John S. Connolly '11

John Connolly

John S. Connolly '11

Majors: Government & Legal Studies and History
Minor: Spanish
Hometown: Arlington, Virginia

Why did you choose to come to Bowdoin?
Bowdoin's longstanding commitment to the common good was a major selling point, and at admitted students weekend I had gotten a great feeling from everyone I met. Most memorably, I sat in on a psychology class and spoke with a student in the class for half an hour afterwards about various aspects of Bowdoin. She was a senior and not on the admissions staff, so I never saw her again, but her willingness to take time out of her busy schedule said a lot about the community, and I decided I wanted this to be my home for four years.

Why did you choose your majors?
I attended high school in Washington, D.C., and have been interested in government all my life, so while I matriculated with an open mind, I was fairly positive I was going to be a government major. My early experience in the department confirmed that leaning, as my first year political theory seminar with Professor Jean Yarbrough remains one of the best classes I've taken at Bowdoin. History was a little bit more of a surprise choice. I had always loved history but did not think I would be double majoring in it, but I kept picking up interesting history classes here and there, and before I knew it, I had the makings of a major.

What has been a course you especially enjoyed at Bowdoin?
I took a course cross-listed in history and environmental studies my first year with Professor Jill Pearlman called City, Anti-City, Utopia. We studied urbanism and anti-urban thought from Thomas Jefferson and his ideal of the yeoman farmer through city zoning, urban renewal, and modern city planning ideals. I loved every lecture of the course, and I savored the in-depth research I completed on the history of a Washington, D.C., neighborhood.

What professor or professors have especially inspired you during your time at Bowdoin?
Professor Allen Wells, who teaches Latin American history, has been a key part of my time here. I'm currently in my fourth course with Professor Wells; through the lecture classes and seminars I've taken with him, my ability to conduct critical analysis has dramatically improved. In Wells's lecture courses, you end up writing almost 40 pages of concise critiques of the course readings, always looking for bias—his classes have changed the way I read everything.

I've also taken two classes with Professor Jeff Selinger and am currently working on an honors project with him. He introduced me to thesis-level writing and has pushed me in a lot of ways that have not necessarily made life easy over the past semester, but that I know will help the finished product be something of which I'm proud.

Finally, I've taken two Spanish classes with Professor Enrique Yepes, and his constant enthusiasm is inspiring. He is more aware than any other professor I've had of exactly what is going on in with each person in a room, and he literally sits atop his desk and leans forward toward the class, constantly engaging with his students.

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John, a member of the Bowdoin Student Government, speaking to first-year students during Orientation.

What extracurricular or work experiences have you had at Bowdoin?
My primary extracurricular activity has been Bowdoin Student Government (BSG). My first semester at Bowdoin, I was appointed the operations director and was responsible for a lot of the logistical aspects of BSG. At the beginning of the second semester, a vacancy opened up in an officer position, and I was elected vice president for Student Government Affairs, which put me in charge of the budget, communications, and the committee that rewrote the constitution to make the body more responsive to student concerns. I was re-elected to this position my sophomore year, and I worked to increase BSG's transparency, efficiency, and outreach. My junior year I spent time on the Academic Affairs Committee as an at-large representative, and I was lucky enough to be elected BSG president this year, making me responsible for coordinating the actions of BSG, setting the agenda for our meetings, and representing student concerns before the faculty and administration. Through my involvement with BSG, the College's governing committees, and the Board of Trustees, I've gotten great insight into how the College operates, and I've tried to use this knowledge to benefit students.

Since sophomore year, I've also worked as a student assistant at the Language Media Center, helping students access Bowdoin's extensive foreign language and film collection. I've also volunteered weekly since sophomore year with the Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) in Portland. VLP is Maine's statewide legal aid service, and while I would not call working with clients at VLP "fun"—there are heart-wrenching stories involved in low-income legal aid work—the experience has been eye opening, and has allowed me to give back to the local community.

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John acting in Tom Stoppard's Arcadia during his first year.

