Campus News

Baccalaureate Address: President Barry Mills

Story posted May 28, 2004

May 28, 2004

Good afternoon and welcome. We come together at the end of each academic year for what is always a bittersweet occasion - the time when we prepare to say farewell to our seniors who have worked hard, learned and offered much, and who have grown into respected campus leaders.

It is a time for celebrating all that has been accomplished and for looking forward. And a great deal has been accomplished this year that will be important to Bowdoin for many years to come.

For the second time, we are conducting Baccalaureate here on this site, rather than across the street in Brunswick's First Parish Church. We outgrew the capacity of our own Chapel long ago. Some may still regret this break from custom but it is a move that reflects the changing nature of this event. Originally a religious service appropriately conducted in a religious setting, Baccalaureate at Bowdoin has evolved into an inclusive ceremony of historical reflection and a celebration of the ideals of this great College.

So, I welcome each of you to this familiar ceremony in this new place - faculty, students, staff, alumni, and parents. You are all valued members of the Bowdoin community.

As we reflect here on Bowdoin's proud traditions, let me take a few moments to speak about the future - represented in significant respects by this year's careful faculty review of our curriculum, and by our construction and renovation plans for the next several years.

Our faculty has worked hard over the past few years, and particularly this year, to adopt a new series of requirements setting forth our view of the essential elements of a Bowdoin education in the liberal arts tradition. These requirements - which will be phased in over the next three years - include a focus on cross-disciplinary scientific inquiry and mathematical reasoning, international perspectives, and on critical explorations of class, gender, ethnicity, and culture; AND hands-on knowledge of the artistic process and keen aesthetic judgment. Each of these areas is exciting, but I'd like to focus my remarks today on the arts in particular because I believe Bowdoin stands at a notable threshold in this area.

"The goal [of our new art requirement] is to help students expand their understanding of artistic expression and judgment through creation, performance, and analysis of artistic works in the areas of dance, film, music, theatre, and visual art."

This curricular emphasis on the arts at Bowdoin is further reinforced by our commitment to provide facilities that will allow our arts programs to thrive. The renovation of Pickard Theatre and the construction of the Wish Theatre in 2000 have created facilities that support the magnificent creative work of our talented students in theatre and dance. We have already seen the results of these improvements.

Two weeks ago, the Board of Trustees approved an $18 million renovation of the Walker Art Building, home of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Our art museum houses a collection that is among the oldest and most significant of any college or university in the United States. Moreover, the museum is a critical part of our academic program, with many students and faculty incorporating the museum collection in their academic pursuits on a daily basis. A fully renovated museum, with climate control, improved access and circulation, and additional gallery space will only enhance the role of the museum and its collection as part of our academic program.

It's probably hard to believe after the week we've just had, but it can be very warm and uncomfortable here in the summer. A renovated museum with modern climate control systems will be a welcome improvement for tourists wishing to view the Bowdoin collection. It will also allow the museum to attract important touring exhibitions, drawing even more visitors to campus and to Brunswick and thereby enhancing Bowdoin's already formidable contributions to the economy and cultural offerings of Maine.

Turning to music, we are in the planning stages of a long-awaited renovation of the Curtis Pool Building - the entrance of which is just south of here - into a 300-seat concert hall. The exciting design for this facility includes attractive performance space and functional practice rooms that will allow music to more gracefully enrich the campus and will permit our students, faculty, and visitors to experience the creative process of making music in a facility specifically and thoughtfully designed for their art. Furthermore, in recognition of Bowdoin's focus on music, we have recently received support for important concerts and master classes to enhance our own program as well as the public performance of music in midcoast Maine.

In studio art, as in art history, Bowdoin's faculty is exceptional and there has been growing interest and success in the studio program by our students. Frankly, we have more work to do to improve our studio art facilities and their visibility on campus, but the addition of advanced studio space, darkroom facilities, and faculty studios in the McLellan Building was a major step forward. Works by Bowdoin students and faculty are increasingly featured at juried shows around the state, and our graduates are increasingly successful in the fields of architecture, museum studies, and art education.

Now, as we consider a recommitment to the arts at Bowdoin, a legitimate question probably comes to your mind: Why in this time of technological advance, specialization, vocational education, the biotechnology explosion, why is Bowdoin recommitting itself to the arts? Elsewhere, respected colleges and universities are focusing their attention solely on courses of study aimed at preparing students specifically for the technological world. We certainly provide that kind of preparation at Bowdoin, but we also insist on a study of the arts.

