Class of 2022 Commencement Address (May 28, 2022)
Good morning, Class of 2022!
Welcome to our 217th Commencement.
Welcome to our honorands and trustees. Welcome to our faculty, staff, and alumni. Welcome especially to family and friends who are here, both in person and beaming in from around the country and the world, to celebrate this joyous occasion.
It is particularly joyous given what our students, and all of us, have endured in navigating the pandemic.
While we celebrate today, as we should, we also remember those who have died during the pandemic. Globally, nearly 6.3 million people have perished, and that number still climbs.
On the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, we remember those who have been the target of death and violence because of their identities—racial, ethnic, religious, gender, sexuality—most recently in Buffalo two weeks ago.
And our hearts break for the families and loved ones of the nineteen children and two teachers who were murdered on Tuesday in Texas.
Anything I might do or ask you to do here this morning—a moment of silence or somber reflection about these horrible acts—would not be nearly enough. I cannot think of better words that those of Golden State Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr:
“When are we going to do something? I am so tired of the excuses, I’m so tired of the moments of silence. Enough!”
So, we turn now, as we should even in this terrible moment, to celebrate the amazing accomplishments and limitless promise of this amazing class of Bowdoin students.
I said yesterday afternoon, I have unwavering faith that you will change the world.
In 1871, Bowdoin’s president, Joshua Chamberlain, proposed that the College admit women as students. With careful consideration, and not wanting to make any hasty decisions, after the passage of exactly one hundred years, it came to be. In the spring of 1971, transfer student Susan Jacobsen became the first women to graduate from Bowdoin College. That fall—the fall of 1971—147 women enrolled here as our first official coeducational class.
This past academic year we have been celebrating “Fifty Years of Women at Bowdoin.” Our honorands today are five distinguished women who have given great service to the common good and whose accomplishments and character set amazing examples for all of us.
Katherine Bradford, Janet Langhart-Cohen, Raquel Jaramillo, Laurie Gagnon Lachance, and Joan Benoit Samuelson.
We could not be more pleased and more honored that you are here today.
I would like to ask our students to stand up and turn to thank, with your applause, the faculty and staff who made this amazing Bowdoin experience possible, and who prepared you to confront the challenges and to lead.
Now, please give your parents, family, and friends—those who love you and have supported you through this journey, especially this past year, and give them a round of applause as well.
Finally, thank one another. You are each an essential part of a Bowdoin education and experience, and you have each made it possible for us to come through this past year in the way that we have.
I would like to recognize one of our students: Alex Tyson, who was commissioned yesterday into the United States Marine Corps. Alex, we are incredibly proud of you. Godspeed.
Four years ago, I stood right about here. You sat right about there. It was a beautiful August evening, and we all came together for the first time.
Whatever you imagined college would be like, because of a historic and tragic act of nature, it did not turn out that way.
Navigating your college education and experience during the pandemic has been challenging (ok, that’s an understatement), frightening at times, often exhausting, and each of you have some scars from managing your way through it.
It was not easy, it was not what you expected, but you dug deep to find a way through, and you supported one another as you did it. And you were also supported by your family and friends, and here by the faculty and staff, host families, and our neighbors in this community.
And here you are—you made it.
Each year, from here, I share with our graduates one of the most important things that I have learned in my life that I hope you will consider.
It is that true happiness is found not in material success—money, titles, things—rather, it is found in the bonds of family and friends. Happiness is about your heart—finding and nurturing
those special relationships that make you whole. Finding that person who will love you completely and without question and giving them the same. Should you have kids, loving them completely and making the time for them a top priority. Growing the friendships that draw out the best in you, and in them, and that sustain you throughout your life.
If we have learned anything from the past two years, it is how much this matters—how essential it is.
Class of 2022, congratulations on your remarkable accomplishments at a historic time, and thank you for what’s to come.
As I said yesterday afternoon at Baccalaureate, the Class of 2022 faced the historic challenge of navigating their time at Bowdoin during the pandemic. In addition, they, and the College, lost three friends who would have walked these steps this morning. They were men full of promise who were beloved by their family, friends, classmates, teachers, our staff, and all those so fortunate to come to know them.
We take time this morning to remember each of them.
We are joined via live stream by Henry’s parents, Sarah and Nathan, Class of 1987, and their family. We welcome you.
Henry, who was from Minneapolis, died in January of 2019, after just his first semester here. One of his high school teachers wrote in their recommendation that he was “brilliant, engaging, humble, and wise beyond his years.” He was a stellar student, with interests that covered the spectrum from math to creative writing. He was a talented violinist, holding first chair in the Minneapolis youth orchestra. And he was an accomplished rower and captain of his high school team. In his short time at Bowdoin, he became connected to so many people in so many parts of the College. A week prior to his death Henry rowed an erg marathon, 26.2 miles or 42,195 meters, in just over three hours. In honor of Henry, his rowing teammates here at Bowdoin host an ergathon every February. It is a fun, loud, and high-spirited event open to any and all groups, teams, or individuals in the Bowdoin community. The goal is simply to honor and remember Henry and his indomitable spirit and smile.
Henry will forever be a part of Bowdoin and of the Class of 2022.
We are joined here today by Theo’s father, Andrew, and his uncle, Allen. We welcome you. Theo’s mother, Nancy, and his sister, Sophia, are not with us on the Quad but are with us in spirit.
Theo, who grew up in New York City, died last October. He was a stellar student. A history and government and legal studies double major, he was working on an honors project with Professor Dallas Denery, and he was awarded an Alfred E. Golz Summer Research Fellowship. He was engaged with the life of the College in so many ways—as a co-president of Hillel, and associate editor of The Bowdoin Harpoon—the student satire magazine—and an Outing Club trip leader. He worked at the library and played on our Ultimate Frisbee team. Theo had forged deep friendships with so many students, faculty, and staff. His family told us that Theo’s three- plus years at Bowdoin were the happiest of his life.
Theo had completed enough credits to receive his degree, he also earned Latin honors and graduates cum laude, and yesterday was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. I would now like to ask Theo’s father, Andrew Danzig, to come to the steps to receive Theo’s Bowdoin diploma.
Finn was born and raised in Brunswick. He is the son of Michael and Lucretia Woodruff. Michael is a member of the Class of 1987 and the director of the Bowdoin Outing Club. We are joined today by Mike, Lucretia, and by Finn’s brothers, Seamus and Daire, his sister, Maeve, and by Finn’s partner, whom he met at Bowdoin, Siena Wiedmann of the Class of 2020.
Finn grew up at Bowdoin, literally. While a member of the Class of 2021, he took a leave during his first year because of an injury. He was finishing up his studies at Lewis and Clark College in Oregon when he died just a few weeks after Theo last November. He was also a stellar student, an environmental studies and music major who had a deep passion for the outdoors and who found so many ways to be in nature and to take full advantage of all that it offered. He was an incredible musical talent, a fiddler, who also had the skill and disposition to compose his own music. The outdoors and music were essential parts of who Finn was.
Finn had completed enough credits to receive his degree. He also earned Latin honors and graduates cum laude. I would now like to ask members of his family to come to the steps to receive Finn’s Bowdoin diploma.
These were each immensely talented and wonderful men. They were deeply loved by their families and friends, and they returned that love in full measure. We are so much better for knowing them, and their absence creates a permanent void in each of us.
Henry Zietlow and Theo Danzig, Class of 2022, and Finnegan Woodruff, Class of 2021, will forever be a part of Bowdoin College.