Story posted September 19, 2008
George J. Mitchell '54 — former Senate Majority Leader, negotiator of the Northern Ireland Peace Accord and chair of the investigation into illegal steroid use in Major League Baseball — spoke at a Common Hour Friday, September 19, 2008, in celebration of the opening of the new Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good.
Sen. Mitchell spoke fondly of his time at Bowdoin, telling a packed Pickard Theater about hitchhiking from his home in Waterville to Brunswick for his appointment with the director of admissions, arranged by an acquaintance. "Bowdoin marked a turning point in my life," Mitchell said. "Although I couldn't then anticipate all the challenges I would face, for the first time in my life I felt confident. Bowdoin has been doing that for its students for as long as our country has existed."
Mitchell told the story of his public service, beginning with his appointment to the U.S. Senate by Governor Joseph Brennan in 1980, when Edmund Muskie resigned to become U.S. Secretary of State, and offered advice about what it means to serve the common good.
"You will seek, many of you, wealth and status, and some of you will achieve it, but the more successful you are, and the more wealth you acquire, the more evident it will become to you that there's much more to life. You will find that real fulfillment will come not just from acquiring things, not from self-indulgence," said Mitchell. "Real fulfillment will come if you heed Joseph McKeen's words. It will come when you find and act on an objective that fully engages all of your physical and spiritual strength in achieving a goal that is larger than your self-interest. That's where you'll find real fulfillment."
Responding to a student's question, Mitchell said there is no universally accepted definition of the common good. "And that is probably a good thing because it allows each person to define it for himself or herself. As for me, what it has come to mean is helping others to have opportunity. My public philosophy is pretty simple: In America, nobody should be guaranteed success, but everybody should have a good chance to succeed.
Check out the new McKeen Center for the Common Good Web site, offering continuously updated content regarding community service opportunities, a schedule of events and other happenings.
"I think you could define 'common good' in any way you want, so long as it embraces something larger than your self interest and helps others," he said. "There are many ways to do that. Politics is one but it's surely not the only one and perhaps not even the most important one. There are many ways people that dedicate their lives to help others from which they derive their own personal benefit and reward. I think you ought to define it for yourself in whatever way you see that you can best be helpful."
Senator George J. Mitchell was born and raised in Waterville, Maine, and graduated from Bowdoin College and Georgetown University Law Center. He entered the U.S. Senate in 1980 and went on to an illustrious career in the senate that spanned 14 years. In January 1989 he became Senate Majority Leader. He held that position until he left the senate in 1995.
During his tenure, Senator Mitchell earned enormous bipartisan respect. It has been said "there is not a man, woman, or child in the Capitol who does not trust George Mitchell."
In 1995, he established the Mitchell Scholarship Program (now the Mitchell Institute) to create ongoing scholar involvement in leadership and professional development, as well as community service and mentoring activities. In 2008, Time magazine included him on its list of the one hundred most influential people in the world.