Inauguration: Greetings from the Town

By Abigail King, Brunswick Town Council

Good morning,

My name is Abby King. I serve as vice chair of the Brunswick Town Council. I am greatly honored to be here today, celebrating the inauguration of the sixteenth president of Bowdoin College. On behalf of the citizens of Brunswick, I joyfully welcome President Safa Zaki and her partner, Huff Templeton, to our community.

First incorporated as a town in 1739, Brunswick grew rapidly, benefiting from the collective knowledge of its citizens working in the industries of fishing, farming, lumber, and shipbuilding. With the addition of Maine’s first institute of higher learning, Bowdoin College, in 1794, Brunswick would become a nineteenth-century epicenter of neoteric thought, with contributions from both people born in Maine and those arriving in association with the College.

People like Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote her seminal abolitionist novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, right here on Federal Street, and Bowdoin graduate John Brown Russwurm, the third Black man to graduate from an American college and the founder of Freedom’s Journal, the nation’s first Black-owned newspaper.

Throughout the twentieth century, town and gown have hosted some of the nation’s most progressive thinkers, including Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King, Senator George Mitchell, and Geoffrey Canada. Collectively, Brunswick and Bowdoin have been home to explorers, scientists, inventors, Pulitzer Prize winners, Olympic medalists, senators, and social activists. Not bad for a small town, and an even smaller college, in one of the nation’s most remote states. Geography aside, it is truly through this shared legacy of societal trailblazing that the town of Brunswick and Bowdoin College are irrevocably linked.

That is not to say that our shared path has always been smooth. The College and the town have at times disagreed on topics ranging from budget allocations to local land use. And yet, through clear communication, dedication to our shared values, and an authentic appreciation for what each entity brings to the table, a fruitful and valued relationship endures.

Today’s Brunswick is not the town that existed ten, or even five, years ago. When the Brunswick Naval Air Station closed in 2011, there were many who feared it would be the end of this town. But, what we lost in identity as a Navy town, we have gained as a college town. For the first time, our population numbers are back to pre-base-closure levels. And most significantly, with the impact of COVID, the effects of climate change, and shifting immigration patterns, we are welcoming more new residents than ever before.

With twenty-one different languages now spoken in our public schools, we are as culturally diverse a town as we have ever been. And with this transition comes the opportunity to reactivate Brunswick’s longstanding identity as a community dedicated to humanist values, while also embracing the economic and social progress a diverse population brings. It is as exciting a time as the town has ever seen—and, as with any transition, a challenging one as well. And yet I am confident beyond measure that, by working in collaboration, Brunswick and Bowdoin will navigate this era of transition together, and come out the stronger for it.

President Zaki, when the announcement of your election was made, I eagerly read the statement issued by the board, seeking any information that would indicate the style of leadership you would bring to our town. Phrases such as “uniquely positioned to lead for the twenty-first century” and “commitment to the imperatives of diversity, equity, and inclusion” immediately jumped out to me.

We are so fortunate to have someone of your expertise, experience, and priorities join our community, and on behalf of the council, we greatly look forward to working together to navigate and grow through the transformative times ahead.

I will end with a few words of advice for President Zaki and her family on how to enjoy life as a newcomer to Brunswick and to Maine. I thought it best to go straight to the source, so please enjoy these words of wisdom from Ms. Beedy’s second grade class at our own Kate Furbish Elementary:

  • Maine is a good place to live because there are a lot of lakes to swim in and mountains to go on. There is ice cream. There are cool schools—which I’m sure referred to Bowdoin.
  • Someone new to Brunswick should definitely go to the library first. Or maybe the farmers' market.
  • Be ready for the lupines!
  • It is important to know that, in Maine, winter is really cold. You should wear a jacket. Also there are no poisonous snakes—which I Googled, and that is true.
  • Try to be kind and make new friends. Make sure you say jokes to them.

And, finally:

  • My best advice for a new college president is to make sure you don’t turn the wrong corner, get enough sleep, and always, always have snacks.
Thank you.