President's Speeches and Remarks

August 21, 2001

Good afternoon and welcome.  I'm Barry Mills, president of the College.  I'm pleased to welcome you to the Bowdoin community.  The Bowdoin Community — You’ll hear those words a good deal over the next four years, as your children make their way through their Bowdoin experience.  That’s what we are—a community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and you as parents as well.  Your children are embarking on a relationship with this College that will for many become a integral part of how they each define themselves.

To those of you who have long been a part of our Bowdoin community⎯dare I say family⎯welcome back to Bowdoin.  It is especially gratifying that you have the continued confidence in your College to entrust us with your sons and daughters.

I’ve been a part of this community since I entered Bowdoin as a first-year student in 1968.  Back then, Bowdoin had fewer than 1000 students — all of them men, most of them from New England and the Middle Atlantic states.  It was an exciting place to be and a challenging time for the College.  My Class of ’72 was the “nifty” Class⎯a group of unique individuals admitted in order to create a well-rounded class.  We were caught up in the passions of the time — student demonstrations, strikes even, the draft, the Viet Nam War and concerns for the future of our democracy.   Bowdoin was caught up in another revolutionary issue in 1972⎯the admission of women to the College.  This year we celebrate one of Bowdoin’s best decisions:  2001 represents the 30th year of women at Bowdoin.  Today, your children are entering Bowdoin in another century (the third century in which there have been Bowdoin students).  In the class of 2005, and in the student body as a whole, we are 50:50 men & women.  Today we have students from nearly every state in the nation as well as from other countries.  Bowdoin is a diverse and pluralistic environment, with a significant national and international population.

But in many ways the College today is not so different at all.  We remain committed to our core values⎯the liberal arts education, rigorous academic and intellectual pursuit, sound mind and body and the never ending desire to work for the “common good”.  The college is still engaged with the future of our country, the world and our environment, educating a new generation of leaders, encouraging participation in community service here and abroad, working to appreciate and preserve our environment.

And, there is still a Bowdoin community. We are honored that you have entrusted Bowdoin with your sons and your daughters. They will find here a caring and intellectually thriving environment from which they will move into adulthood. Bowdoin is a place that helps young men and women leave their comfort zones and discover new talents. It is a place where they are encouraged to seek challenges, and where they will know friends among the alumni, faculty, and staff.

Today is especially exciting for me, because you are the first group of Bowdoin parents I have had the pleasure of addressing. Earlier this year, nearly 30 years after my graduation from Bowdoin, I was named the College’s 14th president.  I started on the job officially just this past July 1.  In the intervening years I earned a doctorate and a law degree at other institutions and found a career I loved.  I have a wonderful family⎯my wife Karen, and 3 great boys.  And, like so many others, I never completely left Bowdoin. My closest friends in this world⎯I met on this campus.  One on the very first day.  I’ve brought my family to reunion weekends, attended alumni club events, read Bowdoin magazine, and even served for a number of years on the Board of Trustees. I'm delighted to be here today — in many ways a "first-year," just like your children.  I am especially delighted because this is a special, unique time in Bowdoin’s history⎯your timing in sending your children here today could not have been better.

This College has an impressive history.  Quality, integrity and a commitment to principled leadership are in the bones of this place.  The church in which we sit stands on the site where generations of Bowdoin students received their Bowdoin degrees; Commencement was held on this spot from 1806 to 1965. Among the graduates who walked here were Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne — remarkably from the same Class of 1825; U. S. President Franklin Pierce; publisher, and Bowdoin's first African-American graduate John Brown Russwurm, and Civil War hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.  Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Frost, Ulysses S. Grant and countless others have addressed Bowdoin students from this spot.  Over there, in pew 23 [Note to Barry: we will show you where it is], Harriet Beecher Stowe had a famous “vision” that inspired her in the writing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book many credit with firing up anti-slavery sentiments prior to the Civil War. But however grand Bowdoin’s history, its future is just as bright.  Your children will be a part of that future, and you should be very proud.  Proud of them, and proud of the work you've done raising them. I hope you'll also be proud to be a part of Bowdoin.

