Barry Mills on Warm Weather, the Quad, and the Responsibilities of Stewardship

In his weekly column, President Barry Mills describes the pleasures of an early spring and the draw of an iconic space.

When I talk to prospective students and faculty about the joys of living in Maine, I describe the fall as a glorious season of color; the winter as cold and brilliantly beautiful; and the summer as the best time to be here, with hot sunny days and cool evenings. It is the spring that often is wet, cold, and never seems to actually arrive until we reach Commencement. Spring in Maine is nothing short of “mud season.” But not this year.

In Maine and at Bowdoin this spring we have had warm, sunny days. The campus is green, the trees are well on their way to being lush and green, the tulips are out, and the flowering trees are just beautiful. We must be at least three weeks ahead of our normal season.

For our students, this means lounging on the Quad. One afternoon last week, the students were playing volleyball outside my office. The skateboards are out and the campus has the look of Southern California—okay, maybe not, but at least North Carolina in the spring. It is just great to be at Bowdoin in this weather. As the pressure of exams, papers, and honors projects closes in on our students and faculty, the stresses of this time are relieved by the sun and warm temperatures.

A couple of years ago, I was thinking about Bowdoin and why the place has this sense of an intimate community. I am convinced it is all about our historic quadrangle. Most of the first-year experience borders the Quad. Nearly all the classroom space on campus is on the edges of the Quad. The Quad is the heart of Bowdoin, and it is from the Quad that this place derives its energy.

There are many other campuses in America that are very beautiful. But what makes Bowdoin special is the centrality of the Quad and all that it represents to our sense of place.

Inevitably, the College will grow in the future. As it does, it will be important to remember the vital role this space plays in Bowdoin’s identity. I would argue that all future development must ensure that the quadrangle remains the center of campus, and not simply the geographic center. It must also be the functional center—the space where every member of this community must venture as they go about their daily lives at the College.

Today, at Common Hour, there will be hundreds of people on the Quad at mid-day watching “Museum Pieces,” an annual performance by our dance students and others on the steps of the Walker Art Building. The quadrangle presents the perfect stage for this event as we gather to celebrate the arts, our sense of community, the rites of spring, and the end of another academic year. And in a few short weeks, a different stage will be set in the same place as our seniors assemble to receive their well-earned diplomas. These are the traditions of Bowdoin—the traditions that define our community.

Not every Bowdoin spring will be as glorious as this spring has been so far, and we may not always be able to enjoy the Quad as much as we have this April and May. But it is our responsibility as stewards of this great College to respect and preserve the elegance and centrality of this majestic yet simple space. In doing so, we preserve Bowdoin’s identity and sense of place not only for ourselves, but also for the many generations to come.

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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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