Januray 21, 2004
Good evening. It is a privilege to represent Bowdoin College here tonight and to join a table of other Bowdoin alumni - all sitting at table 18 - and all of you in honoring Senator George Mitchell of the Class of 1954.
Many of you know that Bowdoin is a liberal arts college of 1,600 students located on the coast of Maine. We are situated perfectly to attract students from Los Angeles. We are 3,000 miles away, the Weather Channel would suggest that we are a bit weather challenged at this time of the year, and our mascot is the Polar Bear. But despite all of this, students in southern California understand the quality of Bowdoin and the importance of a liberal arts education, and we have many students at Bowdoin from Los Angeles and southern California, and we are delighted they have come to our college.
The College must have seemed nearly as far away to George Mitchell back in 1950 when, at the age of 16, he set off on foot from his home in Waterville, Maine (about an hour north of our campus), and hitchhiked to the campus in Brunswick. For the College, it is our extreme good fortune that George not only got a ride on that spring morning, but that he liked what he saw when he arrived. He would later describe it as a "feeling of awe."
Today, it is we who are in awe of an exemplary career in public service...of tireless efforts to secure peace in tormented places...of a steadfast commitment to the poor, to education, and to the environment. And particularly in awe of a level of energy and ethical leadership that inspires countless people and continues to produce tangible achievements of lasting good.
Colleges talk a lot about the need to educate leaders. At Bowdoin, we take it a little bit further and talk about the need to educate principled leaders - men and women who will use their knowledge and skills not simply for personal advantage, but for the Common Good. George Mitchell is advocate and exemplar for this philosophy, and we couldn't be more proud of him or of the high standards he sets for our students.
During his many visits to our campus over the years, Senator Mitchell has never failed to express his appreciation for the assistance he received - in the form of financial aid and part-time jobs - to attend Bowdoin. Today, George Mitchell continues to be a champion for extending similar assistance to young people who would otherwise not have the means for education. We are proud of the example he has set: the son of working class Maine parents who rose through hard work and a keen mind to lead the United States Senate. We tell his story all the time and remain committed to educating a new generation of leaders from across the country regardless of the obstacles they may perceive. It's not charity. Rather, it is an intentional investment in the future of our society that pays dividends - dividends personified by the man we honor tonight.
So on behalf of Bowdoin College, I offer thanks to the Hospitaller Foundation for establishing this awards program.
To you, Senator Mitchell, I offer heartfelt congratulations from your college for this well-deserved honor. We are grateful for your work on behalf of Maine and our nation. We are grateful for your loyalty to Bowdoin College. And we are especially grateful to whoever it was who gave you that ride to Brunswick 54 years ago.