The Root of All Virtues

By Bowdoin Magazine

What is the role of humility in a world that equates success with self-promotion? Can our desire for a healthy self-esteem coexist with a sense that we are fundamentally no more important than other human beings?


Cultivating humility, whether named explicitly or not, is embedded in the education that Bowdoin offers. Our students arrive here with a list of accomplishments and awards, validated in their achievement. They are lauded and vaunted. In admissions odds that have grown vanishingly small, they have been admitted.

Almost immediately, each of them learns how very, very little they know. This can happen in a class, around a table in the dining hall, anywhere they have a conversation with other smart people. It can be shocking, even panic-inducing.

But in fact, it’s one of the best things that will ever happen to them.

It is a feeling, you could argue, our world needs more of. That awareness—a sense that the universe is so full of things to know that we can never know them all, that our time to learn is finite and the body of knowledge so vast, that every person we encounter has something to teach us—is an essential facet of wisdom. It is also the key to repairing our public discourse and to leading with empathy.

We asked some members of our community to think and write about humility. They share their stories here—generously, even humbly.


Bowdoin Magazine Winter 2024


This story first appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of Bowdoin Magazine. Manage your subscription and see other stories from the magazine on the Bowdoin Magazine website.