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.