Published June 04, 2022 by Bowdoin News

Reunion Convocation 2022 Remarks (June 4, 2022)

Good morning. 

Welcome back to campus and to the college you love.

I’m delighted that you are all here this morning to help us honor Ron Brady, Sarah McMahon, Linda Nelson, Ellen Shuman, and Kate Stern.

Before we get to this morning’s well-deserved honors, I’d like to share a few thoughts on the life at the College today and also the fiftieth anniversary of women at Bowdoin. Bowdoin remains a powerful transformative experience for our students, as it was when you were here. Different, of course, in so many ways, but the commitment to the common good and an experience inspired by The Offer of the College remain at our core.

Last Saturday morning, we conferred Bowdoin degrees on the Class of 2022 and it marked the conclusion of a year when we slowly saw the College return to something that feels more normal.

It was a joyous occasion. The Quad was filled with smiles, hugs, a real sense of community, and of course, an immense sense of pride and accomplishment.

Our students had their college education profoundly shaped by the pandemic. This class dealt with all the challenges COVID-19 threw at them. Notwithstanding the disappointments, challenges, and an experience that was different from what they anticipated, our students were amazing. As I said to them on Saturday, they supported one another and took care of themselves. They dug deep to overcome everything they faced. They crafted their Bowdoin education and experience, and they were nothing short of magnificent in confronting and overcoming this historic challenge.

Of course, they were supported in this by our faculty, our staff, their parents, our alumni—all of you—and by our neighbors in the Brunswick community.

We gathered in front of the Chapel to congratulate senior Alex Tyson as he was commissioned second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. We were honored to have former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, class of 1962, at the ceremony.

We celebrated the first THRIVE class of more than seventy students who earned their Bowdoin degrees.

And we remembered three students in this class whom we lost: Henry Zeitlow, who died after his first semester, and Theodore Danzing and Finnegan Woodruff, who died just seventeen days apart last fall. Theo and Finn both completed enough credits to graduate, and each did so cum laude, with Theo elected to Phi Beta Kappa, posthumously. It was a somber moment, and a special special.

As always, Commencement was the culmination of a year of progress and achievement. 

This year, Bowdoin students were once again honored with major academic prizes. Two of our seniors were awarded $36,000 Watson Fellowships, with only forty-two granted nationwide. Another senior was awarded an National Sceinec Foundation fellowship for graduate study—something that rarely happens as an undergraduate. For the first time, all of our Goldwater finalists—four members of the junior class—were awarded the prestigious scholarship for their promise in the natural sciences, engineering, and math. And Bowdoin continued to lead the nation in the number of students receiving Fulbright grants at a baccalaureate institution.  And there were many more.

In March, students traveled on “alternative spring break” trips to Arizona, Florida, Appalachia, New York City, Philadelphia, Puerto Rico, and rural Maine to learn about issues like immigration, access to housing and social services, environmental racism, agricultural sustainability, digital literacy, and others—and about what is required to make change.

Beyond spring break, Bowdoin students continue to live the common good and to serve in a multitude of ways, last year providing over 40,000 hours of direct service here in town, in Maine, around the US, and all over the world.

As you well know, our success starts with our faculty. The Bowdoin faculty lead our students—as they always have—through four years of rigorous inquiry, discovery, and collaboration. They set the standards of excellence that define the academic program, and in the process, they cultivate strong personal connections that are at the center of our great liberal arts education.

Faculty published books, produced compelling works of art, theater, and music, and served as authorities for the news media on subjects including the war in Ukraine, China-Russia relations, the challenges of teaching during a pandemic, incentives for innovation, the intersection of consumer behavior and politics, environmental injustices during World War II, cancel culture, educating for democracy, and Maine's role in slavery, among others. And one of our scientists had her research featured on the cover of Science magazine.

Among the many awards collected by Bowdoin faculty this year were fellowships and grants from NASA, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Claremont Institute, among others.

And this year, like every year, we added a few great young teacher/scholars to our faculty. Bowdoin remains a college where the very best want to teach and do their research.

It has been another robust year for jobs for our students, and Bowdoin alumni continue to be a critical foundation for internships and jobs for our graduating seniors.

Over the last few years, we have reimagined career planning at Bowdoin, with an “entry to exit” philosophy and a view that we have a responsibility to help every student prepare themselves to land that first job. 

This effort has many components—great staff, relationships with employers in every sector, funding for unpaid internships, and deep alumni engagement.   

The centerpiece is our Sophomore Bootcamp, which had its third year in February, and now is required of all sophomores. It is a weeklong program held just before the beginning of the spring semester that helps students better understand the jobs that are available, develop the skills to get the jobs, and acquire the tools to be successful in those jobs. Central to this program is the more than 300 alumni and parents who volunteered their time to engage with our students in a variety of ways.

