Campus News

Pres. Mills Addresses Alumni at Reunion Convocation

Story posted June 12, 2003

Reunion Convocation Remarks
by President Barry Mills
May 31, 2003

Good morning.

Welcome back to Bowdoin. And to those of you "from away," welcome back to Maine!

It is really an honor for me to stand before you this morning as president of this great College. I am proud to be an alumnus of Bowdoin College. Bowdoin provided me with an education that has enabled me to achieve whatever success I have had in this world. My years here were transforming because like many of you, they opened and prepared my mind for countless possibilities and for the challenges ahead.

I've said it many times, but I have to admit again that I am enormously proud, as an alumnus who appreciates the history and traditions of this college, to have the opportunity to lead Bowdoin. I must also admit to being more than a little humbled by the responsibility I feel to all of you who feel so deeply for this College and are committed to its future. I remain confident that with the support of the enormously talented people in this room and the thousands of Bowdoin alumni and friends around the country and world, that together we will chart a course for this College that will ensure its excellence for the future.

These talks have traditionally been an opportunity for the president to speak to you about the state of the College. I will continue this custom and then reprise for a moment or two the themes I discussed in my Baccalaureate talk last week.

Bowdoin College today is strong, vibrant and ambitious for its future. A few years ago, at the dedication of Druckenmiller Hall, Stan Druckenmiller assured us that if Bowdoin were a stock, he'd buy it. I'm pleased to say that unlike some other high-flying stocks of the late 1990s, Bowdoin's has actually appreciated in value and remains a very strong buy today!

This year we had a record number of applications to the College - nearly 4,700. We were able to accept fewer than a quarter of these applicants. The class of 2007 comes from across America and around the world, with 12% of the class from Bowdoin's traditional base of Maine. The grade point averages and SAT scores of these students are the highest we have seen at Bowdoin. Nearly 44% of the class will benefit from financial aid. And the class is diverse in all respects - talented in the broadest sense. One measure of this diversity is that once again nearly a quarter of the class consists of students of color. This achievement is the envy of our competitor schools and is considered a real achievement here in the State of Maine.

We remain committed to the Bowdoin family and were able to admit nearly half of the sons and daughters of Bowdoin alumni. These Bowdoin legacies are very, very talented folks - the basic Bowdoin gene pool is undeniably strong, but imagine the potential of those children lucky enough to count two Bowdoin alumni as parents!

And so, as Jim Miller says, we can't tell if this is the best class ever admitted to Bowdoin. We won't be sure for 20 years, but they are clearly a very, very talented group.

The Bowdoin faculty continues in its dedication to the education of our students. There were 532 independent studies and 93 honors projects completed this year by students working closely with members of our faculty. At the same time, the faculty has been working hard on their own research, and on their scholarly and artistic endeavors. In the past year, there were 10 books written by Bowdoin faculty and countless articles and artistic works. Meanwhile, the College received 4 grants from National Science Foundation and significant grants from the Luce Foundation for the interdisciplinary study of Merrymeeting Bay, and from the Freeman Foundation for our Asian Studies program.

As we say at Bowdoin, there are no spectators here, only participants. The evidence is in the number of students devoting their time and energies to activities outside the classroom like the Outing Club, the Bowdoin Orient, our athletic teams, in dance and theater performances, and in countless other activities that make this community vibrant, alive, intelligent, and interesting.

We have Marshall, Goldwater, and Fulbright scholars in the class of seniors just graduated, and a Truman scholar in the junior class. Our students leave Bowdoin this year heading off to the best graduate and professional schools and with important jobs in business, teaching and with nonprofit groups. Despite a difficult job market, a Bowdoin education continues to be recognized well and respected by employers in many challenging and rewarding fields.

Another sign of Bowdoin's health is the glory of our campus. We have our own version of the New York World's Fair going on at the Chapel, with the disassembling of its towers, and we plan to break ground next week on a new 25,000-square-foot building to be known as Kanbar Hall that will house the psychology and education departments and the Baldwin Center for Learning and Teaching. This new much-needed building, which will be located next to Smith Auditorium at the corner of the Bath Road and Sills Drive, is continuing evidence of Bowdoin's ability to grow and develop in order to meet the needs of a complex and dynamic educational environment.

So, by all measures, this was a year of which we can be very proud.

We are also graced by the continued support of our alumni, who have offered a remarkable level of commitment. For this support, we are eternally grateful. In a few moments, you will hear about the impressive level of giving by the classes in this room today - you should be proud of your achievements and should know that your support of your College is vital to our future.

None of you will be surprised to learn that this has been a challenging year to lead Bowdoin, as we have had to come to grips with struggling world, national and local economies. We are proud of the performance of our endowment over the past decade, and particularly over the past three years. Despite the economic downturn, we have been able to preserve Bowdoin's endowment and, in fact, have been able to grow it by a small amount. Today, we are at the top of all American colleges, universities and foundations in endowment performance. This is important, not only because effective management of these assets preserves our ability to do much that is special at the College, but also because of the message it sends to you and our other donors: that we are prudent with your investments in Bowdoin and are able to preserve them for the benefit of future generations.

We will talk more about the plans for the future when we meet this afternoon for a talk with the president. But, for now, let me take a few moments to underscore two bedrock principles of this College that will serve as a guidepost for the future: our commitment to serving the Common Good and our steadfast adherence to the ideals of liberal education.

