Student Commencement Address

“The Skeleton Architecture of our Bowdoin” by Goodwin Commencement Prize Winner Colleen Doucette ‘24

Imagine: It is 2020, and you are spending the bulk of your life in a dorm room on a Zoom screen. Your day starts by checking the COVID-19 status level, which will determine if you can spend more than one hour outside. Twice a week, you will stick a long Q-tip up your nose, and if you are me, you will sneeze every time

In our first, long-awaited, in-person meeting, Professor Martin recounted a story that left me with a valuable lesson about this time. During class earlier that day, the whiteboard wasn’t working, and without hesitation, a student had leaped onto a large seminar table to help fix the projector.

She found this encounter incredibly unusual. Apparently, standing on tables, even in the service of being helpful, was not Bowdoin student etiquette.

But we were here, alone, with no upperclass students to show us classroom norms. We were gifted a fresh start—a blank page. We had no choice but to problem-solve with creativity and flexibility—even if that involved a table.

We created a new, more caring community: campus-wide conversations about accessibility and mental health expanded, and sports teams adopted DEI plans, and student activists organized on campus. Simultaneously, we explored who we were as human beings, and true to the “Offer of the College,” we changed. I went from a young student whose only goal was financial stability to an English major obsessed with words, poetry, language, and words.

As I read scholars like Audre Lorde, I watched my world reflect the one she sculpted. She writes, “Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundation for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.” In these words, it clicked: the Class of 2024 had been placed into a fearful unknown. And in response, we were poets. We laid the foundation for a space we had never been in, for experiences we had yet to embark on. We created the skeleton architecture of our Bowdoin.

Eventually, upperclass students returned. They told us about the traditions and social hierarchies we were neglecting. But we understood the status quo reinforces exclusion, and renewal is essential for growth.

We did recognize that a version of the common good was built before we arrived. So, we fought for its revival in literary magazines, alternative spring break trips, and more.

Through this fight we realized our first-year lesson was a gift. It is easy to view this world through a jaded lens. Its traditions are deeper, more violent, and rooted in systems that place unequal value on human life. It's a world where a girl my age, like me, dreams of a graduate program to study poetry, but her English building, all English buildings, have been reduced to rubble. This is why we will use the keys of the world’s library to think critically about the ethical and human rights issues, the climate crisis, and existing structures of power. This is why we will erase what no longer serves us and root our communities in love and empathy.

I urge you all: stand on the table to make your point, stand on the table to expand your view, stand on the table to for those whose table has been destroyed. I believe you, my classmates, my loved ones, will change this world because you’ve changed Bowdoin, and you’ve changed me.