Barry Mills: Reunion Convocation 2012 Address


In his Reunion Convocation address June 2, 2012, President Barry Mills thanked alumni, parents and friends of the College for their generous and vital support, and reiterated that Bowdoin’s future depends on the ongoing commitment to providing financial aid and maintaining access for those who have earned the privilege of studying at the College. Amid celebrating his own 40th Reunion — and while entering his 12th year in the president’s office — Mills reflected on what it means to lead the College as an alumnus.

Good morning. Welcome back to Bowdoin. And to those of you “from away,” welcome back to Maine.

It is really an honor for me to stand before you this morning as president of Bowdoin. I’ve said it many times at these events, but I have to restate that I am enormously proud — as an alumnus who reveres the history and traditions of this College — to have the opportunity to lead Bowdoin over the past eleven years.

President Barry Mills '72 speaking at 2012 Reunion Convocation.

President Barry Mills ’72 speaking at 2012 Reunion Convocation.

I also admit to being more than a little humbled by the responsibility I have to all of you who feel so deeply about this College and are committed to its future.

Again this year, Bowdoin has been the beneficiary of a striking level of generous support from alumni, parents, and friends — support that means a great deal financially, but also represents a gratifying level of confidence in the College by people who matter most and who know Bowdoin best: alumni who appreciate first-hand the lasting benefits of a Bowdoin education; friends who see this College as a beacon; and past and present parents who, in addition to meeting the significant costs of educating their daughters and sons here, step forward to do even more.

In a few moments, you will learn about the impressive level of giving by the classes represented in this arena today. This is your time to take well-deserved pride in all that you do for Bowdoin and, through Bowdoin, for higher education in America. This is our opportunity to thank you once again, wholeheartedly, for your vital support.

As you walk around campus on this beautiful spring weekend in Maine, I hope you also have a sense of pride in your College. Ours is among the most picturesque and historic college campuses in the world. And I am certain that as you stand in the middle of the Quad this weekend you will all remember what an extraordinary place this is and what it means to you.

I would like to recognize four special people here today:

My wife, Karen, the Administrator of the Small Business Administration and, for the class of 2007 here today, an etiquette instructor, among her many other roles at Bowdoin;

Don Kurtz, of the Class of 1954, is over there somewhere — a former Board chair and important trustee for years and years;

Steve Gormley, of the Class of 1972, my boss, and chair of the Bowdoin Board of Trustees; and

Fred Thorne, Class of 1957, former chair of the Board of Trustees and most trusted advisor to Bowdoin presidents — my choice as “Mr. Bowdoin.”

It has been my custom on this occasion to speak to important current issues of the College. My theme at the end of the day is always the same. So, today let me start with the conclusion and be done: the future of this College rests with our ability to attract the best and most talented students to this campus, regardless of their family resources. Simply, our future rests on our ongoing commitment to provide financial aid and to maintain access to Bowdoin for everyone who has earned the privilege to study and to learn here. That’s it.

But, let me make one more personal comment today on the occasion of my 40th Reunion at Bowdoin as a member of the great Class of 1972.

I have been very fortunate in life, with supportive and loving parents, a great wife, three wonderful sons, and many, many good and dear friends.  And, I have had a very rewarding professional life. I have had the opportunity to lead Bowdoin for more than a decade, and I am only the fifth person in the history of this College to do so as an alumnus.

Simply, our future rests on our ongoing commitment to provide financial aid and to maintain access to Bowdoin for everyone who has earned the privilege to study and to learn here. That’s it.

This morning, we will hear from Doris Kearns Goodwin, one of the world’s most prominent historians on the subject of leadership. So, the question for today, briefly, is whether it matters that the president of the College is an alumnus.

From the point of view of Bowdoin’s staff, it probably does matter because with such a strong sense of community here, the staff takes some comfort having a leader who has been a part of that community.

From the faculty’s perspective, it’s viewed more as a mixed blessing. For some, the sense of community is paramount, but for others there is a justifiable concern about the College being too linked to its past and past traditions in a way that might impede discourse and intellectual innovation.

Students, on the other hand, tend to be the most conservative group regarding the affairs of the College. They want nothing to change. They tell me all the time that it’s a great thing that I went to Bowdoin, because I know what the place is about.

For alumni, clearly there is a bond that is important. And, given my age and time at Bowdoin, I have experience with the College that spans the range of this place over the past 50 years. I understand the Bowdoin of the Class of ’57 and the Bowdoin of ’77 and the Bowdoin of ’97. And, of course, I think of the members of 2002 and 2007 particularly as my Bowdoin classmates.

Like all things in life, balance is what matters most. Understanding, respecting, and preserving Bowdoin’s traditions and history is important for the institution.

But, the leader of this College must imagine things both as they were in our history, as they are today and how they will be in the future, and be bold and ambitious for Bowdoin. I am very grateful to everyone associated with the College who has allowed me the space to think boldly and to set an ambitious course for the future.

I am proud of our liberal arts tradition, our steadfast commitment to the common good, and to the enduring importance of personal friendships forged on this campus. As I celebrate my 40th Reunion and contemplate my 12th year as president of Bowdoin, I think I speak for all the people in this arena who understand how lucky we are to be connected to this magnificent institution.

Stay close to your college. Colleges and universities across the country yearn to have an alumni group as talented, as generous, and as enthusiastic as this one. Bowdoin creates and nurtures special relationships with its sons and daughters. We respect and value those relationships and look forward to building even stronger ties with each of you as we advance the mission of this wonderful College.

Karen and I are delighted to have you back on campus with us today, and we look forward to speaking with as many of you as we can this weekend, and to welcoming you again as many times in the future as you are able to return.

Now, enjoy the weekend! I hope you take time to tour the campus, visit with faculty and staff, and take pleasure in your classmates, family and friends.

I hope you’ll revel in some nostalgia for Bowdoin’s past, take pride in the Bowdoin of today, and recommit yourselves to our important work together to shape an even stronger Bowdoin of tomorrow. Thank you.

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