Barry Mills: Summer in Maine Isn’t All About “Vacationland”


With just five weeks to go before classes resume, folks at Bowdoin are busy squeezing the most out of the Maine summer.

Last week, we celebrated summer with a picnic on the lawn at our house on Federal Street for about 200 students and some of the Bowdoin staff. Karen and I made this picnic an annual event starting about 10 years ago now, when I first realized how many students were on campus over the summer. Attendance is always great and why not, free food from Bowdoin’s award-winning dining service and a chance to hang out with friends from campus without having to worry about cooking?! The picnic is one of my favorite campus events, and I look forward to it every year.

…it’s exactly this sort of opportunity that we emphasize to students interested in coming to Bowdoin: the chance to work elbow-to-elbow with talented faculty on important research projects doing substantive work.

As I walked around, I had a chance to talk with many students about the work they are doing this summer (you’ve probably read about some of them in the Bowdoin Daily Sun), and I am always impressed with the variety of projects and the talent and enthusiasm of these students. Many are working in science labs with faculty, but I also met students working with faculty in religion, African history, anthropology, classics, mathematics, government, gender and women’s studies, and on and on. At one point I walked up—maybe a bit too enthusiastically—to our Dean of Admissions, Scott Meiklejohn, to say how impressed I am by what is happening this summer on campus. Scott reminded me (not so gently) it’s exactly this sort of opportunity that we emphasize to students interested in coming to Bowdoin: the chance to work elbow-to-elbow with talented faculty on important research projects doing substantive work. It is truly the genuine offer of the College, with the icing on the cake being the opportunity to do this work in Brunswick during the summer.

Of course, not every such opportunity is taking place on campus. There are other students doing valuable work for nonprofits and environmental groups around Maine, funded in large part by Bowdoin. There are also many students working on campus in admissions, at our museums, at the McKeen Center for the Common Good, and for student life. This last group is getting ready for the arrival of our new class who will be here before we know it!

All of these students are taking advantage of what those of us who live here year round know so well: summer in Maine is pretty fantastic. Sadly, though, it is something many of our students (or their families) never see. One student from Georgia told me that her mom visited Bowdoin on Parents Weekend a couple of years ago when it snowed and swore she would never return. But her mom was back this summer and now admits that her daughter is not entirely crazy for loving Bowdoin and Maine!

Artist William Wegman signing posters at the opening of “Hello Nature” at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (© Dennis Griggs)

There has been a lot of other activity on campus and in Brunswick this summer. A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated the opening of “Hello Nature,” a major exhibition of Maine-inspired works by William Wegman that runs through October 21st at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Bill Wegman is best known for the creative and fanciful depictions of his beloved Weimaraners, and the Bowdoin exhibition does include a number of these pieces, but also includes paintings, drawings, photography, and other work focused on the artist’s love and appreciation of nature. Bill and his family have a long tradition of spending time in Maine at their place in Rangeley, and his deep affection for our state shines through in the Bowdoin show.

The opening was a gala event chronicled, as many of you have seen, by us and by Martha Stewart, who attended the event with camera in hand. Bill Wegman gave a talk about his work to an overflow crowd of hundreds and then proceeded to spend a couple of hours talking to all the guests as he generously signed exhibition catalogues and posters. I encourage all of you to come to campus to visit this fantastic exhibition—if not this summer, then perhaps in the fall. Bill Wegman will be back on campus periodically and in October, when our students will have a chance to interact with him directly.

By then, we expect to have the grounds put back together! Every summer we do a lot of work on campus to maintain and enhance the physical plant of the College. This summer there is a big ditch that runs nearly the entire length of the main campus where we are installing a new steam pipe (yes, it is just as important to maintain what’s underground as it is to attend to our above-ground buildings and facilities!). We are also in the first year of a multi-year project to replace the slate roof on Hubbard Hall. And, a bit more work is required on the Walker Art Building as we replace the skylights in the main galleries.

Of course, our pride in Bowdoin’s ancient and historic campus comes with the responsibility to keep up with all of this important maintenance, and there are lots of skilled people working at a feverish pace to get it all done in the five short weeks left before we are back in session again on August 30.

Hubbard Hall gets a new slate roof.

Meanwhile, for four successive Thursday evenings, the sounds of all of this daytime construction and renovation have given way in the evening to Shakespeare, as a Portland-based theater company performs The Tragedy of Macbeth (subsidized by the College) to an audience of young and old assembled with blankets and lawn chairs on the Quad. Given the number of construction fences, cranes, and blue tarps, it’s a very good thing that this particular theater company prefers to avoid fancy sets in favor of the text and the acting!

So, despite the slogan on our Maine license plates, summertime at Bowdoin is not always “Vacationland.” Faculty are active doing their research, students are helping out and continuing to learn, and our staff is busy preparing the campus for the coming academic year.

But let’s be honest—there are few places on earth where summertime is as beautiful and as rejuvenating as the Coast of Maine. I hope many of you “from away” have a chance to visit, to experience what is so special, and to recharge your spirit—if not this summer, then another summer very soon.

All the best from Bowdoin.


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 here or on the Bowdoin website.


  1. Dorothy DeSimone says:

    That was last year it snowed on Parents’ Weekend! Or has it done that more than once recently? Is that why Parents’ Weekend is a month earlier this year?
    Wish we were there…..

  2. M. Alvord P'13 says:

    I’m told it didn’t snow much at Bowdoin this past winter season, but (lucky me!) I was able to visit twice and I found snow both times. First was snow at the conclusion of Parents Weekend fall ’11 (last weekend in Oct, and the impact of that unusually early snow storm was far worse in central MA and CT, where we traveled briefly after Bowdoin). The next visit was early March to see the Theater Dept’s wonderful Top Girls production. I’d been told there’d not been much/any snow all winter, so when I landed at Logan with a March snowstorm (having escaped back to CA just after the last storm at end of Oct), I was beginning to take it personally . . .

    As it does every year, picnic weather did return year. And how wonderful it would be to take in Shakespeare on the Quad this summer in Brunswick! Thanks to Bowdoin & Bowdoin Theater for making that happen, and thank you Pres. Mills for sharing news of the summer at Bowdoin!

  3. “Vacationland” is a horrible license plate slogan. “The way life should be” is a much better motto for the state. Less rife with accusations of sloth.

  4. If I ever have a Maine license plate, maybe I’ll cover “Vacationland”, as protected by the SCOTUS ruling in Wooley v. Maynard, 1977.

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