After Eighteen Years as a Student, Dining Employee Lisa Bouffard Will Graduate From Bowdoin this Spring
But she remained focused on her goal—to earn a bachelor's degree. After taking one class a semester while continuing to work a full-time administrative job in Bowdoin Dining, she is now just a credit away from a Bowdoin degree.
This May, after completing her thirty-second class, she will receive her diploma at Commencement. She is already predicting she will be crying the whole time.
"What has motivated me? Well, given that I have been at this so long, my motivations have naturally changed as my life has changed," Bouffard said. But she clarified that a college degree was never about finding a new line of work. Grateful for the years of support from college administrators, supervisors, and coworkers, she's adamant she'll remain working at Bowdoin until she retires.
Instead, her desire for a diploma "has always been about accomplishing the goal that I started and proving to myself that I could do it," she explained.
Bouffard grew up with five siblings in Saco, Maine. Neither of her parents attended college, and the prospect of going to college was never an option for her, she said.
Yet, twenty years later, at age thirty-eight, she decided to enroll in her first Bowdoin class. Part of her decision to become a college student at that age, she said, stemmed from "not being in the greatest of places" and wanting to do something just for herself.
Her inaugural class was Introduction to Poetry, with Anthony Walton in the English department. Bouffard's supervisor, Executive Director of Dining and Bookstore Services Mary Lou Kennedy, recalled Bouffard sharing with her essays covered with Walton's scrawled red pen. Kennedy said she watched with admiration as Bouffard digested her professor's feedback, and in time, developed a "methodical approach to answering difficult questions" while remaining open to changing her opinions.
"Scary, intimidating, hard, and awesome, all at once," Bouffard said, describing that first class. She said she was awed by the students and anxious about speaking up in class. But Walton encouraged her, and she earned a B for the course. "I was thrilled!" she said.
Since then, she has earned mostly As and Bs (though her GPA was slightly pulled down by one disastrous chemistry class, she said). Her transcript looks like many other college students, with her grades improving over time as she gained skills and experience.
Bouffard is majoring in gender and women's studies and in religion. Over the years, she has also taken classes in philosophy, psychology, biology, education, sociology, anthropology, and Africana studies.
Some of Lisa Bouffard's Favorite Classes
- Gender, Body, and Religion, with religion professor Elizabeth Pritchard. "I find the cross between women and religion to be so fascinating, hence my double major of gender and women's studies and religion."
- Overcoming Racism, with sociology professor Roy Partridge. "Students were open with their opinions and not everyone was in agreement, but it was a safe place to put your opinion out there."
- Language, Identity, and Power, with anthropology professor Krista Van Vleet. "This was great course which allowed me to see just how language plays a role in life."
- Gender and Crime, with sociology professor Janet Lohmann. "This class was fascinating and shocking. Some of what we read was tough to read but I learned a lot in this class."
- The Sociology of Emotions, with sociology professor Shruti Devgan. "This class allowed me to see other sides of people’s emotions and made me a bit more understanding about where someone might be coming from."
- Writing Muslim Women’s Lives, and Bearing The Untold Story, with gender and women's studies professors Samaa Abdurraqib and Jen Scanlon. "These were two classes that were similar yet very different but both left a lasting impression on me. Understanding how women navigate through their religion and their gender will always fascinate me."
Not that that means she ever walks into a classroom with complete confidence. "I started this journey with little faith in my ability to be able to handle doing this, and while here I am at the finish line, I still find myself doubting myself at the beginning of every single class," Bouffard said.
Though she starting taking classes in 2001, she didn't matriculate until some years later. She had to apply for admission to Bowdoin and needed to show a record of achievement and strong reference letters. "Yvette Lloyd in admissions hand-walked my acceptance letter over to me because she was so excited about it," Bouffard remembered. "It was a beautiful thing to get that letter."
After she was admitted as a degree-seeking student, she signed Bowdoin's matriculation book with all the other incoming first years, in the office of then-President Barry Mills. "We talked about both being first-generation college students," she recollected.
Bowdoin dean of students and sociology professor Janet Lohmann, who taught Bouffard in two classes, described Bouffard as a "fabulous and engaged student," who brought a unique kind of diversity to her classes. "She has a lived experience that added to the conversation in ways that our students don’t always get to hear," Lohmann said.
Over the years, Bouffard has grown close to some of her younger peers. Being a matriculated student, she has fully engaged in the many group projects that professors assign students to complete after regular classroom hours.
And while she's impressed by Bowdoin students and their abilities, Bouffard said that being in the trenches with them, she's also seen them just be regular kids. "I see them struggling with their workload, and hear them talk about [unwise] things they've done," she said. "On more than one occasion, I've pulled the mom card, and been like, 'No, no, no, you don't do that!' Many students have heard me say, 'Make good decisions!'"
Some respond with the verbal eye roll, "Yeah, okay, Lisa," but others have thanked her for listening to them, she said.
Meghan Galanos ’21 is taking Associate Professor of Religion Elizabeth Pritchard's Christianity course with Bouffard this semester, her second class with Bouffard. "I don't consider her just a classmate—she is also a friend," Galanos said. "She's one of those people who's able to make you smile regardless of the mood you're in. She's kind and compassionate, yet also witty and sarcastic. And she's not afraid to speak her mind, which is very admirable."
Bouffard said she gained the courage to speak up in class during an introductory gender and women's studies class taught by Jen Scanlon, who is Bowdoin's William R. Kenan Professor of the Humanities in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies. "One of the biggest things I learned in that class, which I carry with me today, is that it doesn't matter how much your voice shakes, you should still share your opinion if you can," Bouffard said.
Another revelation she discovered is one that has provided her with energy to keep going when she was frustrated, doubtful, or just exhausted. "I didn't realize at the beginning that I really love to learn," she said.
Lisa requested the addition of a personal note, to thank the many people who have helped her along her way. "Shout out to Jen Scanlon, Elizabeth Pritchard, Krista Van Vleet, Mary Lou Kennedy, Carmen Greenlee, John Holt, Margaret Hazlett, Kim Pacelli, and Janet Lohmann. You all are part of my joy because you helped me find my way many times. It really has taken a village to get me through college! And to my husband, who is definitely one of my biggest cheerleaders. He came to know the signs of when I was struggling with the homework or the time constraints and always found a way to bring me back to the focus of making this dream a reality."