October 14, 2006
Good morning. My name is Barry Mills and I am the president of Bowdoin College.
It is my privilege to bring greetings from the ten other member colleges of the New England Small College Athletic Conference, and to join with you in celebrating Connecticut College and the inauguration of Leo Higdon as your tenth president.
Earlier this morning, I had the opportunity to join in a panel discussion about the role of athletics within the liberal arts. After thinking about athletics at our colleges, it occurred to me that Bowdoin and Connecticut colleges probably experience a similar set of misunderstandings -- misunderstandings about ....our mascots.
You may know that Bowdoin's mascot is the polar bear, a creature well adapted to severe cold -- to places where the temperature can plunge to 40 to 50 below zero and stay that way for weeks on end.
Your own mascot -- the camel -- is, of course, native to the dry and desert areas of northern Africa and Asia.
Polar bears, thought by some to be cute and cuddly, are actually enormous, aggressive, curious, and extremely dangerous to humans.
Camels, which are thought to be ill-tempered, stubborn creatures who kick and spit, are actually good-natured, intelligent, and quite patient -- even if they do frequently choose to ignore commands from humans.
I trust we are both tireless in reassuring prospective students that New London is no more arid than Brunswick is constantly frozen. And I am certain that Connecticut is able -- with those who will listen -- to explain that it is the endurance, fortitude, and strength of the camel that places it near and dear to the hearts of Connecticut alumni, just as we at Bowdoin are able to tie the polar bear to a tradition of exploration, courage, and dignity.
The fact is that those of us at liberal arts colleges have quite a lot of explaining to do these days. We are frequently explaining the enduring value of the liberal arts in a society that demands concrete quantifiable results. We offer evidence that our model of education is at least as relevant today as it has always been. And we express with confidence our fervent belief that our model of undergraduate education remains the very best way to produce the leaders our country and the world so desperately needs.
On Columbus Day, President Higdon's views on the liberal arts were published in The Hartford Courant. He wrote that his own degree in history took him from the Peace Corps to Wall Street to leadership roles in academia. It is a story often told. It is my own story, and that of a countless number of leaders in our society.
At Bowdoin and Connecticut, at Williams and Amherst -- at all of our NESCAC colleges -- we believe that our primary mission is to prepare a person for a lifetime of learning. While we recognize and provide the set of essential skills every student must master to be successful in the workplace and in life, we know that we prepare our students best when we expose them to a range of ideas, disciplines, and cultures that will enable them to respond in creative and sophisticated ways to their changing environments, both for their own benefit and for the benefit of society. In the process, our students gain an invaluable confidence in their ability to meet new challenges throughout their lives.
Leading our institutions is challenging work. There are planes to catch, speeches to deliver, committees to chair, large sums of money to raise, and... parking. There always seems to be something to do with parking.
But this is remarkably rewarding work that has attracted, in Leo Higdon, a proven leader in education and business, a person with a firm belief in what you do here, and a president with the ability to work closely and collaboratively with others to shape the future of your college in ways that will make you proud.
Exactly one-hundred years ago, in 1906, William deWitt Hyde published his landmark book, The College Man and the College Woman. Hyde was Bowdoin's seventh president, but he was also among the period's most prolific writers on the subject of higher education. In his book, Hyde provided "The Offer of the College" -- a passage of special meaning at Bowdoin, but one that aptly describes what we mean to be at all of the NESCAC colleges:
To be at home in all lands and all ages;
To count Nature a familiar acquaintance,
And Art an intimate friend;
To gain a standard for the appreciation of others' work
And the criticism of your own;
To carry the keys of the world's library in your pocket,
And feel its resources behind you in whatever task you undertake;
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 -
This is the offer of the college for the best four years of your life.
To members of the Connecticut College community, and particularly to Leo and Ann Higdon: congratulations on this day of excitement and renewal, and best wishes from your friends within NESCAC for what I trust will be some of the best years of your lives.