Reflections of a Senior Bonner Leader

Here at the Harward Center, one of the first signs of spring after a long Maine winter is our annual Senior Celebration, during which we have the pleasure of honoring and celebrating our senior Harward Center civic leaders. This year, 12 of Bates’ most engaged students stood before their faculty, community partners, and friends to tell their stories about the impact of their civic work in the Lewiston community, on the Bates campus, and especially on their own lives. Here are the remarks made by one of these students, Sam Lagerstrom, a member of the Bonner Leader Program:

I’m generally a reflective person, but given that graduation is fast approaching, I have been reflecting even more than usual. In thinking about what I wanted to say tonight, I realized that I kind of took Bonner for granted these past few years.

In reality, Bonner was the first thing I felt like I had at Bates. I was beyond terrified on the inside as my move-in date got closer and closer, even though I tried my best not to show it on the outside. I even elected early in the summer to skip Aesop… delaying the inevitable for a whole two days. But knowing I had the Bonner group helped me start my first year with more confidence both on the inside and outside.

A group of Harward Center student leaders during an orientation, including seniors Sam Lagerstrom (bottom row, left); Jacqueline Forney (bottom row, next to Sam); and Deepsing Syangtan (bottom row, right)

Related to my community placement, I have worked at the courthouse with the Volunteer Lawyers Project for the last three years. I have mostly focused on the Courthouse Assistance Project, which provides free legal advice to people with family law concerns. During this past year I also started volunteering with the Domestic Violence Panel, assisting attorneys as they represent otherwise unrepresented parties bringing forward or responding to a protection from abuse claim.

In these endeavors I have grown in both my capacity for empathy and compassion as well as my ability to empathize with people one-on-one. Much of the work I do in the courthouse is helping people through some of the worst things they have gone through throughout the course of their entire life. It has been heavy but rewarding and has highlighted how meaningful individual relationships are to me.

I often hear my peers and incoming first-year students criticizing Lewiston and people who live here. But in my experience I have been able to develop relationships with people in Lewiston I never would have met if I spent my time on campus or met in the community I have grown up with. This experience has given me a much stronger perspective on life circumstances and how flawed the legal system is for the most vulnerable people in our communities.

I knew going into this work that organizations like the Volunteer Lawyers Project exist because the legal system is flawed. But it is another thing to see how the system marginalizes individual people on a day-to-day basis. From these experiences I now know that I have a strong passion to work on fixing the flawed legal system in my career.

Overall, Bonner has informed the academics I have confidently pursued on campus, provided a group of like-minded people I have so enjoyed getting to know and celebrate tonight, and helped me decide that law/the legal system will absolutely be a part of my future career.