Baccalaureate 2006 Address: President Barry Mills

Story posted May 27, 2006

We gather each year at this time to reflect on the academic year just completed and to begin officially our Commencement activities - the time when we honor and prepare to say farewell to the members of our senior class who have earned the high distinction conveyed by a Bowdoin degree, and who have added so much to our community these past four years.

It is a time for celebrating all that you - our seniors - have accomplished and for looking forward. It is also a time to reflect on Bowdoin's proud traditions, particularly our steadfast adherence to the ideals of liberal education and our commitment to serving the common good.

There are few academic institutions in this country with the long history of Bowdoin. Ours is a history that dates back to the American Revolution. The strength of this College is its resolute commitment to our core principles of a liberal arts model of education and our commitment as an institution and as a people to the common good. These principles are the strengths of Bowdoin and it is our responsibility to adhere to them as stewards of this historic College.

Liberal education and the liberal arts are sometimes considered elusive concepts - frequently defined and judged for what they are NOT. Clearly, Bowdoin is not a vocational school or a professional school.

That said, I want the parents and families out there to know and feel confident that Bowdoin is, in fact, a place that prepares students for life after Bowdoin. Our graduates are able leaders across the globe in a variety of fields, and I have every confidence that your daughters, sons and family members will succeed in similar fashion.

So, while we are proud to say that a Bowdoin liberal arts degree makes a meaningful difference in the job marketplace and the world, it is important to note that our educational mission is actually broader and more enduring. It's Bowdoin's commitment to liberal education that is central to the development of an educated person and the development of leaders in our society.

This year we celebrate our graduating seniors, but we also celebrate the remarkable achievements of an important leader of this College as he returns to our faculty - Dean for Academic Affairs Craig McEwen. Two years ago Dean McEwen crafted and the faculty endorsed a renewed statement entitled A Liberal Education at Bowdoin College. The statement explores the essence of a Bowdoin education - "A liberal education cultivates the mind and the imagination; encourages seeking after truth, meaning, and beauty; awakens an appreciation of past traditions and present challenges; fosters joy in learning and sharing that learning with others; supports taking the intellectual risks required to explore the unknown, test new ideas and enter into constructive debate; and builds the foundation for making principled judgments. It hones the capacity for critical and open intellectual inquiry - the interest in asking questions, challenging assumptions, seeking answers, and reaching conclusions supported by logic and evidence. A liberal education rests fundamentally on the free exchange of ideas - on conversation and questioning - that thrives in classrooms, lecture halls, laboratories, studios, dining halls, playing fields, and dormitory rooms. Ultimately, a liberal education promotes independent thinking, individual action, and social responsibility."

Generations of students have been educated on our campus in this liberal arts tradition. You know your sons, daughters and family members and have seen them grow over these four years - each one of them has become, over these four years, an important example of Bowdoin and a reflection of our mission - A Liberal Arts Education at Bowdoin College.

We are justifiably proud of Bowdoin's history of graduating class after class of people who go on to be principled leaders in their communities. We all know about the famous and prominent leaders who earned their college degree here, and we often marvel at how this small college in Maine can be so successful at graduating such leaders. We have, at times, suggested that this leadership tradition is linked in some mysterious way to our independent Maine roots and the craggy, difficult Maine coast and terrain.

But there is certainly more to all this than geography. In fact, I believe the secret lies in the successful combination of liberal education with our guiding principle of service to the common good.

Bowdoin's commitment to serving the common good reaches far beyond the thousands of hours of good work in our community that take place here every year. It is also that we regularly ask ourselves in thoughtful and responsible ways to consider what is right and proper for our communities, nation, world, and College. For there must be enduring values and principles that are right and proper for us to be committed to as a college, principles that are common to us all, if there is to be a common good. It is this broad understanding and commitment to these principles constituting the common good that enhances dedication to community and guides our students along a path toward leadership.

