There are all kinds of ways to quantify Barry Mills’s impact on Bowdoin—enrollment, selectivity, diversity of students and faculty, and financial aid have climbed over the past fourteen years. But I want to cite something that’s trickier to measure but just as important—and that is the esprit de corps of the Bowdoin community across all of its constituencies: students, faculty and administrators, alumni, and parents. To put it plainly, more people feel better about being a part of Bowdoin now than they did before Barry came.
“To put it plainly, more people feel better about being a part of Bowdoin now than they did before Barry came.”
I hope you are nodding your head in agreement reading this, but maybe you’re also asking yourself “how do we really know that?” Elevated camaraderie is the sum total of many things, I think, some that can be measured and some that can’t. Our friends in the development office tell us that giving is up both in absolute terms and in participation rates, and that we rank highly here among Bowdoin’s cohorts. Surely support of the college is a benchmark of pride and approval. However, as an alumnus who has lived in New York City for the past three decades, I have my own yardstick, and that is the state of Bowdoin activities in Gotham. BB, (or Before Barry), Bowdoin events in New York City used to be few and far between, sparsely attended affairs, sometimes held at the, gulp, Williams Club. A few old guys would come regularly (I think for the cocktails), while younger alums would show up once, never to return. Flash forward to today. Bowdoin events now crop up regularly on my calendar: teeming lobster bakes, boat cruises, an LGBTIQA reception, welcoming incoming first-year gatherings, hikes, common good volunteer days, wine tastings, hockey-watching parties, and even three-and-a-half-hour operas preceded by a dinner and a Steve Cerf lecture (the latter was a complete blast, btw).
Then there are the big, gala-like events held at marquee venues like the Whitney and Lincoln Center, where hundreds of us now congregate to wallow in our Bowdoin-ness. At the center of these events is Barry, working the room. I love to watch Barry’s face, don’t you? Tell Barry a story and his features will narrate along, egging you, building and building until the punch line when his super-animated, dare I say Dickensian mug explodes into red-cheeked, open-mouthed grinning joy, his brain racing for a rejoinder to compliment or—damned if he can’t—top it! (It might lead one to conjecture that Barry is a poor poker player, but somehow I bet he’s pretty good.)
It is Barry’s powerful persona that has drawn us together. Yes, there’s been a tremendous amount of great work by dozens of people working at the college, but they’ve been directed, delegated, and inspired by Barry. The result is better numbers, yes, but also a feeling that we belong to something more powerful and better than it was before. Barry gave us an enhanced sense of belonging. And that’s something you just can’t measure.
—Andy Serwer ’81
Editor-in-Chief, Yahoo Finance; trustee