In describing what it means to be a Bowdoin College graduate, President Clayton Rose told the Class of 2023 Saturday to reflect on alumni Evan Gershkovich and Justin Pearson.

Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was arrested in Russia in March on what American officials say are bogus spying charges; he faces up to 20 years in prison. Pearson, a Tennessee state House representative, was expelled from office in April for leading a gun-control protest; he was reappointed soon after.

“Facing difficult circumstances, Evan and Justin provide examples of believing in something and staying true to those beliefs even in the face of intense criticism, of threats, and in Evan’s case, the complete loss of his freedom under terrible circumstances,” Rose told the 478 graduates during the college’s 218th commencement ceremony. “They are models of dignity, of principle, of strength and service of the common good.”

Rose, who is stepping down from his position after eight years, commended the class for weathering challenges, notably the coronavirus pandemic.

“The strength and the character and the skills that you have built will allow you to overcome so much,” he said.

His parting advice to students was to find and nurture relationships.


“Your happiness has nothing to do with your GPA or the fancy titles you have or the money you might make,” he said. “Find those people who will love you completely and without question and … give them the same. Grow the friendships and relationships that draw out the best in you.

“No amount of money, no material symbols of success can come close to the satisfaction that will come from these special relationships.”

Students Ethan McLear and Ayana Opong-Nyantekyi were selected to deliver speeches to their classmates.

“We made it,” said McLear, a religious studies major. “Each of us deserve to celebrate today. When we arrived as first-years, none of us could have imagined the challenges we would overcome to be here today, whether they were personal struggles or the collective loss that the pandemic cost us.

“For our class, getting to know each other, forming a community and working out those questions of belonging and becoming, all of this was delayed.”

He said when he first arrived on campus, he felt intellectually outclassed by his peers and became withdrawn.


“Taking academic risks at Bowdoin is not easy at a place where everyone is wicked, wicked smart,” he said. “It takes courage to put yourself out there.”

He said he opened up his junior year and joined the Peucinian Society, which explores philosophy and is the college’s oldest student organization.

“I decided to let Bowdoin change me,” he said. “We must allow ourselves to be changed.

“As we turn to our future pursuits, know that each of us will at some point be intimidated by the strengths and talents of our friends and coworkers. … In every moment of doubt, in every pang of fear, lies an opportunity to grow. Ask, listen, open yourselves to meet those who intimidate you. Do not ask, as I once did, ‘What can I take from you?’ or ‘How do I measure up?’ Ask instead, with curiosity, ‘What can I learn from you?’ And with humility, ‘How can I change?’ ”

Opong-Nyantekyi, who was offered a position with the management consulting firm Kaufman Hall, told her classmates to approach post-graduation life with an open heart.

“The Bowdoin community revealed an openness that I try to replicate in every opportunity,” she said. “Our journey ahead will reflect aspects of our Bowdoin experience, the values of collaboration, kindness and support.

“With grace and excellence, it is our time to exit these Bowdoin gates as alumni equipped not only to dream big but to act big, in our all power, leaving a positive impact on the world.”

The graduating class included students from 42 states, the District of Columbia and Guam. Thirty-three students hail from outside the United States.

The school awarded honorary degrees to Rose; former Bowdoin trustee and board chairperson Stephen Gormley; curator and cultural educator Navarana K’avigak’ Sørensen; former Bowdoin trustee and board chairperson Robert White; and Janet Yang, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

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