Inauguration: Welcome

By Scott B. Perper ’78, Chair, Board of Trustees

Good morning, I’m Scott Perper, a member of the Bowdoin Class of 1978 and the current chair of the Bowdoin College Board of Trustees.

On behalf of all the trustees, it is my distinct pleasure to welcome all of you to the inauguration of the sixteenth president of Bowdoin College, Safa R. Zaki.

I am especially pleased to acknowledge and welcome the seventy-fifth governor of the state of Maine, Janet Mills, and the first woman to serve in that important role. We are so pleased to have you with us today, governor. Thank you for attending.

We are also joined by Maine Representative Poppy Arford, who represents District 101 here in Brunswick. Thank you, Representative Arford, for coming.

This is a rare and historic occasion for Bowdoin. Rare, because we have installed only fifteen previous presidents since our first inauguration in September 1802 on a stage in the pines just steps away from where we gather today, in that direction. And historic because, today, we inaugurate the first woman to lead our college.
I would like to offer a special welcome to two previous presidents who are with us today: Clayton Rose, who is on the stage with us, and Barry Mills, Class of 1972, seated in front of me. Thank you, Clayton and Barry, for all you have done for Bowdoin and for being here today. You honor Safa and all of us with your presence.

Please also join me in recognizing and thanking Julianne Rose and Karen Gordon Mills. Thanks to both of you for all you have done for Bowdoin too! It is wonderful to have you back at the College.

Our thirteenth president, Bob Edwards, and Blythe Edwards were hoping to be with us today. While they are unable to attend, I’m told they are watching online. Thank you, Bob and Blythe, for your many contributions to Bowdoin and for participating remotely in this joyous event.

To Safa’s husband, Huff Templeton, and daughters, Adly and Sabrina, welcome officially to the Bowdoin community, and thank you for your partnership and support of Safa through our selection process and going forward.

As I look out at all of you under this grand tent, it is wonderful to see so many faculty, staff, and students, our trustees, and so many alumni of the College spanning more than seventy class years.

We are also joined by fifty-nine delegates from other colleges and universities—including eleven sitting presidents—by members of the Brunswick and Maine communities, and by Safa’s friends and colleagues. Welcome to you all!

I am pleased to introduce five individuals who will each offer greetings to President Zaki at the conclusion of my remarks.

They include:

  • For the faculty, Professor Danielle Dube;
  • For the students, Paul Wang of the Class of 2024;
  • For the town, Brunswick Town Council vice chair Abbie King;
  • For the State of Maine, Olympic champion Joan Benoit Samuelson of the Class of 1979, and for the academy
  • Williams College president Maud S. Mandel.

We all look forward to your remarks.

There is no more important a responsibility for the board of trustees than selecting a president for our college. It is careful and time-consuming work guided in this case by search committee cochairs and trustees Sydney Asbury of the Class of 2003 and Bertrand Garcia-Moreno of the Class of 1981, with representatives drawn from the trustees, faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Their names are in your program. I cannot possibly express my appreciation strongly enough to this group, for their incredible dedication, commitment of time, their openness to listen and consider the views of fellow committee members, and their focused determination to find the right person to lead this historic institution.

In 1977, during my junior year at Bowdoin, I was elected to serve on a previous presidential search committee. Immediately after that vote, I woke up in the middle of the night realizing I had no idea what a college president did, let alone what kind of a person would make a great president. So, I scheduled a meeting with then-president Roger Howell, went to his office, and explained my quandary to him. Without missing a beat, he leaned back in his chair and said, “Scott, you need to find someone with the hide of a rhinoceros and the soul of a philosopher.”

Our search committee expanded on those two fundamental qualifications through an extensive process, which included over forty listening sessions with members of the Bowdoin community. The sum of what we heard was that we needed to also find a person who is committed to the liberal arts, has a deep respect for the academy, an understanding of how to build inclusivity in a diverse community, a team builder, a natural leader who can both craft a strategic vision and exercise sound judgment when faced with difficult choices, a person who has a deep understanding of the finances and who can fundraise, and an individual who embraces and perpetuates the time-honored values of our college. As we gather here today, and because of the work of our committee, led by Sydney and Bertrand and staffed so ably by Eli Orlic, we know we have found all of these things—and more—in Safa Zaki.

Today, as we celebrate this success bedecked in splendid regalia symbolizing the quest for knowledge and the pursuit of excellence, we also reaffirm our college’s commitment to a liberal arts education, to diversity and inclusion, and, as President McKeen described in the first inaugural address, to the common good.

While these ceremonies connect us to centuries of tradition, they are also meant to point us to the future. Over the past year I have had the opportunity to speak with a host of current and retired college presidents, and with chairs of other college and university boards. To a one, they spoke about the tremendous challenges that a college president faces today: financial complexities and sustainability, student mental health, demographic shifts, technological disruptions, a changing landscape for admissions following the recent Supreme Court decision, and I could go on.

Of course, Bowdoin and our presidents have faced demanding times in the past while continuing to thrive. In Safa Zaki, we have found a leader who appreciates the history and traditions of our college and the academy, who can meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, and who understands and will exceed the expectations of our community. Safa has now been president for just over one hundred days and, during that time, I have received numerous emails and voicemails expressing pure excitement about her leadership.

I have never been more optimistic about Bowdoin’s future, more confident in our faculty and staff, or more excited about the incredible opportunities now and into the future for the amazingly talented students here today and those we will bring in the years ahead to this special campus on the extraordinary coast of Maine.

Thank you, Safa, for answering our call; on behalf of the entire board, know that we stand ready to support you during your presidency— congratulations!