May 24, 2002
We come together here each May at the end of the academic year for what is always a bittersweet occasion – the time when we are preparing to say farewell to our class of seniors who have worked hard, learned and offered much, and who have grown into able leaders of our campus.
It is a time for celebrating all that has been accomplished and for looking forward. It is also a time to reflect on the proud traditions of this historic college.
I welcome each of you to this ceremony – faculty, students, staff, alumni, and parents. You are all vital members of the Bowdoin community.
I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on the year now ending – my first year as president. Thirty years ago I sat where you sit, anticipating my own graduation from Bowdoin. As it was then, this college continues to be first and foremost a community dedicated to learning – learning by students, but also by faculty, staff, and even the president.
What we do here very well is to foster an environment where we can learn from each other – where students and faculty can work together and learn in an intense and focused four year period filled with intellectual rigor, personal growth, and achievement.
Nine months ago, I had the opportunity to open Bowdoin’s 200th academic year at the Convocation ceremonies right here in this church. On that day I spoke of two goals for Bowdoin. The first of these was that we reaffirm our historic commitment to serving the common good, both on campus and in our larger communities. We spoke of a college grounded in communication and respect where disagreement and an abundance of ideas are welcome, so long as they are made and held with respect for others and in good faith.
When I was a student here a generation ago, we practiced what was called the “Bowdoin Hello,” making sure to underscore the importance of communication, good faith, and community with everyone we passed. I have been pleased this year to hear that same “hello” many times along our paths and in our hallways.
I believe we have been successful in reaffirming our sense of community this year – a year when world events might easily have drawn us apart. As America and Bowdoin become more diverse, our challenge will be to maintain this sense of community and to remember that communication, respect, and understanding remain critical guideposts for this college.
We also spoke last August about rebalancing institutional priorities to ensure the primacy of Bowdoin’s academic program. Here too I believe we have seen much success. This has been a year of significant accomplishment for students and for faculty. It has also been a year of transition.
We will soon say goodbye to a remarkable group of retiring professors – some of whom taught here when I was a student and all of whom have the admiration, gratitude, and respect of the College. At the same time we will be welcoming a new group of talented scholars, notably two important appointments in women’s studies during this 30th year of coeducation at Bowdoin. And we are also very fortunate to have a steady, ambitious, and innovative leader of our academic program in Craig McEwen who has extended his commitment to stay on as dean for academic affairs.
As I said last summer, we must continue to work together to ensure that academic excellence and serious intellectual pursuit remain central at Bowdoin. I can assure you that all decisions we make have been focused with precision on their relation to the academic program. Much remains to be done, but that is how it should be for a college with such strong traditions and noble aspirations.
Now, as we prepare to close this academic year, a word of thanks to the Bowdoin faculty. I salute each of you for your dedication to your students and to Bowdoin. I also wish you all the best as you continue to work through the summer months on your scholarship, research, and artistic work. I know how much you value these months to recharge your intellectual spirit and reconnect with your passion. I look forward to reconvening the College with you in the fall.
To our graduating seniors, I also wish you all the best as you leave Brunswick to begin the next phase of your promising lives. We are proud of you and everything you have accomplished here and we look forward to saluting you on the quad tomorrow morning.
A few days ago, I had the opportunity to visit in New York City with some members of the Class of 1977 who plan to be on campus next week to celebrate their 25th reunion. Do you know what these now-not-so-young men and women wanted to talk about? Sure, they all have fond memories of the campus, of being among the first women at Bowdoin, of parties, of classmates, of hockey games, and of creative modes of transportation (one of these graduates plans to drive a modified station wagon through campus next week to commemorate a car that once cruised these streets with the roof removed so that it could hold a couch and an overstuffed chair!)
These alumni clearly remember having fun here.
But do you know what they really remember? What they remember vividly and wanted to talk about were their professors – about what they learned from Nate Dane or Ernst Helmreich or Barbara Kaster or Dana Mayo or Matilda White Riley or from countless others – some of whom are here today.
As I greeted these alumni, one after another asked about their special professor and whether he or she would be around during reunion. They were recalling with gratitude and with genuine fondness the members of this faculty who have meant so much to them for more than a quarter century.
As you sit at Commencement tomorrow morning you will begin to have similar thoughts, and in the years ahead, as your careers and family responsibilities take you to places far from Brunswick, I am confident that you too will look back with gratitude and fondness for your teachers here.
The fact is that you have created life-long friendships these past four years. Look around. There are people here today and there will be classmates sitting with you tomorrow with whom you will never lose touch. That is what is so special about this college and this form of education – the residential liberal arts college that creates and nurtures vital relationships between student and teacher and among classmates. Value these relationships. They will sustain you.
Finally, let’s 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 yourself in generous enthusiasms and cooperate with others for common ends.”
To the Class of 2002 – you future poets, leaders, statesmen and stateswomen – to each of you who will bring even greater pride to Bowdoin in years to come, Karen and I wish you success and a life of learning and deeds well done.