Monthly Archives: May 2011
1. Go to a great conference. If your agency, church, etc. send you… embrace it, thank them, and take in as much as possible. Or if you aren’t being sent – invest in yourself and your own growth. – I highly recommend the Catalyst Confrence (I went to Dallas) www.catalystspace.com
2. Be part of new opportunities and adventures in your local church (mine – being part of a newly formed global outreach team and going to our newly launched second campus!)
3. Sponsor a child (I recommend Compassion my sponsored child’s name is Yafreisis Anabel)
4. Invest in a community that “does life” together
5. Listen and take notes so you can refer back, reflect, remember, and take action
6. Ride a bike with a friend (thanks Jordan)
7. Listen to new music (Seryn is a new favorite)
8. Ask teenagers what music they are listening to and why
9. Have something living in your home (a plant, an animal, or a fish)
10. Be a part of helping someone else reach a goal.
Joelinda and I came to know each other through our church’s senior high program. Then and now she is a strong young leader. Four years ago I attended Joelinda’s high school graduation. Fast forward four years of college… a commencement speaker. Her address at Bowdoin does not only speak to her class but all of us in how we can and should engage with others. May it also speak to you. www.bowdowin.edu Watch out Atlanta… she’s on her way.
Commencement 2011 Address: Joelinda Coichy ’11
Story posted May 28, 2011
“‘The Bowdoin Hello’: To Know and Be Known”
by Joelinda Coichy ’11
Class of 1868 Prize Winner
May 28, 2011
President Mills, Members of the College, and Guests,
It is an honor to be able to share a few thoughts with you on this glorious occasion. Before I begin my remarks, I would like to take a moment to recognize those without whom I, and the Class of 2011, would not be sitting here today. Thank you to our parents and family members for their love and support. And to Bowdoin faculty, staff, alums and community members who have all helped shape our college experience.
Joelinda Coichy ’11
Four years ago, President Mills greeted the Class of 2011, on these very steps, and here he declared: “the Bowdoin hello lives!” It was my first hour of college and I was already confused. I wondered if I was going to be forced to greet everyone I crossed on the quad with some sort of special handshake. And I puzzled at how I would ever get to class on time.
Well, as it turns out, “the Bowdoin hello” is not a secret handshake. It is a verbal greeting that students, faculty, and staff extend to the people they pass along their journeys through Bowdoin. The catch is that it applies especially to people they do not know. Freshman year “the Bowdoin hello” starts as a simple “hello,” but as time passes, the “hello” is, more often than not, followed by the recipient’s name. For example: “hello, Wilson,” or “hello, Professor Albaugh.” And, each time that this “Bowdoin hello” rings from across the Quad or echoes through the halls of Hubbard, it testifies to the fact that at Bowdoin we invest in knowing others and being known in return.
Had I understood this on my first day of orientation, I would have been anxious for reasons other than having to memorize a handshake. As wonderful as it sounds to know and be known, it is actually tremendously laborious and often uncomfortable work.
I am a Haitian-American, evangelical Christian. I always have been comfortable expressing my racial and cultural identity. In fact, I wrote about them in one of my admissions essays. But, for me, the prospect of being known, as a Christian, on a secular, New England campus was absolutely terrifying.
When I checked the “yes” box to attend Bowdoin, I assumed that I would have to check the “no” box to being a Christ-follower. Well, at least in public. I fully expected that for four years, I would have to read my Bible in secret and maintain my faith alone. Instead, “the Bowdoin hello” forced me to engage people and build relationships, which ultimately helped deepen my faith.
To Be Known
Let me tell you about a particularly poignant time that “the Bowdoin hello” forced me to be known. One Sunday morning in the late fall of my sophomore year, I was walking across the quad on my way to church. As I took in the foliage, I noticed that my professor was walking his dog in my direction. I knew the “Bowdoin hello” was imminent, so I mentally fumbled to come up with an explanation for why I was awake and dressed so early on a Sunday morning. We passed each other, said hello; and when the awkward pause came, I could think of no excuse, so I mumbled something about being on my way to church.
To my great surprise, instead of running in the opposite direction, or solemnly explaining that I would need to find a new advisor, my professor engaged me in a lovely conversation. Turns out he knew of the church that I attended because his daughter had done a school project analyzing the church’s architecture.