This year, world events have once again challenged each of us - as individuals, and as a community, nation and a College. Each of us has had to consider, both privately and collectively, issues of war, human rights, disease and terrorism. Our principles as a learning community demanded that we consider these important and difficult issues in educated, informed and respectful ways. These issues were aired in faculty forums, by student government, in public debates and during informal discussions on the quad and on the streets of Brunswick.

It is clear from these conversations and debates that there is a diversity of views on this campus about many issues. But there is no disagreement or confusion about the importance of respectful, rigorous and open discourse aimed at making all of us better informed citizens. Bowdoin is - first and foremost - a place for reflection and learning, and we can be proud of our willingness and ability to probe and evaluate our beliefs and ideas in an educated and open manner supported and enhanced by the College. Our commitment to serving the Common Good is more than just doing good works in our community (which we spend thousands of hours doing), it is considering in thoughtful and responsible ways what is right and proper for our communities, nation, world and College. It is this broad understanding of the Common Good that enhances dedication to community and guides our students along a path toward leadership.

Bowdoin's commitment to liberal education is also central to our mission and to the creation of leaders in our society. Liberal education and the liberal arts are sometimes considered elusive concepts - frequently misunderstood and judged for what they are NOT. Bowdoin is not a vocational school or a professional school. Now, to the relief of any parents of current or future students out there, Bowdoin is - I am confident to say based on historical experience and data - a place that prepares and enables its students to be employed. But our educational mission is much broader and more enduring than that.

At Bowdoin, we believe in education for education's sake. Our form of liberal education is grounded on the belief that students should - over a four year experience here - develop the confidence of mind and spirit that will allow and prepare them to consider in thoughtful and nuanced ways many of the important and varied issues they will face in life. That is not to say that Bowdoin provides an education based solely or merely on the development of skills, rather that we emphasize an accumulation of knowledge acquired with the judgment and reasoning necessary to consider, evaluate and understand important and difficult concepts and constructs thoughtfully and responsibly.

William J. Cronon described the qualities of a liberally educated person in an article in the 1998 American Scholar. To paraphrase Cronon: Bowdoin students know how to listen and to hear. Our students read and understand. They have the ability to read critically and analytically. They can talk with anyone and write clearly, persuasively and movingly. Bowdoin students can solve a wide variety of puzzles and problems - quantitatively and qualitatively. They understand how to get things done. They practice respect, humility, tolerance and self-criticism and they understand how to nurture and empower the people around them.

James Freedman, the former president of Dartmouth College, implores college and university presidents to expound on the value of liberal education because, he says, " the end, the cause of liberal education - the cause of well-educated men and women - is one of America's best hopes for establishing a more humane democracy."

This, my friends, is the essence of Bowdoin College - a college dedicated to the tradition of liberal education - and to enabling an informed and able citizenry.

For future generations, may Bowdoin's commitment to these traditions remain strong and resolute.

Finally, let me return to a subject that demands our attention - and that is: access to Bowdoin. As I noted earlier, Bowdoin has long been dedicated to providing opportunity for students who ought to be here regardless of their ability to afford this form of education.

A few weeks ago, the College hosted a luncheon for alumni and friends who currently support students at Bowdoin through their gifts of financial aid. Many of these donors have a heartfelt appreciation for the importance of this aid because they themselves came to Bowdoin only through the generosity of others.

This generosity should never be confused with charity. Financial aid is not charity - it is an investment in the lives of our future leaders, and therefore, an investment in our society.

The issue of access to Bowdoin is only growing more complex. Each year a larger and larger number of applicants seek financial assistance - especially in these more difficult economic times.

Bowdoin has a strong record of meeting our goal of being need-blind. We not only admit students of great promise without regard for their ability to pay. We also meet the need of these students for the entire four years. Need-blind admissions, however, is not a religious principle - it is choice - and a choice we can make only if we have the financial resources to support the College's mission - because we must live within our means. It is a goal that we must seek to attain because it is vitally important to the preeminence of our College.

What we all seek for our college is a sustained future of excellence. We want it to endure as one of the nation's truly great liberal arts colleges, and to continue its proud tradition of educating future leaders in all walks of life. These are high aspirations that can only be achieved if we continue to attract the very best students and make a commitment together to bring them here.

I have visited many of you and with other alumni these past two years, and I am proud to report that our alumni community continues to display the energy and determination that are required to achieve all that we want and expect for Bowdoin.

Colleges and universities across the country yearn to have an alumni group as talented, as generous and as enthusiastic as this one. Bowdoin creates and nurtures special relationships with its sons and daughters. We respect and value those relationships and look forward to building even stronger ties with each of you as we advance the mission of this wonderful college.

I share your love for Bowdoin and I am deeply grateful for your devotion and connection to our College. Karen and I are delighted to have you back on campus with us today, and we look forward to speaking with as many of you as we can this weekend, and to welcoming you again as many times in the future as you are able to return.

Now, enjoy the weekend! I hope you take time to tour the campus, visit with faculty and staff, and take pleasure in your classmates, family and friends.

I hope you'll revel in some nostalgia for Bowdoin's past, take pride in the Bowdoin of today, and think about how we can all work together to shape an even stronger Bowdoin of tomorrow.

Thank you.

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