For the first time since COVID-19 sent students home last spring, the College hosted a campus-wide in-person event. Dubbed a “May 1 Celebration,” the Office of Student Activities scheduled a day of outdoor activities, live music and food trucks last Saturday afternoon to usher in the final month of the semester.
After student feedback around the time of the College’s shortened spring break revealed widespread exhaustion and disappointment with the school’s approach to mental health, Dean of Student Affairs Janet Lohmann realized that students could benefit from intentional moments of joy.
“After spring break, I was reflecting on ‘What can we do to find those ways in which students can find happiness, joy and light?’” Lohmann said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “I didn’t want anything fancy or flashy or too orchestrated; I wanted those moments that would be simple but would show students that we are here to help them find the kind of light that I know is within every student.”
Having proposed the idea to the Office of Student Activities, Lohmann worked with others in the division to plan the event.
Three different food trucks—including Mr. Tuna, a consistent student request—games including volleyball, softball and cornhole, student bands and a craft tent drew students from dorm rooms and libraries to fill the quad that sunny Saturday.
One feature of the day was the craft tent, overseen by Assistant Director of Student Activities Miriam Fraga ’18. She oversaw students as they painted planters and tie-dyed t-shirts, two crafts previously hosted by Student Activities that received a flood of positive feedback and inspired Fraga to bring them back for the day.
Many students who were not in the craft tent could be found in front of the Walker Art Museum enjoying student bands and a performance by one of the College’s a cappella groups, the Meddiebempsters.
One band, called TBD, performed together for the first time in over a year and a half. They began practicing only nine days before Saturday, rehearsing six times before their set. During the performance, students on the quad began to stand up and dance in a display of joy and togetherness not seen in person since before the pandemic began.
“I feel like this kind of event, where a lot of the school comes together and is having a good time, hasn’t happened in so long … as a performer, it was crazy to be a part of, but also just as a student at Bowdoin,” Chris Ritter ’21, a member of TBD, said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “That was the best part of it, really. I feel like I would have had just as much fun in the crowd, and I loved seeing my friends and other bands play, and everyone just being together.”
Director of Student Activities Nate Hintze did occasionally have to ask students to maintain physical distance from the performers and others outside their pods, and multiple singers were instructed to remind students to make sure they were only dancing with members of their pods at the start of their sets. Still, Hintze was largely satisfied with COVID-19-related compliance during the event.
“I think this semester, our students have been really great about maintaining social distancing and wearing their masks,” Hintze said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “And you know, I think our students were really great, and that I was really pleased with—how well they all really behaved that afternoon.”
Lohmann agreed that students respecting COVID-19 guidelines allowed for the day to go on as successfully as it did.
“It’s been a difficult semester, it’s been a difficult year and I really can’t thank students enough for all that they’ve done,” Lohmann said. “And even in the midst of all of this, I am so grateful and in awe of their respect and care for one another and for all of the protocols that we have had to have in place.”
Students who attended recalled the celebration with overwhelming positivity, explaining how important this opportunity for joy and a feeling of relative normalcy was.
“I thought it was a great moment for the student body, especially in such a time of high stress and anxiety for a lot of students,” Jackson Coyle ’23 said. “I think Bowdoin holding an event where we were all outdoors, there was music and everyone was having a good time was really beneficial for the mental health of the overall population here at Bowdoin.”
Chloe Richards ’21, is set to graduate later this month. She explained that this was a wonderful moment where more Bowdoin students were able to join together than have been able to in over a year, but also a reminder of what she, as well as all other students, have lost.
“It was one of the first times that felt close to normal, and it was so nice to engage with people I’m friends with who I haven’t been able to spend time with at all [this year],” Richards said in an interview with the Orient. “That was the most fun for me—just being able to dance outside and listen to all the student bands … that’s one of my favorite things that I can think of at Bowdoin. Listening to student performances and everyone being really excited and happy to be there, and I feel like that was a great reminder on Saturday. But earlier this week, I was feeling a little sad because it also reminded me how much fun we could have had and how much fun we were planning.”
As the semester comes to a close, Lohmann and Student Activities staff hope that students can continue to find these moments of joy and that the College will be able to provide more experiences like this.
“I’m here to help students find those opportunities for joy and to really celebrate,” Lohmann said. “We have our puppies on the quad and our petting zoo and our food trucks.”
The May 1 Celebration’s success may lead to a new tradition or modifications to existing ones in the future.
“I think I’m excited for the fall, when we have everybody back on campus and there’ll be a new class of first years, and it’s a chance to really think through what we want this next year to look like and what the new traditions that we want to start are,” Hintze said.