Barry Mills on the Gifts of Art, Change and Excellence

President Barry Mills discusses an important gift to the Arctic Museum, the changing Campus and what some are calling “the greatest five minutes in Bowdoin athletic history.”

The last week at Bowdoin as we approach the Thanksgiving break is filled with activity. In fact, it is hard to figure out how to clone yourself to make it to all the events on the calendar. But the variety of what I encountered over the last few days is indicative of all that is happening at the College.

Last Thursday night we had the opening at the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum of an exhibit showcasing a recent and important gift of Inuit art—the collection of Robert and Judith Toll. Susan Kaplan, the director of the Arctic Museum, has been working with the Tolls for about a decade discussing the importance of this collection to Bowdoin. In fact, the Tolls are among the very first people I met when I became president of the College on my first trip to San Francisco for Bowdoin. The collection is important, dynamic, and vivid. And the modifications to the museum space to accommodate the exhibit are quite special and a real tribute to the museum staff, particularly David Maschino.

Yesterday, I was invited to participate in a first-year seminar led by Professor Jill Pearlman titled “Campus: Landscape, Architecture, and the Educational Ideal.” I joined the class for their 90-minute get together and enjoyed answering the first-year students’ questions about how the College thinks about space, and how we think about design and function. A number of students wanted to discuss the question I get asked all the time: “How is Bowdoin different today from the Bowdoin I attended so many years ago?” I always answer with one important word: women.

This was the second class I participated in this year at the College. I was invited a number of weeks ago by Professor Brian Purnell to join his first-year seminar on affirmative action. This class was also highly engaged and intellectually charged. Given my legal training, I went directly at the students to measure their understanding of the 14th Amendment and its history and legal implications. I was very impressed with their knowledge, and we had a very nuanced conversation about affirmative action from a policy and legal perspective. And these students are only in the first year at Bowdoin!

The Bowdoin Daily Sun has recognized this weekend as the “greatest five minutes in Bowdoin athletic history.” I suspect that there are many out there who remember their five minutes of fame on the Bowdoin fields and could cite their own examples of Bowdoin victory and celebration. But this past weekend was pretty sweet. I was disappointed that I couldn’t get to Virginia to celebrate with the Bowdoin field hockey team as they won their third national championship in four years. I admit it is great to win. But what is really important for the young women on this team, especially the seniors, is the experience of commitment to an effort that has demonstrated such sustained excellence. We learn many lessons from sports, and the lesson of committed effort leading to sustained excellence is a life lesson that will benefit these women in whatever they choose to do throughout their lives.

I also got to watch the Bowdoin men’s soccer team beat Amherst on penalty kicks and then, on the very next day, I joined an enthusiastic home crowd who saw them defeat Middlebury with zero seconds on the clock in the first overtime. With these wins, Bowdoin earned the right to compete in the NCAA Men’s National Semifinals in San Antonio on December 3. It just doesn’t get any better than that!

The mere fact that three NESCAC teams were on the field at this level speaks to the strength of our league and demonstrates that highly selective schools with very talented academic students held to the highest standards are also able to perform and compete at the highest level in athletics. From a very personal perspective, the goal keeper, Dan Hicks, and another starter, Danny Chaffetz, are young men I have known for nearly their entire lives, as they went to school in New York City with my son Henry. It was a real thrill to share in their success at Bowdoin along with the rest of the team.

Thanksgiving recess is now upon us. Many of our students will be traveling home to their families. But a good number of our students will remain on campus, since it is just too far to go home for such a short break. I want to recognize and thank the host families in Brunswick who take these students into their homes for the holiday—it is another special part of Bowdoin.

Thanksgiving is a time when so many travel to be with their families and friends. Many in our community will be in the airports experiencing the “joy of travel” on the busiest of weekends and participating in the national experience of security checkpoints. I look forward to our local reports on the experience.

I wish everyone a safe journey and a Happy Thanksgiving. After all the turkey and stuffing and gatherings with family and friends, I look forward to welcoming everyone back to campus safe and sound.


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

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


  1. Bob Delaney '55 says:

    Well said !

    Bob Delaney ’55

  2. Keith Halloran '77 says:

    AWESOME !!! Hear HEAR !!!

  3. Don Doele '59 says:

    Good to see the mention of those here in Brunswick who open their homes to students. Those same residents thank the College for their openess to us, from auditiong courses, to all the athletic and cultural events that we “freely” participate in.

    Don Doele ’59

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