The College received more applications for this year’s entering class than for any other class in its 207-year history.  You can imagine how difficult it was to select a first-year class from among the more than 4000 applicants. We were able to accept only 23% of the students who applied.  Your sons and daughters are incredibly bright, 80% of those ranked were in the top 10% and 25 are National Merit Scholars.  They are incredibly accomplished⎯85 were musicians in band, orchestra or chorus; 59 participated in theater & dance; 54 were leaders in student government; 307 were varsity athletes and 100 participated in community service.  They are wonderfully interested, inquisitive people ready for Bowdoin’s challenges.  Your children represent the best and the brightest.

Bowdoin is, quite simply, one of the very best colleges in the country. It provided a great education when I came here as a student, but it's even better now.  (I’ve said to those Bowdoin students of my generation that I had to congratulate them for becoming so much brighter⎯they got smarter without doing anything at all, as Bowdoin’s academic rigor has increased and its reputation along with it; people just assume we are a whole lot brighter than we are).  To say you went to Bowdoin meant something in 1972, it means a whole lot more today.

What is Bowdoin?  In many ways, in the most important way, it is embodied by our dedicated, brilliant faculty. They are first and foremost dedicated teachers, scholars of uncommon excellence.  They are also talented, accomplished scholars that create for us an intellectual community that is vibrant, rigorous and challenging.  They devote a huge amount of time to working with students on independent projects or just offering their friendship and advice. A brief observation⎯every generation of Bowdoin students leaves Bowdoin with the experience of knowing one or two faculty members who profoundly influenced their lives.  No Bowdoin generation believes that the succeeding generations could have such important relationships.  And yet every generation replicates those relationships.  Our academic mission is the core of what Bowdoin is about⎯and our faculty constitute that core.

When my predecessor President Robert Edwards stepped down in June, he left the College on sound financial footing with a strong endowment and a generous student aid program. I understand that a Bowdoin education is very, very expensive⎯it is critically important to us to ensure that we continue to have the financial resources to make access to Bowdoin available to every young man or woman who wants to come here and should be with us.  Bowdoin is fortunate that it is among the relatively few colleges that are still able to admit students without consideration of financial need and to meet the full need of all of admitted students.

President Edward’s leadership also left Bowdoin with a host of new and renovated buildings to support the College's mission: We have state of the art science facilities, a beautifully renovated and expanded theater, a student union that is truly the heart of the campus, new residence halls and dining facilities — and since this summer a completely renovated library.

We are also very proud of our new residential life system at Bowdoin.  Just 5 years ago your sons and daughters would be entering a College where the life on this campus outside the classroom was, for many, centered on fraternities.  Bowdoin, led by President Edwards and the trustees, made the bold and important decision to eliminate fraternities, and they are now gone from the campus.  Today, we have a college house system that is not based on exclusion or self-selection, but rather inclusion.  Our campus is a community of engaged participants⎯working for the common good of one Bowdoin.

Our mission is "to engage students of uncommon promise in an intense full-time education of their minds, exploration of their creative faculties, and development of their leadership abilities" within a liberal arts setting.  I imagine that many of you may have been somewhat nervous when your son or daughter began seriously considering a liberal arts college.  Why come to a liberal arts college?  What does a degree in English, or perhaps art, lead to?  Is the science curriculum strong enough at a liberal arts college to prepare a student for serious work in graduate school?  Let me tell you, a liberal arts education, especially one from Bowdoin College will serve your children in countless ways.   I will leave much of the discussion of our academic program to Craig McEwen, our dean of academic affairs⎯but let me speak a bit about career.