The answer to this question is that the arts are in the bones of this great college. The words are right there in William deWitt Hyde's "Offer of the College": " count Nature a familiar acquaintance, and Art an intimate friend."

As our new curriculum states: "...a liberal education cultivates the mind and the imagination; encourages seeking after truth, meaning, and beauty; awakens an appreciation of past traditions and challenges; fosters joy in learning and sharing the learning with others; supports taking the intellectual risks required to explore the unknown; tests new ideas and enters into constructive debate; and builds the foundation of making principled judgments."

We believe with conviction that no one can claim to be liberally educated without seeking truth, meaning, and beauty in the study of theatre, dance, music, and the visual arts.

Frank Rhodes, the former president of Cornell University, wrote in his recent book The Creation of the Future about the importance of the arts in a college curriculum and environment. Art, says Rhodes, is "...a basic expression of human understanding." He goes on to say "... It is no accident that art is ubiquitous and influential in every culture worth the name, from ancient embodiment of insight, an assertion of the human spirit. Education, unleavened by the sense of beauty and luminosity that art can provide, is a wasteland. The most sophisticated skill - whether technical or academic - is barren without the insight it provides. As in other attributes, so in this; the aim of education is to encourage the creative encounter, the reflective experience that can enrich every aspect of life."

These words from Rhodes sum up eloquently Bowdoin's perspective and our aspirations.

Simply put - by our own graduate, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: "Nature is a revelation of God. Art a revelation of man."

And from a diva of our times, Beverly Sills: "Art is the signature of civilizations."

The arts present our world as it is: a rich mix of variety and viewpoints. Research shows that those who study the arts develop analytical skills, creativity, critical thinking abilities, and aesthetic judgment. Art is communication - the communication of ideas and issues - that entertains but also teaches, persuades, and challenges us all. It is this process of thought and challenge that shapes an educated mind. At Bowdoin we have believed since our founding in 1794 that education at its best is meant to serve the common good. We also have stated that a core goal of education ought to be to produce principled leaders for our society. An area of study and an environment that requires the serious contemplation of art and a creative process built on imagination, focus, determination, experimentation, exuberance, and subtlety are - we believe - vital components in the education of principled leaders and form a significant part of the foundation for educated citizens committed to the common good.

So, Bowdoin's purposeful recommitment to the arts in the curriculum and our focus on our art facilities represent what we believe is an enthusiastic reaffirmation of our commitment to the values of liberal education. And as we look to the future, it is with a sense of excitement and anticipation for all the possibilities the arts provide, and with satisfaction and confidence that our path is clear, purposeful, and distinct.

Now, as we prepare to close this academic year, I would like to offer my gratitude and appreciation to the Bowdoin faculty and staff. Thank you all for your dedication to our students and to Bowdoin. To our faculty I wish you all well as you continue throughout the summer months on your scholarship, research and artistic work, and I look forward to reconvening the College with you in the Fall.

To our graduating seniors, I wish you all the best as you leave Brunswick to begin the next phase of your promising lives. Some of you may not yet know what you'll be doing next month or next year. But I know, and your professors know, that in earning a Bowdoin degree you are well prepared for whatever comes next, and for what comes after that. The only certainty is that your lives will change and then change again. I stand before you as someone who has "morphed" many times in my career - once a biologist, then a corporate lawyer, now a college president. No one, especially me, could have predicted such a course when I sat where you sit thirty-two years ago. And I am by no means alone. Bowdoin's alumni rolls are full of people who have moved successfully from one field of endeavor to another as the world has revealed new opportunities and offered new challenges. Each of you is prepared to succeed in the way they have succeeded. We are proud of you and of everything you have accomplished here, and we look forward to saluting you on the quad tomorrow morning.

Finally, let us remind ourselves of where we started four years ago with "The Offer of the College", those words of William DeWitt Hyde from 1906:

" make hosts of friends who are to be leaders in all walks of life; to lose oneself in generous enthusiasms and cooperate with others for common ends."

To the Class of 2004 - you future poets, leaders, stateswomen and statesmen - to each of you who will bring even greater pride to Bowdoin in years to come, I wish you success and a life of learning and deeds well done.

« Back | Campus News | Academic Spotlight | | Subscribe to Bowdoin News by Email