The people behind the Bowdoin Hello
October 28, 2022
Many traditions have come and gone at the College. From Ivies and Supers to pub trivia and Dinner with Six Strangers, the common thread is clear: an emphasis on social connection.
Many students apply to Bowdoin with hopes of belonging in a small, tight-knit community. If there’s one pro of traditions, it’s nurturing that community; one Bowdoin tradition that has waxed and waned is the Bowdoin Hello. The College writes that “Back in the 1960s, Bowdoin fraternity pledges would be in trouble if they didn’t give a vigorous ‘hello’ to each other, even from the other side of campus.”
In an effort to revive this tradition, I talked to people that I believe are champions of the Bowdoin Hello, in hopes of putting a face—or faces—to the tradition’s name.
Luisa Wolcott-Breen ’25 was introduced to the Bowdoin Hello on a tour. Now a tour guide, an initially skeptical Wolcott-Breen believes that the Bowdoin Hello is an integral piece of her campus experience.
“I’m a tour guide, and I kind of have this little statement where I say, ‘I didn’t think the Bowdoin Hello was real,” Wolcott-Breen said. “I think there is something unique about Bowdoin’s small community and how interconnected it is.”
Wolcott-Breen believes there’s a necessity for the Bowdoin Hello that exceeds sticking to tradition; this necessity being a conscious decision to forge meaningful connections.
She meets this need by not checking her phone when walking around campus. She believes that this opens the door to making new connections and having intentional, meaningful conversations with established ones.
“I don’t walk with headphones in and I don’t look at my phone while I’m walking … personally, my philosophy is that I really like running into people and having conversations,” Wolcott-Breen said. “I think it’s kind of an adventure. And I never know who I’m going to run into, but it’s always really fun.”
Yaseen Ahmed ’23 recalls being a Thorne Dining Hall expediter his first year and being happy when students simply asked him about his day. This experience has partially influenced how he greets others today.
“While they were waiting in line,[some students] started a conversation with me, which always made me, especially as a first year, feel really welcomed,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed’s definition of the Bowdoin Hello is acknowledging others’ existence, even if it doesn’t lead to a sustaining friendship, in hopes of making people feel seen and cared for. The simple act of recognizing another person’s presence has a cumulatively significant campus-wide impact.
“That little interaction—even if I’m not feeling up to it, I’ll push myself to do it generally, unless I’m having the shittiest of days,” Ahmed said. “I feel like it is good [to] push yourself to check [on others].”
Alumnus Ben Ross ’22 learned about the tradition during Orientation, initially believing it would have a stronger presence on campus than what he observed.
“[The Bowdoin Hello] was advertised in a way that I thought way more people were going to be saying hi to each other than what was actually the case,” Ross said. “So I remember thinking it was gonna be more of a thing and then noticing that it was kind of blown out of proportion.”
Ross came to Bowdoin with a personal mission to learn as many names as possible, a goal that strengthened his relationship with the Bowdoin Hello during his time at the College.
“I’m quite a sociable person, but I was not in high school. [I was] a lot quieter and a lot more shy until, really, my senior year, coming into Bowdoin, I made it a goal of mine to learn as many names as I could to kind of try something totally different from how I approached [social life] in high school,” Ross said.
Ross hoped to get a feel of community by knowing, to some degree, the people he was surrounded by. He believes that the campus’ atmosphere is more enjoyable when the Bowdoin Hello is practiced.
Inspired by Ross, Mohammed Alkabi ’25 feels passionately about greeting everyone on campus, especially strangers, who sometimes need a little push from his Heelys to prompt conversation.
“[The Bowdoin Hello] is something that I picked up from Ben Ross, funnily enough. I try to spread as much joy as possible and usually a simple wave and a smile will do that or a ‘good morning!’ or ‘hello,’” Alkaabi said. “No strangers ever say hello to me unprovoked. I usually provoke them with my Heelys. They’re like, ‘Oh, those are sick.’ They’re really a good social lubricant.”
Alkaabi and Paul Wang ’24 both say that social interactions on campus are fueled by their enthusiastic desire to learn more about others; for them, community building is a symptom, not a goal.
“I’m not consciously trying to create community or check up on people. It kind of just happens because I enjoy seeing people,” Wang said.
Taking the place of the Bowdoin Hello is a phenomenon that Wolcott-Breen coins the “Bowdoin ‘How Are You?’” She strongly believes that this form of disingenuous small talk has made meaningful connections scarce.
“I think maybe there’s a separate the ‘Bowdoin How Are You?’ which I really dislike … as I walk by people, I think there’s this instinct to maybe not say ‘hello’, sometimes, but rather, ‘how are you?’ And there’s an expectation of saying ‘good, how are you?’ and then moving on,” Wolcott-Breen said. “Either I’m going to stop and have a conversation with you and ask you what you’re up to and really listen to your day. Or I’m just going to say ‘hi,’ but I want to—regardless of what I’m going to or how late I am—take time and acknowledge the presence of the people around me.”
Reviving the Bowdoin Hello can be as simple as saying “hi.” Just make sure to invite conversation when time permits. Next time you’re on campus, find someone with a pair of free ears and eyes—maybe even some Heelys—and say hello! Let’s bring back the Bowdoin Hello.
Chayma Charifi is a member of the Class of 2025.
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