Majors: English and History; Minor: Theater
Hometown: Mill Valley, California

Why did you choose to come to Bowdoin?
During my search for the right college, I quickly discovered that there is nothing scientific about the process. At the end of the day, it boils down to whether or not you can envision yourself as a member of the College. I knew that I wanted to go to a small school where the word TA (Teacher's Assistant) did not exist. The intimate classroom environment at Bowdoin is simply unbeatable; for instance, I had a class with four students in it last semester. Maine's natural beauty was also a draw; in many ways it reminded me of where I live in northern California, though the snow was a bit of a change. I was also very excited about the possibility of playing collegiate football. But none of these things were as important as visiting the campus and getting a feel for the College. To use a cliché, it just felt like a place I wanted to spend four years of my life.

Why did you choose your major(s)?
I came to Bowdoin with the intention of being a government and legal studies major, yet I just never had any luck getting into government courses. In the first semester of my first year, I was desperate to get into Introduction to International Relations, but it wasn't in the cards. So I ended up taking Professor Aviva Briefel's Introduction to Narrative, a class where we watched classic films such as Lolita and Apocalypse Now, and then compared them to their literary counterparts. After that class I knew I wanted to be an English major, and have had amazing (albeit varied) experiences in all the classes I have taken in the department.

I sort of stumbled into a history major simply by taking classes I found interesting with professors I enjoyed. The great part about being a history major at Bowdoin is that beyond just training to understand history (which is certainly a component of the process), the history department gives its students the tools to be historians. Last semester I took Research in 19th Century U.S. History with Professor Patrick Rael, in which he encouraged his students to identify their own historical problems that defied simple explanation. I was so passionate about my topic that I decided to turn it into an independent study.

What has been a course you especially enjoyed at Bowdoin?
My favorite course at Bowdoin was Chinese Thought in the Classical Period with [now-retired professor] Kidder Smith. We started out the class every day by dancing for ten minutes to music from Kidder's own personal collection, which was as eclectic as it was interesting; there was everything from Stevie Wonder to chanting monks. It was an opportunity to let the rigors of daily college life just drain from your system, since it was impossible not to be happy when Kidder was having so much fun. The course was essentially organized around Chinese classics including The Art of War, Tao de Ching, the writings of Chuang Tzu, I Ching, the Tai Chi Ch'uan classics, and various works on Zen Buddhism. Though initially unsure whether or not the subject matter would appeal to me, Kidder made the material exciting and accessible. He challenged me to understand these incredibly difficult books on their own terms while encouraging me to incorporate their lessons into my everyday life. The class did a great deal to shape the way that I view history and the infinite number of historical processes that create the past.

What professor or professors have especially inspired you during your time at Bowdoin?
Three different professors—each from the three disciplines I focused on—had a particularly meaningful impact on my Bowdoin experience. In history, Professor Kidder Smith showed me how historians must view historical processes from myriad relevant perspectives and how to use these historical voices to create a narrative past that speaks to the truth of the experience. Theater professor Davis Robinson taught me how to refine a craft and make it my own, while English professor Ann Kibbie, my honors project advisor, has influenced the way I conceive of the literary world. All of them, however, have instilled in me a thirst for knowledge and understanding that has become the hallmark of my Bowdoin education.

The Bowdoin Polar Bears' victory over the rival Colby Mules is something Jason says he'll remember his whole life.

What extracurricular or work experiences have you had at Bowdoin?
One of the greatest things about Bowdoin is that you have the opportunity to pursue a wide range of extra-curricular interests. I played football all four years here, but I never felt like "just a football player." For instance, I have been able to explore my passion for theater by directing three plays: All My Sons by Arthur Miller, Spiks (a play about the Puerto Rican experience in New York during the '50s), and I am currently directing my own adaptation of Of Mice and Men. In addition, I have been an active member of Bowdoin Men Against Sexual Violence (BMASV), which leads on-campus facilitations and comes up with practical ways to provide information and fosters an even more safe and friendly environment. I also mentored at-risk youth for the past two years with a program on campus called Bears and Cubs, which has been a particularly rewarding experience. It never ceases to amaze me how Bowdoin not only accepts a diversity of interests, but encourages it. I never once felt that I had to choose between my wide-range of passions.

What have you done during your summers?
I spent the summer before I came to Bowdoin traveling around Europe with my twin brother, Matthew. We visited London, Amsterdam, Lucerne, Munich, Venice, Rome, Florence, Paris, and Barcelona. The trip took about six weeks in total and it was an experience I would recommend to anyone who wants to see more of the world and enjoy other cultures. Since then I have held various intern positions at the law firms Seyfarth Shaw LLP and O'Melveny & Myers LLP. Last summer, I took a break from the law firm environment and helped coach my little brother's Pop Warner football team while working part-time as a waiter in a local restaurant.

What is your best Bowdoin memory?
My best memory of Bowdoin actually did not take place at Bowdoin, but on the Colby football field. This past season we played our final game against our nemesis, the Colby Mules. We always play each other tough and considering that the Colby-Bates-Bowdoin Championship was on the line and that it was the senior's final game, there was a lot at stake. The game was tight the whole way through until Oliver Kell '10 scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. It was such an onslaught of emotions: the thrill of victory, the realization that I would never put on a helmet again, the knowledge that we seniors would get to leave the game champions. I also got poked in the eye on the play so I felt some pain too. It was a fitting end to my football career; experiencing the culmination of four years of hard work all within a single moment simply defies words. It was a moment I will remember as long as I live, and I would not trade it for anything.

What are your plans for after graduation?
Next year I will be a Teach For America corps member teaching specialized education in the Bay Area. My experience at Bowdoin, particularly my experience with Bears and Cubs (the Bowdoin branch of Big Brothers, Big Sisters) has made me realize how important the mission of Teach For America is; it rests at the very nexus of our country's cultural identity. After my two years with Teach For America are over, I plan on continuing my education by either pursuing a degree in law or a graduate degree in history or English literature.

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first-year about the Bowdoin experience?
Come to Bowdoin with an open mind and a sharpened pencil. You will meet so many different types of people and naturally, some will challenge you and some will become good friends. Bowdoin is a place that has an extraordinary diversity of thought and you will learn much more from the multiplicity of perspectives if you keep an open mind. Also, come ready to work. Bowdoin prides itself in being an academically challenging environment; professors demand a lot from their students, but they also give a lot as well. If you keep an open mind and a sharp pencil, there is quite a bit to be learned in four years at Bowdoin.

What quirky or fun thing did you wish you knew before you came to Bowdoin?
After the last day of classes in the spring, the hockey team hosts The Pete Schuh Memorial Softball Tournament to celebrate classes ending and to give us a bit of a distraction before we cram for finals. Some of my football buddies and I have a team called the Riders of Rohan; we have been to the semi-finals three years in a row, but have never made the championship match. The Pete Schuh is a great opportunity to take a break from the rigors of daily academic life, get intense about sports, and enjoy the early springtime sunshine.

Story posted on April 02, 2009

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