Barry Mills on Summer at Bowdoin

Summer on campus provides a perfect time to reflect on the past and plan for the future, and that’s exactly what President Barry Mills has in mind.

Commencement is over, Reunion Weekend was a big success, and now everyone asks me, “What are you doing for the summer on your vacation?” Well, for those who know me, I suspect you also know that taking the summer off is not part of my constitution. The campus is a lot quieter without our students, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole lot going on.

Annual Campus Picnic

Wednesday was the annual staff picnic at the College. It clearly takes many people to operate a college—especially at the level of Bowdoin—but rarely do these folks gather in one place. Seeing everyone on the lawn outside Thorne Hall celebrating each other and the successful conclusion of another academic year reminds me of the vast number of very talented people who make this College such a fantastic place. I have said many times that I have never worked at a place where people are so dedicated to their jobs and to each other.

We get very high ratings for our food and the general operations of the College. The food is consistently great, and sometimes the College does “run like butter”(as the Princeton Review suggests). But we actually earn these accolades because the people who work at Bowdoin are invested personally in making the place great. The Dining Service workers who know your name and your favorite vegetable, and the staff in Housekeeping who take care of our students are important examples, and there are many others like them in departments and offices all across campus.

Another raffle winner collects a prize and a hug from picnic MC Elmer Moore

At the picnic, I sat down and had lunch at a table with a few of our housekeepers. We talked about how physically demanding their jobs can be. They humored me by acknowledging that my job is tough too—although usually not in a physical sense (I did allow that running through airports and sitting in middle seats can get old and tiring too). We talked about how important it is to do a job that you love and find satisfying. One of my table mates admitted that sometimes her job is a grind, but she has never felt as rewarded as she does today at Bowdoin. Another said to me what a great place the College is—she is 68 and nobody has even suggested she retire. There was wide agreement that Bowdoin’s benefits package is very generous, but there is always room for improvement. Many of the people at the table suggested we consider covering dependent grandchildren for whom their grandparent Bowdoin workers are legal guardians. So, there are always issues to consider, given these difficult times.

Besides the food and good cheer, we also had prizes at the picnic. Gift certificates were awarded by the handful for Cote’s ice cream, gasoline, local restaurants, and for other retailers. The grand prize was a pair of tickets to an upcoming Red Sox game (I decided not to enter the raffle, given my loyalties).

While we were at it—eating, handing out prizes, and visiting with each other—I couldn’t help but notice some guys from Facilities who, after their lunch, were already looking over a ditch near Chamberlain Hall where they are fixing drainage pipes. This is one of many major maintenance projects that get done over the summer—critical work taken on by skilled workers aimed at keeping the campus in top shape.

For me, summer is a time to recharge, but importantly, it is also a time for reflection on the year past and a time to plan for the future. The College has genuine opportunities over the next few years and a number of challenges. During the rapid pace of the academic year there is often not the quiet time to sit with my colleagues throughout the College to think and plan. The summer is a great time for this work.

All of us, regardless of our industry or field, work so hard in our jobs that the opportunity to kick back and have time for reflection is rare. One advantage of the academic calendar is that this time is built into the system. It is time that shouldn’t be squandered, and every day I meet with different folks to think about our challenges and to discuss the analysis we should consider and plans we should develop.

The good news is that a whole lot of this important and valuable work can be done out on our deck in Cundy’s Harbor, on our new boat, and while walking around a golf course. We are in Maine, after all—“The Way Life Should Be!”

I look forward to sharing some reflections weekly with you over the summer. Best wishes for your own summer reflections.


Over the summer, 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

Previous Bowdoin Daily Sun columns by President Barry Mills are available on here or on the Bowdoin website.


  1. Mike Coster says:

    agreat article.
    Speaks well of our college and staff

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