The Class of 2022 is pursuing a wide range of career interests, including nonprofit, finance, tech and startups, medicine, the arts, and many other sectors.

And, of course, it is not all work and no play, even during a pandemic. There was no shortage of fun this year, as our students did what students have always done. They gathered for concerts and festivals, they held events on the Quad and in the College Houses, they talked through the night in their rooms about all issues great and trivial, they found the most imaginative ways to party together, they brought one another home during breaks, they goofed around, and on occasion they cleaned up really well and danced the night away.

This year we saw the largest applicant pool in the College’s history, with just about 9,500 prospective students hoping to fill the 500 spots reserved for the Class of 2026. No other college among our peers yields a higher percentage of its admitted students than Bowdoin—we are attracting the right students to apply and are selecting the ones who really want to be here.

This is the first year that we have admitted community college transfer students, and the third where we have admitted veterans.  In the coming years we will build these cohorts to create a critical mass on campus of students with backgrounds and life experiences that are different from the students we’ve traditionally admitted.

Fifty percent of the Class of 2026 will receive need-based financial aid from the College. Bowdoin is one of only twenty-one colleges and universities in the country offering a combination of need-blind admission, no-loan financial aid, and a commitment to meet the full demonstrated need of each admitted student. We support families with a wide variety of financial needs, from those with the lowest incomes to middle- and upper-middle-class families. This allows us to attract the very best students regardless of their economic circumstances and to remain among America’s exceptional colleges and universities. 

A few weeks ago, we dedicated the Schiller Coastal Studies Center out on Orr’s Island. Made possible by the great generosity of Kim and Phil Schiller, parents of a 2017 graduate and Phil a trustee, these new facilities will allow us to push the boundaries of our teaching, learning and scholarship with respect to marine and environmental science. And, together with the Roux Center for the Environment, the John and Lile Gibbons Center for Arctic Studies that is under construction, and the Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island in the Bay of Fundy, we have four unique physical facilities addressing some of the world’s most important issues across a variety of disciplines. Next up is figuring out how to pull together all of the work being done at each in a cohesive whole, something that will be unique among liberal arts colleges.

Next to the Gibbons Center is Barry Mills Hall, an academic building named for our fourteenth president, who is celebrating his fiftieth reunion this weekend, and who led our College so incredibly well for fourteen years. It will be completed in the first half of next year. These are Maine’s first complete mass timber commercial structures, and they underscore Bowdoin’s continued commitment to sustainable building projects.

In May, we announced “Sustainable Bowdoin 2042,” a plan to invests a minimum of $100 million in campus infrastructure between now and 2037 to become carbon free by 2042. And we have been recognized nationally for our leadership in sustainability.

As so many of you know, one of my core beliefs is that the mission of a great college includes being a place where ideas of all kinds are engaged, even those (or especially those) with which we disagree or that make us uncomfortable or can offend us. We have worked hard to further this idea and culture here, and it is the centerpiece of what I talk about each August with our new first-year students – building the skills and disposition to be “intellectually fearless.” 

We have done good work on this front, and we have sustained it. Over the last several years, we have had speakers on campus like Arthur Brooks, Susan Collins, Jason Reily, Larry Lindsey and others, these folks invited by me, others invited by student groups.  Our student affairs team has built programming to develop the skills of engagement with difficult and charged issues. This year, we had Arthur back, and two students asked for and receive funding from the student government to attend CPAC.  That said, this work is getting much, much harder given all that is going on beyond our campus. The resistance in society more generally to engaging with ideas that are different from our own continues to increase unabated, to the point where we now have state legislatures dictating what can be taught based on what offends their sensibilities. But, we will keep at it.

Our work to create equity of opportunity and a true sense of belonging, regardless of our race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or other aspects of our identities, continues. As I have shared with you in writing on a number of occasions over the last two years, this effort is ongoing in every part of the College, and is anchored by three pillars of work.

First, is our effort to provide training for the community on the realities of the inequity of opportunity based on identity, starting with race, so we have a collective understanding of the problems and issues. This will allow us to create the skills and disposition to have honest discussions about the hardest issues to talk about in America society.

Second, we are examining or policies, practices, and behaviors to ensure that we are eliminating barriers to equity of opportunity and belonging.

Third, we are in the midst of a project examining the College’s history with respect to race, in particular with the Black community and indigenous peoples. Once the history is ready, sometime this fall, it will be made available to the community and we will move to the second phase. Here, a group of faculty, students, staff, alumni and trustees will examine the report, get feedback from the community and then make recommendations to me and the board on any implications our history has for us today and decisions we make in the future.

