Unsung Hero: Bowdoin College student Caroline Blake, focused on service

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BRUNSWICK — Caroline Blake brought impressive credentials to Bowdoin College in the fall of 2010: valedictorian at Poland High School, passionate about history and American politics, and devoted to her home state of Maine.

Two years later, Caroline’s performance has matched her potential.

She has applied her strong discipline to excelling in the classroom, where she has maintained an A average while majoring in Government & Legal Studies and minoring in Spanish. Just as important, she has fulfilled her passion for making a difference in Maine and beyond.

During her first year, Blake volunteered with College Students for College, a student service group that brings area high school students to campus for information sessions about college planning. She assumed leadership of the group the next year.

During her sophomore year, she spent an Alternative Winter Break in Portland, where she and other Bowdoin students led a three-day workshop on goal setting and college planning for immigrant and refugee children at a Portland middle school.

That experience led her to take a community-based Spanish course. Through that course, Blake and her classmates connected to the community by tutoring immigrants in English at Centro Latino, a community center for Spanish-speaking immigrants in Portland.

This past spring, Blake’s service commitment took her farther afield. She spent another Alternative Spring Break in Washington, D.C., where she and fellow trip members addressed issues of hunger and homelessness by volunteering in soup kitchens and community centers. She also had the opportunity to explore the impact of public policy on people’s lives through meetings with U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and other policy makers.

The momentum continued this past summer when Blake was a recipient of a Bowdoin’s Community Matters in Maine fellowship. She spent the summer working with Community Financial Literacy, a nonprofit organization that offers personal finance courses to immigrants and refugees in the Portland area.

Blake’s varied service experiences have changed her own views of herself and the world.

“Having grown up in a small town in Maine, I wasn’t fully aware of the spectrum of other people’s experiences, such as the challenges of refugees to learn English,” she said recently. “I also didn’t understand how the actions of government affect people.”

Blake has appreciated the diversity of Bowdoin’s student body (“Here, diversity is perceived as normal”) and the opportunity to have her political views challenged and sharpened.

“Before I came to Bowdoin, I thought people were either Republicans or Democrats,” she said, “and voted accordingly.” Now she said she believes that government leaders and voters should address each issue thoughtfully, without regard to a given party affiliation.

Blake is considering several possible options after graduating from Bowdoin. She might, for example, work in the office of a senator or representative before going on to pursue a degree in law or public policy.

While Blake maintains high ideals, this clear-eyed citizen of the world harbors no illusions that the complex challenges facing the nation today permit easy fixes. Whatever life path she pursues, she said she hopes that she can look back later and be able to say, “I helped contribute to solutions.”

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Caroline Blake

Unsung Heroes

One in a series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: heroes@theforecaster.net.