You hear a lot today about education that, in a very focused way, prepares for a career. Students are majoring in information systems, engineering, business, even⎯dare I say⎯the law— they have learned early the notion of specialization. There's nothing wrong with having a plan for the future, and at Bowdoin your children will have the opportunity to accomplish their goals, whatever they may be.  Bowdoin graduates go on to become leaders in medicine, in science, in business, in public service, in law, in education, and in any other career you could name.  If your daughter wants to be a corporate executive, Bowdoin will give her the tools she needs to get there. If your son wants to be a high school teacher, Bowdoin will start him on his way.  But an education at Bowdoin — at a residential, liberal arts college — will teach them more than an expertise in their chosen discipline. Bowdoin teaches students to think independently, to challenge assumptions, to write with clarity, and to listen to and understand different points of view. It will give them the foundation they need to remain lifelong learners and to be leaders.

Some have argued that a liberal arts education is outdated, but I’d argue that it is more relevant now than ever.  The world is changing very, very rapidly.  The technological revolution of our time may very well mean as much to our society as changes like the Industrial Revolution meant to prior centuries.  This generation and its successors will be called on to do more and different tasks and jobs through their careers than any generation of the past.  They will be faced with complex choices that involve ethics, science, the environment, the economy, political science and sociology.  They will be doing work throughout the world and our Nation⎯making it critically important that they appreciate other cultures.  They will want and need to remain healthy and vigorous⎯enjoying experiences over a lifetime, learned on the Bowdoin playing fields or with the outing club.  At Bowdoin through our residential liberal arts model, your children will learn to think, to write, to analyze and to challenge, to be prepared for life after Bowdoin and the many changes it will present.

A Bowdoin education has an additional characteristic: an emphasis on serving the "Common Good," which is another phrase you'll hear a lot in the coming years. The College’s first president, Joseph McKeen, established the ideal of serving the Common Good as a guiding principle for Bowdoin.  “Literary institutions,” he said, “are founded and endowed for the Common Good and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education.”  The College, chartered at the dawn of the American Republic, was meant for the “benefit of society.”

Bowdoin has encouraged that ideal, and it is embodied in the lives and work of people like George Mitchell, Class of 1954, who has worked for peace in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East; like Andy Reicker, Class of 1972, Geoff Canada, Class of 1974, and Ellen Baxter, Class of 1975, who were at Bowdoin with me, and who have dedicated their lives to making a better future for the people of New York City.
With the idea of serving the Common Good in mind, I hope you will encourage your children to be active participants in our larger community. Nearly three-quarters of Bowdoin students are involved in community service, translating last year alone to 11,000 volunteer hours.

Becoming a part of the Bowdoin community means becoming a part of Brunswick and of Maine.  The College would not be the same if it were in any other place. You're here today because your children are taking part in the pre-orientation trips. More than 70% of the Class of 2005 are participating.  Some are hiking nearby while others are traveling through Maine and on to the Bowdoin Scientific Research Station on Kent Island in the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, Canada. These outings will give many of the students their first taste of Maine — their first chance to kayak across the waters of Casco Bay, their first chance to see the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, which is where the first rays of morning light hit the United States.  Maine is a beautiful and peaceful place, one that will feed their spirits. But it is also a living laboratory for Bowdoin students and one that will feed their minds.

I invite you to be a part of Bowdoin as well. Read the parents letters, log onto the Web site for college news, subscribe to the student newspaper, come and cheer the Bowdoin Polar Bears on the playing fields, ask your sons and daughters about what they’re learning.  But please remember that this is their time to try new things⎯to take classes they may find difficult, to learn a new art form, to try a new sport or outdoor activity.  But most of all, encourage your sons and daughters to be passionate in their Bowdoin experience, to get lost in generous enthusiasms for learning.

Now let me introduce you to the Dean of Academic Affairs⎯Craig McEwen.  Craig presides over our faculty and curriculum.  Craig has spent 25 years (+) as a professor of Sociology of Bowdoin.  He is a legendary thinker and a man of excellent judgment.  He will speak to you today about our academic program.