The Pride of Bates Graduates

Photography by Marc Glass '88 and Phyllis Graber Jensen


Capturing the post-graduation hugs and tears, a College photographer shooting his first Bates Commencement looked away from the viewfinder and said, "These students don't seem happy about leaving Bates."

Happy to graduate? Yes. Happy to leave? Not exactly. As a College event, only Commencement evokes that peculiar, wistful combination of euphoria, apprehension, and pride.

Regarding pride, Commencement speaker Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian novelist, surveyed the sun-splashed crowd and told the 383 graduates that "everyone is proud of you, and you are hereby excused if you are a little proud yourselves, as long as you don't make a habit of it!"

After that brief levity, Achebe got serious, bemoaning a retreat from liberal attitudes in American society today: "The word liberal, which is actually a nice little word that used to signify a generosity and openness of spirit that one might expect to find in a humane and civilized society, is no longer polite." Attempts at generosity and openness of spirit, he observed, are often derided as "politically correct."

Dare to call someone a liberal today, said Achebe wryly, and they'll "immediately call a press conference to deny it."

Combined with America's growing anti-liberal atmosphere, said Achebe, is the country's lack of concern for international affairs. That, he said, is exactly what allowed fascists like Mussolini and Hitler to flourish in Europe sixty years ago: "One is aware today of a growing hostility against the United Nations; a certain contempt for international endeavors and cooperation; a sense of bored unconcern about the so-called Third World. These are not good signs. When it becomes permissible for a legislator to dismiss Bosnia as not worth the loss of one American life, or for a former Secretary of State to ask how anybody could trust what an Arab says, we should be deeply troubled."

The answer? For starters, we must understand that "civility is a sensible attribute in this kind of world we have; narrowness of heart and mind is not." Achebe admitted that it is "naive to believe that all the problems of the world will be solved by goodwill and civility alone. Indeed, it is true that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions." But, he pointed out, "it is at the same time inconceivable that the road to the other place will be paved with bad intentions. Good intentions may not be enough, but they are better than bad intentions."

The full text of Achebe's speech can be found on the Bates site on the World Wide Web at

Joining Achebe as honorary-degree recipients were one of America's most eloquent ministers, Peter J. Gomes '65 of the Memorial Church at Harvard University; human-rights activist Natalie Webber Gulbrandsen '42; and famed entomologist Edward O. Wilson.

President Harward conferred the honorary degrees. Dean of the Faculty Martha Crunkleton presented the candidates and recited the citations, the text of which appears here.

 [Photo: President Harward and Sacha García Bulted '96]

 [Photo: Prof. James Leamon in regalia]

Right, Top: Sacha García Bulted '96 receives her diploma from President Harward. Right, Bottom: Professor of History James Leamon looks the part of the mace bearer, an honor accorded the senior member of the Bates faculty. Below: Sarah Pickard has that familiar, wistful Commencement look.

 [Photo: Sarah Pickard '96]

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Last modified: 12/12/96 by RLP