Campus News

Commencement Address: Pres. Barry Mills '72

Story posted May 25, 2002

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Commencement News

Good morning and welcome everyone to this joyous occasion and to our beautiful campus in the glorious state of Maine. This is a special day for our graduating seniors and for all of their families and friends. I congratulate you all.

Before I hand out any diplomas, I ask our seniors to do one or two more things.

Members of the Class of 2002, please rise.

In the tradition of this College, please face your parents, friends, and family - those who have supported and nurtured you - and thank them with a hearty round of applause.

Now, a second round of applause for the Bowdoin faculty and staff who have been committed to your pursuit of learning.

Thank you.

Karen and I would like to thank my friend and the First Lady of the State of Maine, Mary Herman, for being with us today and offering greetings from the state. Governor Angus King and his wife, Mary, have led this state with imagination and principle for the last eight years. Mary, you honor us with your presence here today.

I want also to welcome and congratulate our honorands, each a wonderful example of what we value here at Bowdoin: a commitment to excellence, to thoughtful examination and inquiry, and to good deeds.

Marsha Johnson Evans who has served her country with distinction in the United States Navy and who today teaches through her example principled leadership and generosity of spirit to nearly three million Girl Scouts across America;

Edward J. McCluskey of the Class of 1951 who has done groundbreaking work in electrical engineering and computer science during a career devoted to research and education;

And Dr. Kenneth Paigen who has gained international recognition for leadership in genetics research and who has helped to build in The Jackson Laboratory a world class research center and a source of great pride for science in the State of Maine.

We are proud to welcome each of you to Bowdoin.

This academic year - my first as president - began amid the horror, chaos, and confusion of September 11th. It was a day that changed us all and ushered in a new and unsettled perspective of the world and of our own vulnerability.

It has been some years since our nation has faced a challenge of this magnitude. Some believe that America had become "soft" - that the young people of this generation in particular, growing up in an age of peace and prosperity, had missed out on the "character building" experiences of past generations raised in troubled times.

We are surrounded on this campus by reminders of those past "troubled times:" the flagpole and granite war memorials to my right; and Memorial Hall down the path to my left, that, built to honor service by Bowdoin students, faculty, and alumni in the Civil War.

For over two hundred years, conflict, hardship, and uncertainty have served as defining moments for generations of Bowdoin students. Now, these events may have been "character building," but I, for one, regret that a new generation of students has now experienced a tragedy that will be forever imprinted on its collective and individual psyche. And I regret that our graduating seniors leave here today with the extra burden of an uncertain world.

Bowdoin lost alumni, friends, and family in the attacks of September 11th. On this Memorial Day weekend, it is fitting that we remember those lost members of our community and that we pay tribute to the servicemen and women from many nations who continue to place themselves in harm's way for our protection and the preservation of liberty.

Please rise and join me in a moment of silent remembrance.

Thank you.

But Bowdoin - like America - is a resilient and optimistic community. We have had an exciting year here, brimming with achievement in the classroom, on the stage, in the laboratory, in art and music, in writing and scholarship, and on the playing fields.

We have also seen time and time again that Bowdoin's dedication to the common good remains unabated. In a year when it might have been natural to turn inward, Bowdoin students devoted themselves to their community with enthusiasm, recording over 20,000 volunteer hours. They organized blood drives, mentored and tutored schoolchildren, built shelters for the homeless and disadvantaged, picked up trash, and assisted senior citizens. In the process they gained our respect and admiration and made this uncertain world a little bit better for us all.

Please join me in congratulating the Class of 2002 for these achievements and in thanking them for their contributions.

Now, a word to our seniors.

Today you begin a new and exciting phase of your lives. Each of you worked hard to get to Bowdoin, and in doing so, you have had the extraordinary opportunity these past four years to study with a talented faculty in the great liberal arts tradition. You may not realize it yet, but as you leave this residential community you will encounter a world that places a very high value on the degree you have earned and will receive today. This is because you have been educated broadly, with the ability to analyze, communicate, and lead, and with a lifelong passion for learning.

But make no mistake about it - this world that you are about to enter is also intensely focused on specialization and commitment in a way that may seem single-minded to you today. This is true regardless of your chosen path, be it graduate school or professional school, teaching, the arts, or business. Specialization is the nature of our 21st century society. Your challenge - one that you are very well prepared to meet - will be to apply the broad skills you have gained here to participate successfully in this very specialized world.

Today you receive much more than a credential or some certificate that you'll be able to exchange for a job. Today you receive confirmation that you have mastered the ability to question, to analyze, to serve greater purposes than your own, and to keep on learning. No matter what your specialty or how many times you trade one for another, these abilities will serve you and society well. This is the essence of a Bowdoin education and it is the essence of what we believe.

In about an hour, each of you will become an alumnus of Bowdoin College. In doing so you will join the most loyal and enthusiastic group of graduates that any college or university would be proud to call their own. Within this group you will find old friends and meet new ones. You will find mentors and supporters ready to reach out and assist you throughout your lives. I know this from experience. Take advantage of these relationships and stay connected to Bowdoin.

Congratulations to the Bowdoin College Class of 2002, and Godspeed to you all!

Now on to the celebration!

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