“I came to Bowdoin a student, but it has taken me three years to realize what it means to be a student.”
I met President Mills on move-in day, freshman year. Him, dressed in a Bowdoin t-shirt over his dress shirt (not that I remember, my over-eager father captured the moment with photos), me, red-faced and anxious, but not about meeting the president. Instead, my thoughts were consumed with field hockey tryouts. Thankfully, I made the team, and my participation in field hockey has been my most challenging, consuming, and rewarding experience at Bowdoin.
Initially, I thought that field hockey was going to be my release from the classroom. But I could not have been more wrong. From the first week of practice, I remember Nicky (my coach) saying, “I am making you students of the game,” a line that I have heard many times since. During practice we do learn skills that can be applied during games, but ultimately, the goal has been to learn to react moment-by-moment, to analyze and then act.
During that first fall I found that I had an uncanny ability to bump into President Mills—the lobster bake, High Holiday services, my roommate’s piano recital, my field hockey game at Tufts, to name a few. Out of these random moments, I was able to develop a relationship with him that I greatly cherish. Through the conversations we have shared, President Mills often echoed Nicky’s message: learn to be a student (and enjoy it). I came to Bowdoin a student, but it has taken me three years to realize what it means to be a student.
In field hockey, I have learned that focusing on the outcome of a game gets you nowhere. Instead, we focus on what got us to that outcome. As students of the game, we analyze, critique, and discuss the process, and then we move forward. The mindset that I adopted for field hockey has helped me view my classwork in a similar manner. I have stopped measuring my success in my classes by how many formulas I know or whether I can correctly regurgitate the proper steps of an archaeological dig (liberal arts, remember). Instead, I have learned to gain skills from the processes: I have learned to listen to different people and their perspectives, to take criticism and be disagreed with, how to devote myself to an absurdly long paper that only my professor will ever read.
I believe the legacy that Barry Mills is leaving behind at Bowdoin is full of lifelong students. As President Mills was during my time at Bowdoin, students are engaged in many different ways outside of the classroom. We came to Bowdoin as excellent students in the classroom, but we leave as excellent students of the world. We talk, we listen, we analyze, we observe. We process, not only achieve. I have been fortunate in the sense that I have had a devoted [field hockey] coach teach me to be a student and President Mills show me how it is a lifelong practice. While I do not know what President Mills will move onto next, I do know that he will continue to be a student in whatever he does.
—Kim Kahnweiler ’16