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To President Rose, members of the College, and the Class of 2025:

September 10, 2021

This piece represents the opinion of the author.

To President Rose, members of the College, and the Class of 2025:

One year and 110 days ago, the Class of 2020 received our diplomas and raised a toast to the culmination of our Bowdoin journey, watching our names roll across screens like movie credits. Since then, my Bowdoin friends have started anti-racist book clubs with me. They have navigated grief with me. We have mimed hugs from a distance. We have taken walks when it’s  thirty degrees outside, twenty, ten—in snow, on windy beaches or in the dark. We have made a habit of touching base on mental health and regularly sending pick-me-ups, both through Venmo and with handwritten poems sent by snail mail.

This year, we learned that collective healing is crucial. Feelings must not go unfelt, and turbulence ought not be swept over. The pandemic has taught us not to accept the normal but to relentlessly expose the dark underbelly of that which we once considered normal.

This is not the normal message you will receive as a welcome to the College. But I do not want to omit discomfort, for it is often discomfort which motivates change. Thus, I offer two poems. The first I offer to future classes, in the spirit of intellectual fearlessness and in the pursuit of justice many of you came to embody this year. You deserve more than our past normal: you deserve a more equitable institution, one that will stand up for student-led change more often than for tradition. I hope we may bequeath to you a community maintained more by compassion than normalcy, one shaped by our own simultaneous toil and joy.

Dear future Bowdoin student:

Call your best friend in the stairwell of H-L; cry between the bookshelves of Hatch

For uncried tears build up like acid in the body.

Join the cognitive behavioral therapy anxiety group; fill out the worksheets

For they will make you ponder your fears and self-perceptions.

Attend protests and walkouts, and when you’re not satisfied, plan your own

Invite your professors to dinner and be honest with them

Meet your deans and be honest with them too

For those with power must learn to heed the voices of those with vision.

Start conversations with your favorite Moulton chef, your first-year housekeeper

For theirs is the kindness that will make you feel seen.

Pen an op-ed for the newspaper, maybe two or three

For words of justice should fill the campus with force.

Forgo expectations set by a confused, quiet competitiveness

Instead pushing for what you know is right

For we must hold to the highest standards the ones we love.

We, the alumni of one year, have the privilege of perspective and thus the capacity to present a more restorative truth than we otherwise might not have dared. You, the current Bowdoin students, will repeatedly answer “good” to the question “how are you,” even though one word cannot possibly tell the story of all your stresses and joys. You will offer “Bowdoin hellos” to peers you recognize and peers you don’t, all in an attempt to pave peaceful passage, to pretend normal. I do not want students to keep pretending everything is normal. Therefore, this second poem I write as an acknowledgement of strife and a message of love. This I extend to current Polar Bears and alumni alike, so they may share in its attempt at collective healing.

To the overcommitted and overachievers

You are enough.

To those afraid they under-committed or underachieved

You are enough.

To the anxiety-ridden

You are enduring like an oak, even when your branches sway in the wind

Plant your feet in the earth and allow it to ground you.

To those whose minds never cease

It is okay to slow down

The motion itself makes a sort of abstract art—not every detail need be grasped.

To those who do not find home here

You contain multitudes.

To those who are hurt here

Your resilience will not cease to astound

But you should not be expected to heal alone; let us hold your hands.

To the overwhelmed and under-confident

The overworked and under-satisfied

You have boundaries too: do you know how to heed them?

You have advocates too: do you know how to believe them?

To the perfectionists and the fixers

You are already perfect, as you are absolute; complete

You have all the requisite elements, qualities, characteristics.

To those riddled with self-doubt

You are loved.

To those always processing, never sure, seldom pausing, ever searching

You are not alone.

Anna Marten is a member of the class of 2020.

Comments

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2 comments:

  1. Current senior says:

    Thank you for this. Necessary and even more poignant upon rereading.

  2. Judi Clancy ‘75 says:

    My husband and I (both members of class of 1975…yes dinosaurs do exist) have gone to the last two men’s soccer games. What we have witnessed is an extreme need by the current students for “normal”. We have gone to many Bowdoin soccer matches over the years and we have NEVER seen attendance so high. Although the campus is “code yellow” there was no social distancing or masking occurring. I want fir these students to experience a Bowdoin like this – one free of fear. But I worry for them and hope that all will remain safe. And heed the words of these carefully written thoughts from a member of the class of 2020.


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