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Common good for uncommon times

February 26, 2021

When applying to Bowdoin, students inevitably hear the phrase “Common Good,” whether through the Offer of the College or the Admissions Office. The “Common Good” is an essential part of the Bowdoin experience. Now, during the pandemic, we are focused on creating a “Bowdoin Bubble” rather than breaking out of it, but what does that mean for Bowdoin’s “Common Good” commitment?

That idea of Bowdoin’s capital-C “Common Good,” often facilitated by the McKeen Center, primarily revolves around large-scale gestures of commitment to communities off campus: semester-long volunteer positions at local schools and food pantries, service trips in different states and countries and months-long grants to pursue nonprofit and social justice work. Although standard volunteering or structured programming is still out there, virtually and socially distant, we must expand our approach to community engagement in the COVID-19 era.

Just because our “Bowdoin Bubble” has become more defined than it usually is, it does not mean that we have to stop focusing on our larger community. Instead, it means we can really examine our own community at Bowdoin in addition to staying committed to the broader world.

It’s time for a recommitment to the lowercase-c “common good” on a more personal level.

We must remember that it is individuals who make up the “common good.” As the saying goes, “a ripple can turn into a wave.” While we can’t engage in hands-on initiatives or organize a large community effort, we can help the people right around us.

Incorporating the common good into our everyday, individual lives with the goal of benefiting our community may seem daunting, but it can be as easy as reviewing a friend’s paper or joining a committee that you feel is making an impact at the College. With the world slowed down, we have more opportunity to take advantage of opportunities that form the “common” of common good.

This isn’t to say that we should forget about broader forms of service, but rather that both levels of commitment to the common good are important at this time. Signing up for the McKeen Center’s Service News–and reading it–can help students find volunteer opportunities in the surrounding community.. For time-strapped students looking to engage with the common good, donating money to mutual aid organizations or items to food banks and shelters are equally important acts of service. The uppercase Common Good and the lowercase common good are each vital responsibilities we have as Bowdoin students, and many of us have the privilege of being able to engage with both.

As we begin another pandemic semester, we need to remember to strike a balance between being overwhelmed by the scale of the world’s problems and getting stuck in our own. The common good isn’t synonymous with changing the world or even our community; it means doing your part to make the world around you a better place for everyone in it, however you can.

This editorial represents the majority view of the Editorial Board which is comprised of  Sofie Brown, Katie King, Kate Lusignan, Nina McKay, Dylan Sloan, Emily Staten and Juliana Vandermark.


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