That particular exchange was instrumental in assuring me that at Bowdoin was the sort of place where I could bring my faith to light. As I engaged in more “Bowdoin hellos” and let myself be known, I found that it created unexpected connections between me and others. The result has been that at Bowdoin my faith has not only survived, but blossomed.
To Know Others
As central as being known as a Christian has been to my Bowdoin experience, the most transformative part of “the Bowdoin hello” is the way that it has helped me to know and appreciate others.
My first year I made the mistake of bringing way too much stuff to Bowdoin. I am talking 27-pairs-of-shoes too much stuff. And more binders and packets of college ruled paper than I could possibly have used. I wanted to be prepared.
It was the end of first semester, and it had been a long four months of my roommates and I being “nice” to each other, whether we felt like it or not. It was the beginning of our very first set of college exams, and it was 20 degrees outside. In short, it was the perfect storm.
I came home one evening to find that my binders, that had been collecting dust on our bookshelf all semester, were stacked atop my already-too-full desk. Slightly delusional from stress and fatigue, I flew into a rage. My roommates were startled by my outburst and tried to calm me down. But it only made things worse. I was done being “nice.” The conflict escalated and ended with one of my roommates storming out of our room in tears of fury. I followed suit.
The thing is, at a small place like Bowdoin, you can only run from conflict for so long. A few days later, we all found ourselves in a proctor-led roommate mediation session. Again, I wanted to be prepared. So, I arrived to the meeting armed with a long list of complaints against my roommates. But that evening the Biblical parable about removing the plank from your own eye before pointing out the speck in another’s became all too clear to me.
To my great surprise, during our roommate intervention, for every complaint I fired off, my roommates launched three back in my direction. They said things like: Joelinda is never around; we barely know Joelinda, and we are tired of always tripping over Joelinda’s stuff. I thought that I was going to show them, but their gripes taught me something invaluable about being part of a community.
Upon reflection, I realized that although I had extended polite greetings to my roommates in an effort to be “nice,” I had not engaged them in the true “Bowdoin hello.” I had never made time to truly listen to and get to know them.
You see, the “Bowdoin hello” is not simply about being “nice,” it is about true acknowledgement of one another. Small and intimate spaces like our freshman dorm room and the Bowdoin community more generally speaking illustrate all too clearly that if we fail to acknowledge one another explosions like our “binder fiasco” are bound to exist.
I am happy to report that my second semester of freshman year was much better than the first, in part because I got rid of those dusty binders, but mostly because I made it a point to regularly engage my roommates. In the process, I not only learned a lot about the wonderful people who surrounded me, but the four of us succeeded in bridging the gap between four very different and very strong personalities.
These two anecdotes illustrate two lessons that “the Bowdoin hello” taught me.
The first lesson is this: Say “hello.”
Many of us can attest to the fact that when we are late to class and the bitter wind is howling and our minds are filled with thoughts of tests, saying hello is actually the last thing we want to do. In not too long, many of us will find ourselves, in cities or new environments with new winds and new tests. But in spite of these obstacles, we must carry with us the tradition of “the Bowdoin hello.” This hello is not merely a greeting. It is a lifestyle of engagement in our communities and in our world. And it is taken on by individuals willing to make themselves known no matter how scary it might be.
The second lesson is this: Do not avert your gaze.
A glance at all the people on the quad today illustrates the fact that we all come from different states, countries, backgrounds and cultures. Over the past four years, we have been thrown into dorm rooms, classrooms and onto athletic teams together. At times it has been tempting to try to ignore our differences. But undoubtedly, our proudest moments have been those times when we have vehemently disagreed but we have not looked away. Instead choosing to understand and maybe even appreciate each other’s perspectives. As we depart, let us take this with us, remembering not to avert our gazes, but to invest in knowing those who surround us. In doing this, we will affect positive change in our world and in our communities.
Class of 2011, it has been an honor and a great blessing to share these words with you. But instead of saying goodbye, I will say “hello” in hopes that we will be reunited in the future having built many more strong communities by knowing others and being known in return.