Finally, I've served as a tour guide and participant in student information sessions for the admissions office. I also acted in two plays during my first year at Bowdoin, which, though I had to give up acting due to my BSG commitment, remain among my favorite college experiences.

Which staff members have you connected with most?
Through my involvement with BSG, I've been very fortunate to get to know the staff of the student activities office. Allen Delong, Christine Drasba, Megan Brunmier, and Bonnie Pardue are constantly working for students to make the co-curricular life on campus as vibrant as it can be, and they have been immensely helpful to me personally over the past four years.

Did you study abroad during your time at Bowdoin?
I studied in Granada, Spain, with IES Abroad in a program that perfectly combined my various interests. I studied Islamic-Spanish history, architectural history, and modern international relations while simultaneously improving my Spanish. Granada is a lively city with 70,000 university students—forming relationships with Spaniards while exploring the city and taking a class at the University of Granada was one of the highlights of the semester.

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John riding a camel in Morocco while studying abroad.

Participants in the IES program took program-sponsored trips all around southern Spain and for five days into Morocco, which was my first visit to Africa, and the first time I've ever been awakened by the call to prayer. I also took advantage of Europe's interconnectedness to travel with friends to Rome, Prague, and Oslo. It was hard to spend a semester away from Bowdoin, but my semester in Spain exposed me to different perspectives and made me appreciate Bowdoin that much more on my return. As it turns out, my improved Spanish also helped me secure a job for next year.

What have you done during your summers?
After my first year, I had two internships on Capitol Hill: one with my representative, Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA) and the other with Senator Jack Reed (D-RI). Both internships provided a close-up view of the legislative process, and I was lucky enough to draft remarks, a statement for the Congressional Record, and numerous letters. After my sophomore year, I applied my experience on the Hill at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a nonprofit that seeks to hold banks to fair lending practices, and I extensively researched congressional voting records in support of an expansion of the Community Reinvestment Act. Following junior year I returned to the Hill to work for Congressman Henry Waxman's (D-CA) Energy and Commerce Committee, where I helped the staff prepare for hearings and markups. This was an especially exciting summer to work for the committee because it was responsible for investigating the BP oil spill.

What is your favorite Bowdoin memory?
During the Ivies Week spring concert my first year, the opening group Naughty by Nature gave a fantastic performance, and the best part of the show came when they started interacting with the crowd. They chanted, "Let me hear you say BOW-DO-IN!" (pronounced with three syllables instead of BOW-DIN). Without missing a beat, everybody in the crowd chanted back "BOW-DO-IN!" and this carried on for a few minutes. Surrounded as we were by our friends, on an absolutely gorgeous spring day on Quad, listening to great '90s music, nobody got miffed or felt the need to correct the group's pronunciation. I think that says a lot about this place.

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John standing atop the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.

What are your plans for after graduation?
I will join Teach For America's D.C. Region where I will teach Spanish at the secondary level. My concentration in history is Latin America, and I'm hoping to include a lot of culture and history in the courses I teach, as the aspect of Spanish I've most enjoyed is the ability to learn about and connect with foreign cultures. I will earn a master's in teaching from American University during my two year commitment while focusing on basic literacy skills (in English and Spanish) with my students. I was attracted to Teach For America for the same reason I was attracted to Bowdoin: a focus on public service and a commitment to the common good. While I know the next two years will be extremely challenging, I look forward to doing my part to fight our country's glaring educational inequalities.

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first-year about the Bowdoin experience?
It's important to jump into the life of the College and get involved in a meaningful way, but there's no need to compile a laundry list of activities. Participate in a couple of things that energize you, challenge you, and that you're passionate about, and you will find the perfect balance. There is the unparalleled opportunity during your first few semesters of college to explore new subjects and take classes that intrigue you, entice you, or even scare you.

What quirky or fun thing do you wish you had known before you came to Bowdoin?
Bowdoin is severely and inescapably haunted. Don't believe me? Check out the Haunted Bowdoin Tour compiled by Senior Software Developer David Francis. It's optimized for mobile devices so that you can actually make your way around campus and check out the haunted locales...preferably during daylight!

Story posted on April 05, 2011

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