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Reflections from an old Polar Bear

September 24, 2021

This piece represents the opinion of the author.

Why would a 78-year old Bowdoin Polar Bear have the audacity to agree to write an opinion piece for the Orient, one of the nation’s finest college newspapers?

Well, my family legacy gives me some Bowdoin credit: my great-grandfather; grandfather; son and granddaughters all call Bowdoin their alma mater. I also know something about education, as I spent my career writing admissions and fund-raising materials for colleges and schools around the country. I’ve kept up with today’s Bowdoin students by having served, along with my wife Tina, as a host parent to 15 students over the last 20 years. All of them have given us joy and kept us young. Two of them have served as Commencement Speakers, including Mamadou Diaw ’20, who spoke at graduation in August. Indeed, I’ve bled Bowdoin black and white for a long time.

So let me tell it straight: you are most fortunate to be at Bowdoin, especially during these chaotic times. Your talented professors genuinely care about their students; you have rich opportunities to learn outside the classroom—student-run activities, funded internships, study abroad, community service, etc.. You have great support systems to help you get from where you are to where you want to be. Your college has a deep commitment to the Common Good. You’re just steps from downtown Brunswick. And you’re blessed with Maine (and the Bowdoin Outing Club).

Let me add another asset, which is perhaps less tangible. Bowdoin culture tends to be cooperative, not cutthroat. Students celebrate each other’s successes with joy, not envy. They have each other’s backs, and that’s not always the case at other colleges—even smaller ones.

Okay, here’s some advice, which might fall into the nobody-asked-me-but column.

Many students have complained, not without reason, about the “Bowdoin Bubble” phenomenon. My advice? Get outside that bubble and see what’s beyond the campus. Study abroad programs and funded internships can help. So can doing community service in and around Brunswick. Townspeople love their interactions with Bowdoin students; help make these interactions happen.

Get outside your own campus “bubble”—the students you always hang out with, the people on your team or in your residence hall or whatever. Your peers are amazing, so take the time to engage with them, to be inspired by them. When I ask Bowdoin seniors if they have regrets, they often say that they wish they had gotten to know more of their classmates better.

Get outside of your own academic comfort zone. Take courses that seem interesting, even though they have nothing to do with your major or minor. I deeply regret my own narrow academic focus at Bowdoin back in the early 1960s.

Reread the Offer of the College when you’re feeling confused or down. Such phrases as, ‘to be at home in all lands and all ages’ and ‘lose yourself in generous enthusiasms’ remain as relevant today as when President William DeWitt Hyde penned them over a century ago.

Avoid the all-too-human tendency—even among young people—to stereotype, to put people in boxes. Listen, really listen, to the person with a different background or differing political view or sexual orientation. Remember you are—we are—all in this together. We’re all just walking each other home.

Learn to sell—yourself, your ideas, your passions. Whatever career path you pursue, you’ll need to convince your bosses and peers that you bring value to the table. Lawyers must be convincing—so must doctors or teachers or generals or anyone. Heads of non-profit organizations must be able to “sell” the organization’s mission to donors and volunteers. Learn to sell if you want to make good things happen for yourself—and the world.

Tap into the amazing Bowdoin alumni network. Most alumni are very loyal and very generous. Reach out often and do so without shame or guile. Odds are you’ll be glad you did (and so will they).

Pay it forward. Whenever our host students express appreciation for anything, we just say “pay it forward.” And we know that they will.

There, that’s enough. Well, not quite. The next time you go to Gelato Fiasco, ask the people behind the counter when the flavor “Polar Bear Peppermint Pattie” will be served. Tell ‘em David and Tina Treadwell sent you. We named that flavor after amassing a lot of Red Spoon points, and we’re happy to share one of our generous enthusiasms.

David Treadwell is a member of the Class of 1964.

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One comment:

  1. Jim Saindon says:

    I will always regret not applying to Bowdoin. Thanks for this reflection on Bowdoin College and Brunswick!


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