This year we announced the creation of four new endowed chairs, for scholars and artists from across the academic spectrum whose teaching and research will address race, racism, and racial justice on an interdisciplinary basis, with a particular focus on the challenges, histories, and cultures of Black communities in the Americas. They are fully funded by donors and are named in honor of four distinguished Black graduates of the College.  They are Mathhew Branche ’49, Iris David ’78, Rasuli Lewis ’73 and Frederic Morrow ’30, H ‘70.

The College also celebrated the formation of the Bowdoin College Black Alumni Association, which held its inaugural in-person meeting here this weekend.

And of course, this year we have been celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of coeducation at Bowdoin. It was the fall of 1971 when the first class of women matriculated at the College. Many are here with us this weekend, as are many of the women in the next few classes, all of whom broke new ground and forever changed the College.

This was not change that came easily to the College, and it was not done in one fell swoop or in a straight line. There was resistance from some quarters, and the campus was not fully prepared—either physically or psychologically—for the arrival of classes with large numbers of women. Change was—and is—hard, even under the best of circumstances.

The College was committed. It moved ahead, invested and adapted, and the women who were here persevered and required of us that we be better. And so, we have. Not perfect, but much better.

Today over half of our students and more than half of our faculty are women. Of the twenty-one trustees appointed since 2015, eleven are women, with 40 percent of the board now being women. Two of our last three board chairs have been women.

Last weekend we honored five women with honorary degrees. It was the first time in our history that we have had a class of only women honorands. Each is an amazing example of leadership, courage, and of service to the common good. And, for the first time in our history, we had a woman—Callie Curtis, from that groundbreaking first class of 1975—lead the alumni in the procession.

Our From Here comprehensive campaign, launched in February of 2020, with the goal of raising $500 million, is going exceptionally well – thanks to you.  The campaign’s core goals are to make three promises tangible for Bowdoin students: the promise of broad and full access to the Bowdoin experience, the promise of a transformative education, and the promise of that first job that opens the door to a meaningful career.

Today, we stand at almost $433 million, or 86.5% of our goal, from over 16,000 donors, with two years left.  I look forward to working with many of you to get us across the finish line before I step down next year. Thank you.

Let me touch on my decision to step down as president a year from now, on June 30, 2023.  This was a very hard decision for Julianne and me. We love the College, and the many great relationships we have built here with faculty, staff, students, parents, friends in the Brunswick community, and with you—so many of our alumni, and very special to us. The idea of leaving was, is, heart-wrenching for us. But this is the right decision for Bowdoin. 

Every president, every leader, has the important responsibility of determining when the time is right. Bowdoin is stronger than it has ever been across every dimension, and as I took stock this year of what we have accomplished together and where we are, it became clear to me that it is again time to take a long-term view of the opportunities and challenges for the College, to begin to chart the path further forward, and then to move down that path. This is the right moment for a new leader. That said, I am not going anywhere for a year, and I am very much looking forward to the work that remains, and to spending time with as many of you as possible.

I would like to take a moment to recognize and honor our three 50thReunion Classes. This group of classes experienced a lot together and have much in common. Classes of 1970, 1971, and 1972, the changes you saw on campus, society, and the world were remarkable. You arrived at Bowdoin in formal attire, were required to attend Chapel services, and lived in all-male dorms. You left with long hair, in jeans, women became a part of Bowdoin, and graduated into a much more complicated world. Your shared experiences included sharply divided views about the Vietnam War, the bombing of Cambodia and the vote to go on strike in the spring of 1970 after Kent State.

Your classes proudly shared milestones such as the first woman to receive an undergraduate degree from Bowdoin -- the late Susan Jacobsen in 1971 -- and you ushered in a new era of coeducation; also within your classes are the origins of the Afro-American Society, as students pressed the College administration to meet targets for diversifying the student body and the faculty. Your classes were a powerhouse on athletic fronts as well, providing memorable seasons in basketball, hockey and football, to name a few.

For you, here’s a little trip down memory lane.

[Yearbook images are shown]

As you enjoy the weekend and time together, I hope that I’ve provided you with some sense of our College this year—a life of deep intellectual accomplishment, of engagement in so many endeavors, and of growth, fun, and friendship.

Bowdoin is one of a handful of exceptional colleges and universities in this country. We provide a comprehensive and rigorous education, teach our student how to think—not what to think—and we prepare them for success and satisfaction in life and work. We also make sure that any student who earns a spot here can come to Bowdoin regardless of economic circumstance—both a core value and essential to remaining an exceptional college.

All of this is possible only because of you—because of your remarkable devotion to the College. 

For over 200 years Bowdoin has been changing lives, and we will continue to do so for the next 200.

Thank you for all you do for the College we love.