BRUNSWICK — Susan Rice, the former national security adviser to President Obama whose grandparents emigrated from Jamaica to Portland, was one of three honorary degree recipients at Bowdoin College’s 213th graduation Saturday.

Although Rice’s selection for an honorary degree triggered about three dozen negative comments by alumni on Bowdoin’s website about her response to a 2012 attack by Islamic militants on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, there was no sign of any opposition at the commencement ceremony. Rice was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the time of the Benghazi attack, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

Susan Rice

The crowd Saturday clapped as loudly and as long for Rice as they did for the other honorary degree recipients: Nigerian-born writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and chemist and Nobel laureate Thomas Cech. There were no negative comments or protests at a talk Rice gave on campus Friday, said Doug Cook, Bowdoin’s media relations director.

Rice has strong family ties to Bowdoin. Her mother, the late Lois Dickson Rice, who went to Portland High School, received an honorary degree from the college in 1984. Four of Rice’s uncles and two cousins are Bowdoin alumni.

The granting of honorary degrees was one of the highlights at the graduation, which was held outside on the terrace of the college’s art museum as onlookers wrestled with makeshift raincoats and umbrellas. The college moves the graduation indoors only for severe weather and Saturday’s light to moderate rain did not qualify.

The graduation ceremony is short and to the point. Instead of a celebrity keynote address, two graduating seniors make the speeches.


President Clayton Rose gave a brief congratulatory talk, noting that when the college had its first graduation in 1806, Thomas Jefferson was president, Congress was in its ninth session and Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t be born for another three years.

Rose told students that finding someone to love was the key to a good life. “Find the person who will love you completely,” he said.

Among the 489 graduates, 49 are from Maine. Students are from 41 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Forty are international students, representing 19 countries and territories.

The crowd’s high spirits appeared unsubdued by the weather, as the graduates followed a marching band around the campus, with a large contingent of alumni, sporting straw hats, bringing up the rear.

Mace Foehl-Hemphill of Gill, Massachusetts, peered from under an umbrella while trying to locate the 15 members of her family, many of them from Maine, who were somewhere in the crowd. They were all there to watch her son, Cooper Hemphill, graduate.

“He just loved it here. He is Phi Beta Kappa, majored in mathematics and classics and played on the golf team,” said his mother, who added that she was bursting with pride.


Anne Paris of New Providence, New Jersey, said her daughter, Kathryn Paris, who majored in neuroscience and visual art, had called her early Saturday to warn that the crowds were already forming and the family should hurry if they wanted to find seats.

But the seats were all gone by the time Paris and nine other family members made it to campus with another hour to go before the ceremony.

“I feel everyone would be more comfortable and would be able to see inside,” she said.


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