This year at Bowdoin, the environment and responsible management of natural resources has been among the more important ways that students, faculty, and staff have focused on the common good. We all know that a dramatic growth in human population and an acceleration in economic growth and mobility are severely taxing our planet's finite resources. And like everyone in America - and around the world - we at Bowdoin are grappling with the high cost of energy and doing all we can to reduce consumption and to negotiate the best possible prices for energy products.

Yet the reasons to conserve energy at Bowdoin are not fundamentally related to the pressure on our budget. We are an institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and a college that constantly reminds its students of their responsibility to use their knowledge and education in service to the common good. As such, we believe Bowdoin is obligated to limit its own adverse impact on the environment and to participate actively in efforts to employ new techniques and technologies aimed at the efficient and responsible use of natural resources. Today, I'm proud to say, Bowdoin is emerging as a national leader in such efforts.

Just this week, we announced that Bowdoin will purchase 100 percent of its electricity from renewable, or "green," sources, including from Maine's only certified low-impact hydropower facility located just eight miles up the Androscoggin River from Brunswick.

This announcement follows other steps at Bowdoin aimed at improving sustainability and promoting conservation. These include converting our boilers to burn more efficient and lower-impact fuels; significant investments in geothermal heating in both new construction and renovation projects; student competitions to reduce energy consumption in residence halls; powering down campus vending machines during idle periods; replacing college-owned vehicles with more cars and vans that use hybrid technology; replacing inefficient CRT computer monitors with energy-saving flat panel screens; purchasing and installing energy-efficient lighting and appliances, including laundry equipment; and our own community organic garden providing food to our #1 rated food service -- and the lobster shells from tonight's feast will be recycled on the organic garden.

We are also investigating the feasibility of creating solar power at Farley Field House, and we have joined Maine Governor John Baldacci's "Carbon Challenge," pledging to reduce our carbon emissions by 11 percent by 2011, a goal we now know we clearly now exceed, and have to set new goals. Earlier this year, Bowdoin was awarded Silver Status certification under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - or "LEED" - standards for conservation and sustainability features in our two newest residence halls.

In all that we do, we are integrating principles of sustainability into campus programs and events. Environmental literacy and stewardship are discussed in our classrooms and students are encouraged to explore ecological problems and solutions. In the process, our entire community has become increasingly aware of its influence on the environment, and is actively working to reduce consumption and improve waste management. For example, consider our "Dump and Run": Items that students once left behind in Dumpsters would end up incinerated or in landfills. Now, many of these items are salvaged and resold, with the profits divided among local non-profit organizations.

All of this important work is ongoing and is significantly supported and influenced by our students who, after all, will inherit a planet made better by the conservation and sustainability efforts we put in place today. We have formidable challenges ahead, but we have learned that these problems aren't insurmountable.

In his book, The Ecology of Commerce, entrepreneur Paul Hawken defines sustainability as "...an economic state where the demands placed upon the environment by people and commerce can be met without reducing the capacity of the environment to provide for future generations. It can also be expressed in the simple terms of an economic golden rule for the restorative economy: leave the world better than you found it, take no more than you need, try not to harm the life of the environment, make amends if you do."

These are words taken to heart by many at Bowdoin - members of our Outing Club embrace the concept as a "leave no trace" philosophy - and they are certainly sentiments consistent with our enduring call for students to use their talents and energies in service to the common good.

Now, as we prepare to close this academic year, a word of gratitude to the Bowdoin faculty among us today, and Bowdoin faculty in the community. Thank you all for your dedication to your students and to Bowdoin. 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 rest assured 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 a college president who once was a corporate lawyer, and before that a biologist.

No one, especially me, could have predicted such a course when I sat where you sit 34 years ago. And I am by no means alone. Bowdoin's alumni rolls are full of people who have moved successfully in every 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: "...to 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 2006 - you future artists, leaders, statesmen, and stateswomen - 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.

Originally published 5/26/06, 5:30 p.m.

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