Campus News

2006 Reunion Convocation Address: President Barry Mills

Story posted June 05, 2006

June 3, 2006

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 Bowdoin. Like you, I am proud to be an alumnus of this great college. Bowdoin provided 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 restate that I am enormously proud - as an alumnus who reveres the history and traditions of this college - to have the opportunity to lead Bowdoin. I also admit to being more than a little humbled by the responsibility I have 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 - during our time - we will chart and sustain a course for this college that will ensure its continued excellence.

Again this year, Bowdoin has been the beneficiary of a striking level of generous support from alumni, parents and friends - support that means a great deal financially, but also represents a gratifying level of confidence in the College by people who matter a great deal, and who know Bowdoin best. From alumni who appreciate first-hand the lasting benefits of a Bowdoin education, to friends who see this college as a beacon, to past and present parents who, in addition to meeting the significant costs of educating their daughters and sons here, step forward to do even more.

In a few moments, you will hear about the impressive level of giving by the classes represented in this room today. This is your time to take pride in all that you do for Bowdoin and, through Bowdoin, for higher education in America. And it is a time for us to thank you once again, wholeheartedly, for your vital support.

As you walk around this campus on this beautiful spring weekend in Maine, I hope you also have a sense of pride in your College. Ours is among the most beautiful and historic college campuses in the world. And I am certain that as you stand in the middle of the quad this weekend you will all remember what a special place this is and what it means to you.

Today is a special anniversary for Karen and me. Five years ago in January 2001, I was elected president of the College and five years ago this June, I performed my first official duties at the College as I participated in your reunion. I remember it was an incredibly rainy weekend. But, it was that weekend that convinced me that we had made the right move to Bowdoin. Everyone we met that weekend welcomed us to the College with genuine enthusiasm and warmth. I have to say that after five years at Bowdoin, it has been a real pleasure to celebrate with a generation of alumni reunions and to visit with alums, parents and friends around the country and the world. And so, it is with real excitement that I welcome you all back to Bowdoin.

These last five years have been important for Bowdoin College. As you walk around the campus you see the physical manifestation of change - the reconstruction of the Chapel, new East and West dorms, the renovation of the Walker Art Building, the renovation of the Curtis Pool into a 280-seat recital hall, the renovation of the bricks well under way (Appleton and Hyde are finished and we are working on Coleman and Moore, to be followed by Winthrop and Maine), and the construction of Kanbar Hall, named in honor of Elliott Kanbar of the Class of 1956, the new home of psychology, education, neuroscience and the learning center at Bowdoin.

Despite all this construction, we had a record year in applications, nearly 5,400, and were able to admit only 22 percent of our applicants. Today nearly 42 percent of our students receive financial aid compared with 38 percent only five years ago, our financial aid budget has grown from $12 million five years ago to nearly $17.5 million next year. Today our fourth biggest state represented by our students is California. Nearly 30 percent of our students are students of color. In 1956, 28 percent of the school was from Maine representing 222 Maine boys, and today nearly 12 percent of the school is from Maine, representing, approximately the same number of 222 Maine men and women.

In 2003, our faculty adopted a modern statement of the mission of a liberal arts education modifying our liberal arts general education requirement for the first time in over 20 years - where we actually sharpened and refined core requirements. Our athletic teams have had unbelievable success on many levels and in many sports - and we even had a winning football season this year.

And, in a measure that should be important to all alums and certainly to this president, our endowment has grown from approximately $420 million five years ago to nearly $700 million today.

With all this renovation and change, however, Bowdoin is the place it is today because we have with steadfast determination maintained our sense of self and a commitment to our core principles throughout the history of this College

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 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.

As we think about Bowdoin at this time in its history we are guided in all of our efforts by the core principles of this College:

The education of our students in the liberal arts tradition represented by the primacy of the academic program of the College in all that we do. A corollary to this principle is a college with talented, dedicated faculty who are wonderful teachers and scholars, researchers and artists.

The opportunity for students of all backgrounds and socio economic means to come to this College to learn - through the same admissions door and with a commitment of support for four years.

The residential life program that includes athletics, clubs, outing clubs, music, singing groups and on and on at this College that allows our students to mature, develop judgment and develop lifelong friendships with each other, faculty, staff and even presidents.

And finally, the commitment of this College to the Common Good that benefits our Brunswick community and all of your communities because we are a place where our graduates go off into their communities to become leaders of principle committed to making important contributions to their communities both here and abroad.

These are the same core principles that guided this great College 50 years ago. Professor Roy LaCasce delivered to me this year this book - THE CONSERVATIVE TRADITION IN EDUCATION AT BOWDOIN COLLEGE, REPORT OF COMMITTEE ON SELF STUDY, SEPTEMBER, 1956. This report was the work of the College from 1953 to 1956, dates quite familiar to our 50th reunion class. It was prepared by the likes of Albert Abrahamson, Herbert Ross Brown, Athern Daggett, Alton Gustafson, Nate Kendrick and President James Stacy Coles.

There is much that is interesting in this report and I will share some of this tonight with the 50th reunion class - but let me quote from one section: "The college is distinguished from secondary and vocational schools by its devotion to the central purpose of providing a liberal arts education. In striving to live up to such a commitment, the college of liberal arts seeks to teach its students:

1. To be more widely informed and more deeply understanding by helping them gain a more accurate knowledge of the world in which they are living by means of an awareness of the contributions of arts and sciences of the ancient and modern civilizations.

2. To be wiser by training them to think analytically, and encouraging them to develop a set of values by which to order their lives, and to make relevant use of their knowledge for the common good.

3. To be more effective by developing their power to give clear, cogent and interesting oral and written expression to what they think and believe."

As we look back to the words of McKeen on the common good and the Offer of the College by Hyde and this statement in 1956 of the mission of the College to create understanding, wise and effective leaders, we see a history and reflection of today's mission for Bowdoin. It is this quiet Maine confidence in what we are about that is the strength of this College. Our commitment to the liberal arts tradition and to the common good set this College apart from all others and ensure our place in history and our place in the future.

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 takes 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 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 the responsible management of natural resources have 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 have been 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 nor to announcements by the popular media that the environment is the issue for the year, nor by Al Gore's discovery of global warming. 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 obliged 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, Bowdoin is emerging as a national leader in such efforts.

Just last 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; and purchasing and installing energy-efficient lighting and appliances, including laundry equipment; and our own community organic gardens providing food to our #1-rated food service.

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 will clearly now exceed. 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" event: 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. This is a model program for responsible recycling.

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.

I hope and expect that you will all be proud of the efforts your College has undertaken to preserve our environment and to enhance Maine. We are a campus and community committed to the common good and there are few more important responsibilities we can take on than our responsibility to preserve and enhance our environment for generations to come.

I have visited many of you and with other alumni over these past four 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.

Let me leave you with this final thought - life brings many twists and turns to us all - but for all of us - Bowdoin alums parents and friends - how did we get so lucky in life to be connected to this very special place - Bowdoin?

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 recommit yourselves to our important work together to shape an even stronger Bowdoin of tomorrow.

Thank you.

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