After four years of getting to know all things Bowdoin, would you have made the same college decision?
For our final column, we asked eight graduating seniors this question, and all answered affirmatively without hesitation. However, they have had starkly different experiences along the way.
Mai Kristofferson especially appreciates Bowdoin after comparing her college experience with those of her friends at other schools.
“My boyfriend goes to MIT, and every time he’s here he just marvels at how everyone works really hard, but there isn’t this dog-eat-dog competitiveness. He says Bowdoin is so refreshing and that they got something right. I feel that way too,” said Kristofferson.
Some students transitioned easily into college life with the help of sports teams or close-knit dorms, like Jess Caron with the Nordic ski team and Pierce King with the lacrosse and hockey teams.
“I came to school and instantly had 40 friends, so it helped my transition to Bowdoin,” said King. “Being on a team can close you off from the rest of the community, but sports shouldn’t define your character, they should only complement your character.”
For others, it took months or even years for Bowdoin to feel like home. Caitlin O’Keefe said that getting past peoples’ athletic standing was difficult when she was a first year. She saw the Bowdoin culture as very homogenous and limiting. Dechan Darlympe was also frustrated by her initial impressions of Bowdoin’s social scene, despite her New England boarding school background.
“In high school, people were more open because they felt vulnerable and wanted to get to know people,” said Dalrymple. “In college, I felt that after the first few weeks, people found their cliques and stuck with them. In my dorm especially, people stuck to their floors.”
The academic transition to Bowdoin was especially difficult for those from less rigorous high schools.
“I came from a school that was not very strong—I’m from Fort Kent, Maine,” said Caron. “Freshman and sophomore years I almost didn’t make it through.”
Caron also recounted how difficult it was to grasp how distinct her socioeconomic status was from most of her classmates’.
“I grew up in a very low income area,” explained Caron. “Being here and seeing the people who have gone to elite private schools and have had privilege their whole lives has given me a deeper understanding of the differences between socioeconomic classes.”
Although about 44 percent of Bowdoin students receive financial aid, Caron said she felt she was in the low-income minority her first year.
“I was really shy freshman year, and I was hard on myself for not being at the standard,” said Caron. “Socioeconomic class is one of the things that is not discussed and not as supported at Bowdoin.”
Seniors voiced other discomforts in their second year at Bowdoin.
Kristofferson loved having a built-in community as a swimmer her first year, but looked to expand her social circle sophomore year.
“Freshman year was very insular with the swim team,” said Kristofferson. “I was really glad to be living in a social house sophomore year. I also had a couple of jobs on campus and exposed myself to different groups of people, but by the end of sophomore year I was still itching to do something different.”
Coincidentally, half of the seniors we spoke to went abroad for the entirety of their junior years. All agreed that they were eager to return to Bowdoin and developed a newfound affinity for their alma mater.
“I went to a university with 40,000 students, so it made me realize why I chose Bowdoin, a school that is a community,” said Kristofferson.
For Luke Sanchez, having Bowdoin as a support system gave him the confidence to venture off for a full year to Madrid and Milan.
“By the end of my study abroad experience, I was a little more Bowdoin-sick than homesick,” he said.
For Will Bogardus, studying abroad cultivated his interest in Japanese history, and after going to Japan for a year, he was able to refine his focus within Japanese studies.
“Before I went to Japan, I wanted to get a Ph.D in Japanese history,” said Bogardus. “Midway through my time abroad, I realized I didn’t want to do that at all and instead became increasingly interested in Japanese culture.”
Bowdoin’s academic reputation motivated King’s high school years. With a long-standing familial tradition of Polar Bears, King was set on attending Bowdoin from an early age.
“Bowdoin has always been on my radar,” explained King. “I would visit my sister, Taryn [’07], when I was in high school and got to see her life here. I worked hard in high school because I wanted to make sure that I did everything in my power to get in.”
O’Keefe discovered that having unique interests actually helped her find her niche at Bowdoin.
“When I got here, I realized how much I enjoy taking classes that really excite me,” said O’Keefe.
“I’ve found people who will read Homer on the Art Museum steps with me or will talk about the different rocks that Bowdoin is made of. Bowdoin has provided an environment for my interests to flower,” she added.
Bogardus found that Bowdoin helped him overcome his formerly reserved nature.
“I’ve definitely become a lot more outgoing since I got here,” said Bogardus. “I am a lot more accepting of people that I wouldn’t have met growing up or gotten to know otherwise.” Caron credits Bowdoin for providing her with a more panoramic and nuanced view of the world.
“Through the McKeen Center, I’ve visited communities that are so different from my primarily white, right-wing, religious hometown of Fort Kent,” she said.
Most seniors interviewed felt that they had reached out to the Bowdoin community in some capacity and made an impact during their time here.
“I’m not the most talented individual, not the most artistic, smartest, athletic, and I certainly can’t sing,” said Zach Ostrup. “Everyone contributes in their own way, and I think I’ve contributed in day-to-day interactions.”
Many commented on how the smallness of the Bowdoin community encourages lasting relationships between graduates and the Bowdoin name.
“The Bowdoin Career Advisory Network has been really helpful to me and makes me want to act as a resource to people,” said Caron.
King also looks forward to connecting with both past and future Polar Bears.
“I’m leaving Bowdoin a happy alumnus—when I see a Bowdoin T-shirt in the city, I’m going to go up and talk to them,” said King.
If the seniors we interviewed had the opportunity to redo their time in college, they said they would do a few things differently. However, no one regretted the choice to come to Bowdoin.
Sanchez dismissed a common complaint that the school’s small size is a hindrance in the long run.
“Sometimes I would get a little envious of my friends at other schools, especially when I heard about their extracurricular activities and events and big parties,” said Sanchez. “I would think, ‘Man, I wish I could have done a little more of that.’ But I would never trade all of that for my education here and the fact that I get to say I graduated from Bowdoin.”
Though our interviewees were quick to declare their appreciation of Bowdoin, after four years, most are ready to graduate. O’Keefe expressed how bittersweet her imminent departure from Bowdoin makes her feel.
“I’ve been here long enough that this is very much home to me, more so than my actual home is,” said O’Keefe. “For that reason, this will always be a place that I gravitate toward.”