It is a great occasion for the College, and a real honor for me as president, to participate in the presentation of the Bowdoin Prize to Tom Pickering of the Class of 1953.
The Bowdoin Prize is the highest honor awarded by Bowdoin College. It is also a memorial to one of our most distinguished graduates. The Bowdoin Prize was established in 1928 as a memorial to William John Curtis, of the Class of 1875. I’d like to tell you a bit about Mr. Curtis to highlight the rare qualities associated with the Prize, and therefore with each honorand including of course tonight’s.
Born in Brunswick in 1854, William Curtis attended Brunswick schools and the Franklin Family School in Topsham before enrolling at the College. After Bowdoin, he studied law in Bangor and embarked on further legal studies that landed him, in 1887, at the firm of Sullivan and Cromwell in New York City. As a partner at that firm, he personally handled many of the legal matters connected with the construction of the Panama Canal and the acquisition of the Panama Canal Zone in the first two decades of the last century. During those same years, he was also prominent in the organization of the United States Steel Corporation, serving as its first president.
To some of us, buying the Canal Zone and working with Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan and Charles Schwab to get US Steel organized sounds like a full-time job……….but Mr. Curtis was also a loyal volunteer for the College. He became an Overseer in 1901 and in 1915 he was elected a trustee. To Bowdoin, and always in the name of his Class of 1875, he was very generous. He presented the Class of 1875 Gate, along Park Row, through which some of you walked to arrive at this ceremony tonight. He also gave the Class of 1875 Prize in American History. He also donated the Captain John Curtis Memorial Library to the Town of Brunswick, in memory of his father. I am told that he was so revered in Brunswick that during the hour of his funeral, 78 years ago, ALL places of business in Brunswick were closed.
With these words, the Bowdoin faculty paid tribute to William Curtis after his death: “a man of force and gentleness, tolerant of persons without softness of principle; a man of virtue and a man of the world; beneficent at home and abroad; aiding the College even more by his talents than by his generous gifts of money, he won the admiration of all in Bowdoin who knew him for his qualities of mind and character.”
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Mr. Curtis’ widow and their children established the Bowdoin Prize to memorialize this exceptional man, stipulating in a way that recognized his rare qualities that the prize was to be awarded not more often than every five years. The honoree is “the graduate or former member of the College, or member of its faculty at the time of the award, who shall have made during the period the most distinctive contribution in any field of human endeavor.” They also required that the Bowdoin Prize “shall only be awarded to one who shall, in the judgment of the Committee of Award, be recognized as having won national and not merely local distinction, or who, in the judgment of the Committee, is fairly entitled to be so recognized.” The Committee is comprised of the presidents of Harvard and Yale, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine.
The thirteen previous recipients of the Bowdoin Prize are listed in your program. Their accomplishments in diverse fields – medicine -- business -- athletics -- education -- exploration -- politics -- journalism – are and were distinguished, and the cumulative roster of Prize honorees is a great tribute to Bowdoin’s legacy of principled leadership in many areas of human endeavor. Although it is in no way a requirement of the Prize, we are also fortunate that our recent recipients are so closely engaged with the College: Joan Benoit Samuelson is here with us as she will be at our Trustee meetings tomorrow; I was at a dinner in Boston with Bill Cohen last month when he received the Clara Barton Humanitarian Award from the Red Cross; George Mitchell was very involved in his 50th reunion last year and is a loyal Bowdoin alum; and I’d like to especially recognize Dana Mayo, our pioneer in Microscale chemistry and 1990 Bowdoin Prize recipient, who is with us here tonight. Finally, a special welcome to Linda Johnson, widow of 1973 Bowdoin Prize recipient Len Cronkhite of the Class of 1941.
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Our honoree tonight is Thomas R. Pickering, of the Bowdoin Class of 1953. Tom’s diplomatic career has been exceptional. On some of the most important stages, and with the most influential figures of the 20th century, he has represented our country with honor, integrity and principle. His postings literally cover the globe: in Africa, South Asia, Central America, the Middle East, Europe and of course at the United Nations. His service has been truly remarkable – “the most dazzling diplomatic career of his generation” in the words of one writer. His rank of Career Ambassador is the highest in the U.S. Foreign Service, and he has been honored by U.S. presidents, foreign governments, and by colleges and universities – including Bowdoin – with honorary degrees.
With Tom tonight is his wife and partner in diplomacy, Alice. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Alice over these past four years – and have come to understand her importance in Tom’s career and her service to our country. So as we honor Tom tonight, please join me in recognizing Alice for her important work.
I would also like to welcome to Bowdoin the many members of the Class of 1953 who have come back to Bowdoin tonight to honor Tom. We celebrated your 50th together a couple of years ago and it is great to see you here.
As one of my first real honors as president of Bowdoin, I had the pleasure of introducing Tom to Bowdoin on this stage on September 7, 2001. Tom spoke to us that evening about China, and then only four days later, the unthinkable happened in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.
These are dangerous times, and peace and security are increasingly threatened not only by governments and nations, but also by groups and actions far outside the boundaries of traditional diplomatic channels. In ever more challenging circumstances, the same qualities of intelligence, understanding, resolve and skill that you brought to your work over five decades are required of the new generation of Americans abroad, and we trust that younger Bowdoin diplomats, including Chris Hill, Class of 1974, Larry Butler, Class of 1975, and many others have learned much from your example.
Tom, it is wonderful to have you here tonight, and we welcome your wife Alice and your family members: son Timothy with his wife Carolyn, and your daughter Margaret with her son, Graham.
In a few moments, we are going to be joined, on screen, by some people who want to participate in honoring you. Before we do that, it is my pleasure to read to you a letter we received from William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd President of the United States.
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Again, I thank you all for joining us tonight. Now, please join me as we hear from some people whose faces and voices you will know, as we are reminded of who Tom Pickering is, what he has stood for, and what he has done.