Litany for the Class
Written and read by: James A. Liddell, coordinator; Megan L. Hamilton; Emily A. Hoffer; Benjamin P. Lebeaux; John C. Mulligan; Vanni T. Thach
Every June, alumni come back to Bates for Reunion Weekend. They wander around campus, take their children to watch ducks on the Puddle, marvel at the cereal dispensers, but there remains a part of them that is somewhere else, seeing not the present Bates but the Bates they knew. They don’t visit to spend one more night in JB or to eat no-bake cookies, but rather to recall the place this used to be for them and the selves they used to be there. And so it will be with us in coming years — we won’t return to see the Master Plan so much as we will to briefly recapture the passions and the people who defined our time here.
For some of us, Bates will be the fields we played on, whether it was varsity soccer or ultimate Frisbee. For others, it will be time spent in the Wood Street Garden or on the playground at Longley; a Bates experience focused primarily on the Lewiston-Auburn community. It may be a semester — a year — away from this place in London, Chile, Spain, or with the strange flux of classmates experienced by those who stayed. Maybe it will be Mount David and a Commons tray, sledding on a night so cold you could hardly breathe.
But we are not a sentimental class. Junior year opened like a wound and our class bled out of Lewiston, eagerly relishing the chance to go somewhere, anywhere else. Bags packed, poised at the edge of the Quad, we did not tremble under the garnet. We simply detached ourselves and walked away. No, we are not a sentimental class — the numbers prove that: 255 members of our class, or 63 percent, traveled abroad last year. And those who remained faced perhaps the even greater challenge of finding themselves in a once familiar, now alien place.
But something happened this year. When we returned with those new experiences and stories, when the wound closed, we discovered one another again. And we genuinely appreciated what we found. Now we cram in around tables to eat with one another in Commons, sit in the same chairs in the library and pack into house parties, for the booze, yes, but also because that’s where we want to be. That’s where our friends are.
And who are those friends? What is the foundation that this class rests on? We are characters, individuated and distinct: we rise before dawn to track birds, or recite the kings of England off-hand. We knit to keep our hands busy and go kayaking in December. We snort when we laugh. We wade in mudflats. We take jazz very seriously. Yes, we are characters whose individual passions bubble to the surface and direct the individual. We are characters, and the flux of our dynamic personality reflects that mix.
We would not have become such a nuanced, intricate, and passionate group without some help along the way. Our teachers’ unflagging motivation and sacrifices for their students, their determination to challenge our ideas and make us, in turn, question our values and even dreams, gave us a sense of responsibility to and for our thoughts. The Corletts, the Dillons, the Halls, the Eusdens, the Farnsworths, and the Richters inspired and encouraged us to meet their ever-higher standards. They made thinkers of us when they forced us to think for ourselves.
But our teachers aren’t the only ones to whom we owe thanks. Bates’ staff and other members of the Lewiston-Auburn community at large make possible the Bates community we are so privileged to have been members of. From the Physical Plant workers who cleaned our houses to the local residents who, through their attendance at and participation in lectures, dances, and other events, deepened these occasions with the difference of their experiences, to the Commons workers who fed us as much with their cross-cultural perspectives as with their culinary expertise, the people of Lewiston-Auburn have played an indispensable role in the formation of our time at Bates. Their presence offers an experience that is mere blocks away, yet worlds apart.
Nietzsche tells us that we should be as a tree in the wind, unafraid of and even strengthened by the sort of adversity offered us by the vocal exhortations of our teachers and the more subtle challenges posed by differences of class and race. If anything has given us pause and offered us adversity as of late, it is our own conduct with respect to diversity on this campus. We know that whatever one’s ethnic, racial, national, economic or political definitions are, communication with people alien to one’s self is essential to a fuller understanding of that self, especially for white students of privilege.
Although we are grateful to Bates for trying to foster a multicultural environment, we challenge it to live up to its ideals of diversity and acceptance and ask itself whether there truly exists an adequate plurality of opinions, cultures, races and socioeconomic statuses on campus.
Just take a moment and look around and you’ll notice how white this campus really is. How Commencement Weekend often resembles a Volvo convention. And how when you finally locate Daddy, he’s probably somewhere in the library thumbing throughThe New Yorker. That’s not to level ad hominem critiques on our shared backgrounds. I too like to boast of my periodical prowess and my yearning for imported cars. Nor is it to say that everyone in this room comes from the same place or shares the same tastes. But let’s be honest with each other; Bates is profoundly homogenized, like milk. We must stop and ask ourselves: how does this homogeneity of thought, class and race affect our growth as persons and our education outside of the classroom?
As seniors, we reflect on how our abroad experiences have enabled us to grow and helped us discover our true identities. By immersing ourselves in different cultures many of us have left our comfort zones and tried new things. But how often have we been forced to leave our comfort zones while on campus — enveloped by that intangible yet ubiquitous Bates bubble?
We understand that Bates values diversity and tries to do everything it can to provide the best atmosphere of learning and character development. Last March, Bates announced an ambitious plan to apply for a grant from the Mellon Foundation to improve diversity on campus. We applaud these efforts and recognize them as a formal perpetuation of our progressive ideals, and we hope that Bates follows through with this plan and recognizes that increasing diversity is not just good for the College’s image, but necessary for the development and growth of its students as well.
And as the challenges facing our College continue to change, so too do our ideals evolve to meet them. Last November, Bates announced that it will henceforth purchase its entire electricity supply from renewable energy sources in Maine. As a community, we commend this. And as each member of our class individually prepares to leave with our own Bates memories, we collectively leave behind a fund to support Bates’ dedication to green energy. To remember this donation, our class will plant a grove of trees outside of the new Commons.
Surely Nietzsche wants us to be like trees in the wind, but it is unlikely that our class will be as rooted as the ones in our grove. Professors pushed us to dive deeper with our thoughts and now, in turn, we will push ourselves to recognize how these passions, this knowledge, these skills will be useful beyond the shadow of the trees here on the Quad. Our classmates have developed the strength worthy of positions on the U.S. Olympic team. Others traveled abroad and will return as members of the Peace Corps. Others will Teach for America or design cars for Nissan. Many will graduate with passions founded here that do not directly translate into post-Bates plans. While writing a thesis we were deeply invested in topics like climate change and clamshells, but never lost sight of big dreams to act on Broadway. Bates is a product of its people — and though we scatter in all directions, we will take lessons and memories of that product with us.
Early classes made time capsules of their times at Bates and filled them with physical reminders of their experience, things like dance cards, felt banners from Winter Carnival. They buried the canisters and planned to unearth them later, to recapture in old age talismans of their life in this place. Suppose we were to make one — right now — what would we include? The obligatory Nalgene, a flier about the transition to green energy, perhaps a can of Beast for a joke. But the glow beneath the library terrace during the Eighties dance, the din of Commons at noon, the stranger going run-run-glide across the ice-covered track — the sights and sounds which so define us would be lost in the process.
It’s doubtful, really, that for us, a time capsule would be a satisfying mode of remembrance. Rather, we will look to one another in years to come. The alumni notes in Bates Magazine — filled with descriptions of travel and volunteering, our passions in practice — will be a better testimonial to the people we were, the way Bates was for us, than a yellowed flier recalling a Class Hayride. At random, and inevitably, we will reconnect — excited, animated moments in planes, the produce aisle, at Bates itself — and in our conversations we will recover the passion and enthusiasm that so defined us.