Once again Gini, my amazing neighbor, friend, and mentor has me thinking of what it means to leave a legacy. She is actively doing just that. Gini did not have her own children, nieces, or nephews. With no children there have been no grandchildren and at her age no great grandchildren. (She does have a cousin once removed and his family that she is close with). Yet I remember fondly her 90th birthday party where there were published (many times over) Bible Scholars and theologians. The beloved Old Testament professor, author, and translator of parts of the NIV Translation, Marv Wilson was at the party. Os Guiness is a close friend of Gini’s going on decades and there were many others with deep faith and significant influence and impact over their years. Gini’s Bible Study is like a who’s who’s in Christian Higher Education in the area. She has faithful friends she has mentored and encouraged for years through the 2 Bible Studies she has taught. Then there is her time at L’Abri in Switzerland and all those she touched on their spiritual journeys.
There were cards sent to Gini on Mother’s Day, I couldn’t help but see them as I brought in the mail. They made me smile not because I read them rather the mere fact she received them. There was a beautiful bouquet of roses on her table as I walked in. As it was said at her 90th Gini has become a spiritual mother and grandmother of sorts to so many. As she has shared about not having her own children she looked out to the 90 of us and said that somehow we are that legacy for her. It has made me think more about my own legacy and how I am pouring into those I come in contact with.
For myself it was also a childless mother’s day. If you had asked me 20 years ago what this day would have brought it would have been marriage and at least a 10 year old running around my home. However I am grateful for the time I have been able to mentor young adults and it never would it have looked the same if I had an elementary student in tow. Today I don’t want to miss that leaving a legacy is not about the biological children raised. The Hallmark store has a lot of cards for a variety of situations. It’s quite possible they are on to something.
Gini, my 95 year old neighbor, mentor and friend, never learned to ride a bike. There was an attempt in 4th grade in Florida and a run into a planter. Bumps but no serious injuries she tells me. Time passed without learning to ride a bike and she’s opting not to learn now. I affirm this decision, despite my love for trying new activities and embracing new adventures. She laughed thinking about it, stating when she does learn to ride a bike it will be a golden bike, “on the other side.”
Yes… more talk of heaven tonight. What will be there? Mountains, oceans, animals, skiing, sky diving, music of all genres, kayaking, and biking? I love thinking about heaven as it can sometimes make decisions about what to choose easier. As I think about what “I don’t want to miss” there is also an eternal perspective to consider. Though I don’t want to miss out on an adventure there is a limited about of time in each day, week, month and year. I want to hike the next mountain, try a sport, and read another great book yet I also want to have the meaningful conversation, rebuild a destroyed home, and take time to be still.
My perspective on the “other side” of eternity is that everything good that we love here on this earth will be there. I also believe there will be more than we can imagine. When I wish I could spend weeks exploring New Zealand (my latest desire), spend time learning to hang glide (despite my fears), or somehow read my stack of unending books I try to remember what timeframe I’m working in. I believe on this side of eternity and also the other side there will continue to be unending lands to explore, new adventures to have and always more to learn. When I think of trying to fit it all in I realize I don’t need to and believe on the “other side” of eternity the adventure will be even better. The bike Gini may learn to ride could be a beautiful lightweight gold in a perfect design for her. It could be that no training wheels are needed as Jesus teaches her, or Queen Esther, or maybe Peter. Also God’s timing is mysterious, perfect and incomprehensible. It could be… possibly… that the bike riding lesson fits in eternity so that I am part of it and can cheer Gini on as she aces her lesson on her Golden Bike. We could mountain bike together or road bike if she prefers. The idea of eternity is beautifully overwhelming.
I don’t want to miss that I don’t need to fit all the adventures in on this side, rather the conversations and actions not to be missed out on can be weighed in regard to their eternal significance.
What can’t be done “one the other side”? Is that what we should be focusing on?
The first don’t miss list …. Some I’ve done and others are “in process”
1. Go to the Boston Marathon – at least once in your life time…. cheer well… clap, yell out names, and smile. Miles 15+ are my favorite… and the end crowded and crazy but tremendous. On the way to the marathon look down at your odometer… 26.2 miles is a long way.
2. Go to a Red Sox vs. Yankees Game… in Boston, in New York…. just go!
3. Hike a Fourtneer in Colorado…. word of advice start early and remember above the treeline there are no trees to hide behind if you are too well hydrated.
4. Travel with high school students… because they are amazing
5. Seek out great mentors.
6. Be a mentor
7. Read more
8. Learn a new sport – a team, lessons, etc.
9. Shut the TV off
10. Watch a Royal Wedding or two