Barry Mills: Sharing Some Practical Advice



With the Class of 2014 hurtling toward graduation and what is often referred to as “the real world,” President Mills is offering practical advice in the form of four 90-minute sessions on everything from communicating in the workplace and building professional networks, to personal finance and leases. 



For a number of years now, my wife, Karen, has held an etiquette class for seniors to help prepare them for life beyond the dining halls at Moulton Union and Thorne Hall. At these events, Karen offers the students some advice on how to “work a room” and on how to navigate a cocktail party connected to a business event. Karen conspires with Bowdoin’s Dining Service to put together a rather complicated menu for a seated dinner in Moulton where she leads the students through all the rules, from properly seating guests at a table and passing the salt and pepper together, to what happens if the bread basket doesn’t have enough rolls for everyone at the table, and on and on. This event is oversubscribed every year and registration is filled almost instantly.


This year, we’re expanding the concept with a series of four talks led by me. It’s called “Get Ready for Life After Bowdoin: A Crash Course on Practical Skills.” The idea here is to talk with our seniors about the life they are about to enter and to give them some practical life lessons to help prepare them for the so-called “real world.” The first session, titled “Succeeding in Your First Job: Workplace Communication” is next Monday night. The subsequent talks will focus on topics like personal finance, how to invest your money, and the nuts and bolts of setting up your life in a new place, post Bowdoin.

At this moment, more than 100 seniors have signed up to attend one or more of the events, but I suspect we’ll have many walk-ins. Bowdoin is a pretty informal place.

I will be joined in the talks on investing and finance by folks from the Fullbridge organization that ran a program at Bowdoin last year and again just last month. For the final session, we are having a few alumni from Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco join us to talk about their experiences (my own personal experience of renting apartments in Boston is probably NOT the way our students entering the work force will start out!). Robin Transgrud (Bowdoin Class of 2006) assisted me in preparing these sessions while she was studying for the Massachusetts bar exam—she did a super job.

In my position, I give speeches and talks all the time, but frankly, the idea of 90 minutes in front of our fantastic students is a bit intimidating. But I suppose it’s good for a college president to be reminded of the rigors our faculty encounter every day in class. My goal is to set forth lessons from my own experience and from what I have learned over the years from friends, recent Bowdoin grads, and other young people (including my own sons) about the challenges and opportunities of launching from a place like Bowdoin.

Our students are very well prepared for what comes next after Bowdoin, and these talks are designed to be very practical about issues that often aren’t the subject of our academic majors or programs. As we all know, Bowdoin students are challenged in a very supportive and nurturing environment. When they leave Bowdoin, most will find themselves in similarly challenging environments that will certainly be less nurturing. My goal for these talks to is provide some introduction into these worlds and to help in the transition.

This is an experiment. We thought about streaming the sessions live, but since I can sometimes be rather direct, we decided that the experiment might not be ready for “prime time.”  But we’ll record the talks and, depending on how well it all works out, we’ll consider making the event more broadly available. It is always good to try something new … I think.


  1. Jack Abbott '63 says:


    No doubt about it, members of the Class of 2014 that listen to your advice will have a leg up in today’s work place. Kudos!

  2. Terrific idea – so much better than giving the seniors some sort of a handbook and sending them out into the world. However, if, after the talks, there is a way to put the information in written form for future reference, it might be a helpful reference months later. The overall experience should be great for all involved…I think.

  3. Barry;

    Just a note,I hope that you stress the importance of using the Career Center and Tim Diehl’s excellent resources. The “skills” gathered there are appropriate to a life long use. It is far better they are learned early in ones career. All too often I dealt/deal with people in their 50’s and 60’s who never learned their importance.

    Don ’59

  4. Bob Spencer says:

    I think lessons in “personal finance” should begin in high school and continue through college and they should be required in order to graduate.

  5. Kayla Baker says:

    This is really cool. I think that the advice will go a long way for students.

  6. Jeff Tougas says:

    Great idea, Barry! Given your time at the helm of one of the World’s great global law firms, I hope you will consider sharing with them what some may consider an “inconvenient truth”: for better or worse, “Wall Street,” “Big Oil,” “Big Law,” “Big Agro,” “Big Pharma,” etc., will be with them for, at least, their entire lives and probably those of their children. Rather than pitching a tent in Battery Park or Boston Common, railing against the “one percenters” and trying to take these firms apart on the grounds that they are inherently evil, may these wonderful men and women use the extraordinary gifts they have be given while at Bowdoin to make these firms better, more socially-responsible, actors. Thank you for doing this. Best, Jeff

  7. Bob Armstrong says:

    Barry, I think that your introductory series to the real world is a great idea. I hope that someone will record it and have it available on some form of accessible media for the future alumni to refer back to in their first few months out of the warm confines of Bowdoin.

  8. Once again a unique idea from Bowdoin College! Congratulations Barry for your experiment. I suggest that your directness is the most valuable gift you could possibly share.

  9. Excellent idea that should help ease what can be a difficult transition.

  10. Bob Langer says:

    What a fantastic idea. This is practical knowledge that is not covered in any of the academic course offerings at the College.
    I hope that perhaps a video might be made available to recent graduates as they make their way through the “real world”!

  11. Emilie Cardinaux says:

    I wish these sessions had been available my senior year! That said, I think many more would benefit from these discussions beyond just members of the graduating class. I hope you make them more widely available. I don’t think I would have been able to process all that information while still inside the college bubble. I’m sure there are others who would appreciate a refresher course.

  12. Vanessa Kitchen says:

    SUCH a good idea!

  13. Monica Schaeffer Hunt says:

    Thank you for the wonderful idea and the great effort you and your associates are making to accomplish it. I have been grateful almost every day for four years for what Bowdoin has offered my graduating son. He has benefited in countless ways, being part of your community. This series you are offering just puts the icing on the gourmet cake!

  14. Andy Serwer says:

    I love this idea Barry. Thanks.

  15. Richard Winslow says:

    These talks and the etiquette class sound fantastic. They are so “Bowdoin”. I think that it is wonderful that you are doing this and that it will be greatly appreciated by the students, although it may take a few years for them to realize the true value. Keep up the good work.

  16. Nancy Collins says:

    What a great idea, Barry. Students have much to thank you and Karen for.

  17. Rosalie Cornew says:

    What a great idea and thank you for doing this. We are so grateful for all that Bowdoin has offered our graduating daughter. Your program is one more example of the commitment and “real world connection” Bowdoin offers its students. Thank you.

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