President's Speeches and Remarks

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Good afternoon and welcome.  I'm Barry Mills, president of the College.  I'm pleased to welcome you to Bowdoin College and 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 time here at Bowdoin.  That’s what we are—a community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and you as parents as well.

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.

When I stood before the parents of the Class of 2005 last year, the first class I welcomed to Bowdoin as its new president, we all sat in a relatively satisfied position⎯ in a world that was relatively calm and more financially secure.  What a difference a mere 12 months can make.  The students of the Class of 2006 enter Bowdoin, I am sorry to say, in a much more uncertain time for our nation and the world.  Much has been written about recent generations of young people⎯the drive for success, their keen focus on stepping-stones for  the future, the fact that they really had never experienced tragedy or conflict on a national level the way past generations had.  But, that cannot be said of our Class of 2006, the events of the past year have changed their lives and our lives in fundamental ways.  

Bowdoin is a dynamic place, with a history dating back to 1794.  This campus has seen much of the history of the United States.  As many of the Class of 2006 begin their time at Bowdoin, they will lead Bowdoin into this new time in our history⎯and they are remarkably able and prepared to do so.

In many ways the College has not changed all that much from its beginnings in 1794.    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 remains 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 the flourishing 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.

This College has an impressive history.  Quality, integrity and a commitment to principled leadership are in the bones of this place.  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 heroes Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a president of Bowdoin, and Otis Howard, the founder of Howard University in Washington D.C.; Senators George Mitchell and Bill Cohen; Joan Benoit Samuelson and countless others.  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 than 4500 applications for admission this year⎯the second highest total in 207 years.  You can imagine how difficult it was to select a first year class from among the 4500 applicants.  We were able to accept only 24% of the students who applied.  Your sons and daughters are incredibly bright. Nearly 80% of those who were ranked were in the top 10% of their graduating class, 20 are National Merit Scholars.  And they are incredibly accomplished. They sing, act, play myriad musical instruments, dance, lead student governments, play sports, and participate extensively in public service.  They are wonderfully interested, inquisitive people ready for Bowdoin’s challenges.  Your children represent the best and the brightest.

These are challenging times for all of us.  And it is in these times that we must redouble our efforts to deliver on our promise and to achieve all of our aspirations.  We are committed to the excellence of this College.  One aspect of  excellence for us means that we are a campus with a vast array of  experiences and perspective.  This means that we must create and maintain access to Bowdoin to the best and the brightest from around America and the world.  I am proud to say that this Class of 2006 is in many ways the most diverse class in Bowdoin’s history.  Diverse in the broadest sense⎯geographically, socio-economically, racially and internationally.

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 for all four years of College.  We are fortunate that these values are supported by generations of Bowdoin students who are now alums and friends of the College and who have supported the College financially so that our endowment allows us to support this important priority of the College.

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 program 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 in 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 constitutes that core.

Our College is a residential liberal arts college.  What that means is that we believe that it is important and of value for our students to spend the better part of four years on this campus learning in the classroom but also from their peers in this residential setting.   We are committed to the importance of the life of the College since at Bowdoin there are important opportunities to learn and grow in this residential community⎯an opportunity for learning that is different from a big university or even distance learning in front of a computer.  Bowdoin believes that there is more to being educated than merely gathering and accumulating facts and information.  It is the shared enterprise of learning⎯from faculty, staff, coaches, administrators and fellow students in an intense four year residential experience that sets this College apart in important ways from other forms of collegiate education.

Just 6 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 has made the bold and important decision to eliminate fraternities, and they are now gone from this 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 apprehensive 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 for academic affairs⎯but let me speak a bit about something I know a good deal about⎯careers.

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 ethical leaders.

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 Reicher, 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 20,000 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.  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 as parents to be a part of Bowdoin as well.  Last week in the New York Times, Judith Shapiro, the president of Barnard College in New York wrote an op-ed piece about getting parents off the college campus.  President Shapiro wrote about the extent to which parents are involved in education of their children, viewing college as another consumer product to be delivered to their family.  President Shapiro wrote of the intensity with which parents become involved in the admissions process and their students courses and grades once they are at college.  Now, I won’t pretend to say that there wasn’t on this campus from some a muffled roar in support of President Shapiro’s view.  But, as Karen and I have children approaching college age, we of your generation.  We understand the pressures we all feel for our children to succeed and to want to do right by them.  So, as a president and a parent, as in all matters, this is an issue of balance.  

We at Bowdoin welcome you to our community.  We want you to be an important part of Bowdoin for the next four years and beyond.   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, come to the art shows, theatre productions and debate competitions.  Question your sons and daughters about what they’re learning. Test their ability and growth in analyzing problems and communicating.   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.  We know from experience that some will not succeed in all that they do here, but nearly all will succeed in much that Bowdoin has to offer, and succeed in truly remarkable ways.  So, most of all, encourage your sons and daughters to be passionate in their Bowdoin experience, to get lost in generous enthusiasms for learning.

Welcome to Bowdoin.

Now let me introduce you to the Dean for 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 legend on this campus, a man of excellent judgment and a friend.  He will speak to you today about our academic program.