Even the keenest observer walking through the Bowdoin campus might overlook the numerous plaques, gateways, rooms and statues donated by previous Bowdoin classes. Since the College's early years, graduating classes have found a way to profoundly and visibly give back to the campus by way of class gifts.

With the economic downturn, these gifts have shifted from more visible landmarks to endowed funds for scholarships and financial aid. Regardless of what the gift is composed of, classes continue to have an impact on the College well after their graduation.

Perhaps the most iconic class gift on campus is the white granite polar bear statue situated in front of Smith Union. According to Patricia McGraw Anderson in "The Architecture of Bowdoin College," the Class of 1912 wished to give the College a tangible, visible gift. They planned the construction of the Polar Bear for their 25th reunion. The sculptor, Frederick G. R. Roth became ill during its construction, delaying its installation for over a year. The Polar Bear was finally installed on November 5, 1938.

For the Class of 1903's 25th reunion, the Class donated the gateway to Whittier Field and the Hubbard Grandstand. According to Anderson, President Sills expressed his desire for a gateway to the field, and the Class of 1903 successfully raised more than enough money to finance the gateway.

"Red brick, cast stone, and ironwork are the ingredients in this largest and most elaborate of Bowdoin's gateways," wrote Anderson.

Furthermore, its large size made the gate suitable to handle the influx of football spectators. These large, visible gifts "tend to be things of the past, now that the physical layout of the campus is fully realized," wrote Vice President for Development & Alumni Relations Randolph Shaw in an email to the Orient.

"The nature of class gifts is changing in order to adjust to the needs of College. If someone is interested in making that kind of gift, we do typically talk to them about what the needs are in terms of academic or financial aid support, or student life support or anything else that we have currently going on where a boost to the endowment might be beneficial," said Shaw in an interview with the Orient.

According to Shaw, nearly 100 Bowdoin classes or member of those classes have established endowed funds in the name of their classes since 1825.

In honor of their 50th reunion, members of the Class of 1961 are contributing to their already-established scholarship. The amount of their contribution will be officially announced at Reunion Weekend in June.

Shaw said, "It is less likely these days that we would suggest that someone give a walkway or a gate or a bench or anything like that. We think that in the modern world, it is probably more beneficial to the College for people to support us through the established funds. There are exceptions to that on occasion."

Recent exceptions to this include the Class of 2008 donating Bowdoin's first solar hot water panels at their commencement and the Class of 2007 providing the Center of Common Good with new furnishings. The Class of 2008, however, also contributed to an emergency scholarship fund.

Last year, the Class of 2010 donated $8,000 to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Student Activities Program Advisor Christine Drasba said the Class of 2010 wanted to encourage incoming and current Bowdoin students to use the resources provided by the museum. They chose to provide monetary funds so that "the Art Museum could use it as they saw fit, as opposed to a specific piece of art or sculpture."

"The College's needs today are very different than they were 50 to 100 years ago. Our priority is growing our endowment—which supports academic and student programs and financial aid," wrote Shaw.

The Class of 2011 is currently working on its plans for their class gift. Class of 2011 President Grant Easterbrook said the class council wants their gift to honor Nick Barnett '11, who died in a car accident in 2007.

While their plans are still tentative, the 2011 Class Council is deciding whether to donate to a fund in his memory or install a physical memorial on campus. Easterbrook said a physical memorial might include an engraved plaque placed on the Quad.

"The Quad isn't going anywhere anytime soon, so it's my first choice," said Easterbrook.

The 2011 Class Council is working with a budget of between $4,000 and $6,000. At Commencement in May, Easterbrook will officially announce the 2011 class gift. While class gifts are not mandatory, there has been a tradition of classes budgeting their class funds in order to give back to the College upon graduation.

"Since I have been here, they have always ended up actually being able to give more than they originally anticipated," said Drasba.

Drasba added that the annual tradition of class gifts "is a great opportunity to give a gift right away and make an impact on campus."