Barry Mills on Honors, Gratitude, and a Victory Lap for the Class of 2010

In his weekly column, President Barry Mills reflects on the closing days of the academic year as the Class of 2010 prepares to move on.

Wednesday was a milestone day at Bowdoin—the last day of classes for this academic year. Bowdoin is a very rigorous place and the students and faculty put enormous energy into their work. A great deal of that work remains to be done before the semester actually ends. There are exams, papers, honors projects, and various loose ends that need to be tied together. But the last day of classes in the spring is a welcome relief for everyone who has labored so hard over the course of the year. Today, everyone is walking around campus with a lighter step and a broader smile because summer recess is just around the corner. In the distant past, we thought of this recess as vacation, but for our faculty it is now when they renew their scholarship, and for our students, it is time to earn some money and gain some valuable “real world” experience.

Honor’s Day 2010

It is also a bittersweet time on the campus as we begin to honor and say good-bye to our seniors. Last Friday, I gave out the important leadership awards to members of our senior class—the Haldane Cup, the Dunlap Prize, the Micciche Award, and the President’s Award, to name a few. We had a small reception for these fabulous students to recognize all they have accomplished at Bowdoin. This week, on Wednesday, it was Honors Day. We gathered in the evening in Studzinski Hall’s magnificent Kanbar Auditorium to recognize our most talented students for their academic and intellectual achievements during this academic year. Awards were given in nearly every department and program at the College, and the descriptions of accomplishment by our students reflect the intensity of intellectual engagement that characterizes Bowdoin today. I remembered many of the honorees from the very first day, nearly four years ago, when they came to my office to sign the matriculation book, and I was very proud to sit among them Wednesday as president of this College.

Thursday afternoon we celebrated the annual Scholarship Luncheon, an event that is, for many of us, the most important and emotional gathering of the year. Thorne Hall was packed, as hundreds of students dined with the alumni, parent, and friend donors who have so generously provided the financial aid that allows these young men and women to be at Bowdoin. It is a chance for folks to get to know one another, for our students to say thank you, and for our donors to put a real live face on the concept and expense of financial aid. It is unquestionably true that our commitment to need-blind admissions is consistent with our commitment to the Common Good. And it is surely also true that it is our responsibility to make sure Bowdoin is a college and community that “looks like America” in its representation of students of color and students from modest backgrounds. The annual Scholarship Luncheon makes these commitments all the more real and personal for hundreds of students and their Bowdoin benefactors.

Scholarship Luncheon 2010

It is a coincidence of the calendar that Honors Day immediately precedes the Scholarship Luncheon, but like many coincidences in life, there is a strong connection between the two. Many of the most talented people we honored Wednesday night at Honors Day were also at our lunch on Thursday to thank their Bowdoin benefactors. For me, and many others, it is heartwarming and immensely gratifying to sit in the audience at the Honors Day ceremony and know that some of the very best students being recognized would not be at Bowdoin today without the generosity of spirit of our alumni, parents, and friends

Bowdoin is a very, very attractive place for students of great promise, and this year, the admissions process has been powerfully competitive (I will report our results in a few more weeks—I promise!). As Jim Miller—our former Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid who is now at Brown—wrote to me last night, we all know that there is a flight to quality by high school seniors and we should be enormously proud that Bowdoin is on that flight path. My message yesterday at the Scholarship Luncheon was to remind folks in the room that it is their generosity to our students and to Bowdoin that keeps us squarely on that path. It was also to remind everyone present that our work is never done; that we must recommit ourselves to generating the resources necessary to make a Bowdoin education possible for every young man and woman who deserves to be at the College. Only then do we keep our College strong.

One last reflection for today: like many of you, I can remember how different I felt in my connection to Bowdoin as soon as Commencement had ended and I prepared to leave the College. That’s why I make it a point to remind seniors on campus that their relationship with Bowdoin is about to change. I tell them to savor these last couple of weeks as Bowdoin students, because while they will still be connected to the College in meaningful ways as they drive away, that connection will be different. Not that being an alumnus or alumna isn’t wonderful—it surely is. It’s just that these last days and moments as a Bowdoin student are so special. Now is the time to enjoy these moments, and to lock in those feelings and all the memories. Watching the faces of the seniors as I send this message, I know they get it—they are very smart Bowdoin people.

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In the coming weeks, I will continue to offer my thoughts on subjects interesting to me or of importance to the College, but I want to hear your ideas too. If there is a subject you’d like me to address, send me an e-mail at mills@bowdoin.edu

Previous Bowdoin Daily Sun columns by President Barry Mills are available on the Bowdoin Web site.

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