“His belief in Bowdoin students affirms and inspires great work.”
In my final weeks as a Bowdoin student, I arranged for Wes Jackson, founder of The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, to come speak on campus. I didn’t expect President Mills to be particularly interested in a talk about sustainable agriculture and the robust root systems of perennial wheat, but I made sure to invite him.
In my introduction to the talk, I spoke about the more poetic current in Dr. Jackson’s work—his lament that many colleges and universities offer only one serious major: upward mobility. If a college education was catered more toward encouraging us to “return home, or go some other place, and dig in…” he says, we might have a chance at sustainable solutions to both global and local problems—by working at the community level.
There is no such thing as “a homecoming major,” he has written, but, a bit nervous at the podium, I declared myself as just that. Looking out into an audience of students, professors, and my soon-to-be fellow farmers, I expressed my excitement to commit to this community—my readiness to root myself in working for this place.
I had no idea Barry had made it into that audience. But the next morning, I received an email:
Subject: Your Introduction Last Night
p.s. I am very pleased you are staying “home” in our place.
I hope he forgives me for revealing this note. I recently shared with him how much it meant to me, but I never shared how much I think his quiet generosity, inclusivity, and faith in students is felt across the Bowdoin community.
That night, I also quoted Dr. Jackson’s proposition that one of the most effective ways to encourage students to choose meaningful, place-based work “would be for our universities to assume the awesome responsibility to both validate and educate those who want to be homecomers.”
For me, that meant finding home in Brunswick, farming on the shores of Merrymeeting Bay, and organizing to restore two hundred-year-old freight sheds not far from campus into a permanent home for our farmers’ market. For many Bowdoin students, it’s meant permission to pick a place, a project, or a passion that’s a little off the beaten path and centered around the Common Good.
His belief in Bowdoin students affirms and inspires great work. I continue to feel Barry’s support of my choice to become part of this place.
—Maina Handmaker ’11
Manager of the Brunswick Farmer’s Market Project, farmer, artist