“Barry makes the job of Bowdoin president look like all fun. The joy he gets from participating in and shaping the lives of students is absolutely palpable.”
The facts and figures that describe Bowdoin circa 2001 and 2015 tell a compelling story of accomplishment and improvement in every dimension, but they don’t tell the whole story. What strikes me most when I return to campus for trustee meetings is that Bowdoin has become a much more personal place. Barry seems to know all of the students, and they know him. When a Bowdoin student says “Barry,” everybody knows who they mean. In my day, President Howell was never “Roger.” In fact, it’s quite possible I thought his first name was “President.”
In the past, students certainly established close relationships with each other, with faculty, and with staff, but the students of ’01-’15 will further define their Bowdoin experience by their relationship with Barry. At one trustee meeting, I sat next to a very engaging senior student. When I asked her what she was thinking about doing ultimately, she said, without hesitation, “Academic administration. Some day I’d love to be Barry.” I replied, “Wouldn’t we all?” Barry makes the job of Bowdoin president look like all fun. The joy he gets from participating in and shaping the lives of students is absolutely palpable.
Over these past fourteen years, Barry has been there for students at all points along the way. He greets each and every one of them at matriculation, and he shakes their hands and congratulates them as they head off into the world. In a 2010 video of Barry rehearsing for graduation, he acknowledges that he has been advised to abandon the individual distribution of diplomas, but refuses to do that. Instead, he carefully choreographs and practices his arm movements to minimize the time required to shake each student’s hand and give them their diploma. Even though he was talked into changing this in later years, I love this clip—it epitomizes to me his commitment to a personal touch.
This level of personal attention begins when students apply to Bowdoin and continues long after they leave. I also love the story of Barry stumbling upon a father-son dyad on one of his many walks across the Quad. He noticed that the father, wearing pink shorts and orange Crocs, was somewhat quirkily and inappropriately dressed for an autumn day in Maine. When he learned that they were trying to find the admissions office, he escorted them to the building. Only much later did he learn that the quirkily clad gent was a rather famous celebrity chef. Given the chef’s fame, he might have expected this level of special treatment, but Barry, clueless, had extended this “concierge” service as he simply would to anyone interested in becoming part of the Bowdoin family.
Barry has an uncanny ability to catalogue and retrieve a seemingly limitless amount of information about Bowdoin students, parents, alumni, friends, faculty, and staff. He relishes the ability to make connections among these people and functions as a very human and generous version of “LinkedIn.” He demonstrated this particular skill (as well as his sense of humor) when he orchestrated the introduction of one “dreamy” doctor who’s neither a real doctor nor Bowdoin alum but who plays both on television, with one not-so-dreamy doc who plays both in real life! While I was the lucky real doctor who had the fun of meeting McDreamy that day, the entire extended Bowdoin family benefits from this level of individualized attention. In his fourteen years, Barry has strengthened our connections to this small college in Maine, and to each other, and in doing so has expanded Bowdoin’s footprint dramatically.
—Michele Cyr ’76
Trustee, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Brown University