You worked your ass off. If you ended up at Bowdoin, somewhere along the way you put serious time and effort into getting good at something. That something might have been excelling in academics, dominating in sports, playing a musical instrument, saving the world, or not screwing up the deck stacked in your favor, but regardless, you figured something out.

So you got here. And assuming you graduate, you can always claim to be a real “Bowdoin Man,” or in the post-1971 tradition, a real “Bowdoin Woman.” That’s really great too—but that’s sort of where the buck stops in today’s world. 

Despite a sexy-sounding slogan a few years back, none of us can legitimately say, “I am Bowdoin.” Or maybe all of us can say it, so it means nothing. 

Bowdoin is an institution; one with a rich history and a long tradition of excellence, but an institution nonetheless. 

There are buildings, an administration, faculty, and an expanding plot of scenic land. People come and go. Give or take fifty years and some of the last names would stay the same, but it would be an almost entirely different cast of characters. 

If you’re lucky, you can feel a tangible connection to the history by living in Longfellow’s Winthrop dorm room, but even then they kick you out for a younger model at the end of the year.

No matter how proud of Bowdoin we are, no matter how strongly we feel a connection to this place, we should never try to define ourselves by the institution we attend. 

It would be nice if the hard part was over. It would be nice if getting into Bowdoin was all it took to realize our dreams. It would be nice if admission came with a world-renowned golden stamp of approval, reading “Educated at Bowdoin.” It would be nice if when people heard “Educated at Bowdoin” they felt compelled to hand us the keys to the kingdom, all the influence and power our hearts could desire. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. 

Getting in is just the beginning. While it’s quite entertaining and usually rewarding to track Bowdoin’s ranking in the Bourgeois Beacon’s College Standings, it really shouldn’t matter all that much to us. What should matter is what we learn here and what we do with it. 

As the early and frequent mispronunciations of “Bo-dwah” should have alerted us, in order to make the most of our Bowdoin educations we will always have to have a chip on our shoulders and stay humble. 

The blessing and the burden of a Bowdoin education is that it provides us the tools to do anything our hearts desire and fully equips us to do nothing. We will always have to keep learning, filling in the gaps other people see in our educations and abilities. 

Which leads us to the NAS report. The NAS report showed us that haters gonna hate. The NAS report is also largely misrepresentative, vindictive bullshit. 

But I think part of the outrage towards the report stems from what it represents for us as Bowdoin students and alumni. We are outraged that someone has smeared the Bowdoin brand. Part of that is because Bowdoin doesn’t deserve criticism based on manipulated facts and questionable motives. 

But even if the criticism were warranted, I suspect we’d still be upset. As individuals there will always be this temptation to want our degrees to do all the talking. 

We want our institutions and our credentials to signal everything we want people to know about us. We want to name drop and demand respect. We are offended that someone has attacked Bowdoin because we feel attacked personally. We feel like our individual brands have been degraded. 

Being a “Bowdoin Man” or a “Bowdoin Woman” doesn’t mean nearly what it used to. Fifty, even 30 years ago, you could achieve success in life with the right degrees, the right breeding and the right social graces. Thankfully, the world has evolved since then. 

We no longer celebrate privilege and money as markers of talent and of achievement. The problem with using an institution to define your identity, even an institution as great as Bowdoin, is that it will never be enough. Whenever someone smears your institution it overshadows all the individual traits and quirks of your personality. 

There will never be an institution that can replace the hard work of creating and defending the integrity the world make’s it judgments from. 

That’s okay. That’s a good thing. Thankfully, Bowdoin provides the tools for us to become our own people.