President's Speeches and Remarks

October 18, 2002

I am delighted to welcome you all to Bowdoin on this wonderful fall weekend and to the dedication of our Schwartz Outdoor Leadership Center.

This understated, elegantly designed building nestled in the Bowdoin pines is a very, very important building on this campus.  Buildings on this campus are not merely structures for meetings and gatherings, but the home of important learning, teaching, growing and developing, and places to have fun.  This Schwartz Outdoor Leadership Center is a new home on our campus for creative, rigorous learning and development. 

We all know how important the outdoors is on this campus and to Bowdoin.  Bowdoin’s traditions and its very core are intimately linked to Maine, the Maine woods, lakes, oceans, streams, and mountains.  It is the independence and self-reliance the craggy terrain and harsh weather inspires and requires that help to characterize what this great college is about.  We help young leaders grow and develop on this campus.  I think one day the gene for leadership will be mapped and the biological source of leadership qualities will be identified.  But that quality must be developed, nurtured, and must be enhanced with confidence in oneself physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Bowdoin, the outdoors and what happens in this building are at the essence of what learning to be a leader is all about.

For, at the heart of leadership is judgment⎯sound, fair, safe, risk-taking, aggressive, compassionate judgment⎯I don’t think there is a gene for this⎯although you never know.  And from experience I know that this is the judgment and lesson taught and learned by Mike Woodruff, Lucretia Woodruff and all of the people in our center. In our complicated world today, the lessons of leadership and judgment fostered in this facility and by its leaders is one of the hallmarks of this college and what we stand for. 

This facility is the home of the single largest extracurricular activity on this campus⎯with 25% of our students participating.  In late August, our first-year students⎯70% of them⎯come to campus a week early for their preorientation trips⎯to the mountains, rivers, streams and wild parts of Maine.

Karen and I stopped over at the Farley Field House to see hundreds of students with sleeping bags, eagerly and somewhat gingerly meeting new friends.  We then were going home and saw this house brilliantly lit up with all kinds of activity.  So, in we strolled, to find 40 students lined up at the warehouse back there to gather their gear.  Upper class student leaders of the trips meeting each other and talking with first-years here in the main room.  Excitement, energy, enthusiasm⎯a great way to start college and new experience.

So what does it mean to lead one of these trips to the wilderness?  Well, for you parents out there, it’s like taking your kids⎯all 20 of them⎯on a long and dangerous hike up Mt. Katahdin.  You are responsible for getting them all up and down safely⎯with different levels of ability, with people allergic to bee stings, who may suffer from hypothermia, who might pull a muscle or twist and ankle.  People who might get tired or less than enthused about the 4-5 hour hike up.  That’s leadership⎯judgment and that is what is learned in this place.

Karen and I were the beneficiaries of the talent of our Outing Club this summer. Now my wife is something of an outdoors person⎯she went to camp⎯knows how to canoe and sail and hike⎯she dumped me in the water on our first canoe experience together however.  I, on the other hand, am a suburban and city person⎯camping out⎯ hiking mountains⎯not things I ever did.

Scott Meiklejohn and I were traveling last year together and I suggested a hike in Maine would be a great way for us to experience Maine for the summer.  So, last July 24, Scott, Karen and I piled our gear in the car and we were off to Baxter State Park for a night camping out and a hike up Katahdin.  We had the whole adventure.  We drove into the park and were treated to a Disneyland type view of a moose in a lake.  At the campsite, we met Mike, Lucretia and their son Finnegan, and we had tacos and beans, wine and beer and settled in for a night in a tent in the park.  I got some sleep, Karen was still awake at 5 when Mike started the gas stove for toasted bagels.  My job was to go to the stream and get water bottles filled so Mike could deposit Clorox in them so we could drink on the way up.  I think I must have asked Mike 10 times during the day as to whether drinking this water was safe.

So off we went at 7.  Now for the judgment part.  Scott is a great guy⎯a real hiker⎯but a Colgate guy⎯Mike our leader and Bowdoin guy⎯says to Scott⎯what’s our route?  Up Aboll trail and down the Hunt Trail.  Mike our leader says, “no, the book says Aboll is dangerous so we will go up Hunt and down Hunt, safety first.”  There may have been something related to killing the president of the college or his view of us as wimps or both, but judgment prevailed.

We had a fantastic day⎯following Scott’s lead with those long legs, and Mike’s constant chatter from behind up the mountain and down.  A memorable, unforgettable experience.

Now the next week, we go sea kayaking off Bar Harbor with Devin Lueddeke ⎯an outing club leader who graduated last year and worked for an outing club company in Bar Harbor.  Karen and I paddled around an island or two with Devin showing us the way.  When we returned we helped Devin put our kayaks on the roof of his car⎯ours were relatively light⎯but his weighed a ton⎯why ?⎯ judgment and preparedness⎯filled with foul weather gear and provisions in case of disaster.   Leadership again⎯ judgment and preparedness. 

So this place is about fun⎯but it is really about life lessons and we at Bowdoin are proud of our club and very proud of our new facility.

Finally a word of thanks to all those who made this possible.  First, Steve Schwartz and Paul Mae for their generosity and inspiration.  Both are talented, imaginative spirits who have the vision to allow us to create this opportunity for generations of Bowdoin students.

We would also like to acknowledge the family of Colman Beebe ‘33, whose gift created the Beebe Room where we all sit.  Colman is unable to join us tonight, but we welcome his son and his niece to the College.

Also, a special welcome to the Graustein and Hastings families whose support has been so valuable to us.

And last, please appreciate our wonderful and beautiful hearth named for Jim Lentz, the man who reestablished in the 80’s Bowdoin’s outing club tradition.  Thank you Jim for all your good work and thank you all to all of the Bowdoin and Harvard football players who were coached by Jim who helped us build this hearth.

Thank you all.