Trustee emerita Marijane Benner Brown ’83, P’18 delivered remarks at the Scholarship Appreciation Luncheon May 8, 2014, in Thorne Hall.
It is with great delight that I join you today. A few years ago, when serving as chair of the Admissions and Financial Aid Committee of the Board of Trustees, I had the pleasure of hosting this event on several occasions. I am hard-pressed to think of a happier occasion in the life of our college community. This year, it is especially joyous for me, as I have recently learned that my oldest son Robert, a high school senior, will be coming to Bowdon this fall. At the time of such an individual milestone for my family and me, the importance of what those of us in this room and a wide cadre of others are trying to do to open Bowdoin’s doors to future generations of exceptional young women and men without regard to ability to pay really hits home.
Why is it important to do so? The numbers clearly indicate that we would be able to fill the entering class many times over with bright, capable students even if we provided little or no financial aid or turned from need based aid to merit aid — this year, for example, we had almost 7000 applications for less than 500 spots, and I have no doubt that we could fill the class with impressive students whose families could and would pay full freight.
Even though we could do so, I think we all instinctively cringe at the thought. Doing so would not be consonant with our devotion to the common good.
It would mean that we would arbitrarily turn away a substantial number of the best and the brightest.
It would diminish the experience of current Bowdoin students by keeping from them the diversity of points of view which students from a range of backgrounds can provide, thus limiting the quality of their education and leaving them less equipped to face a world where nimbleness of mind, tenacity, flexibility and ability to think broadly and creatively are critical competitive advantages.
But to me, the real reason we care about opening the doors of the Bowdoin opportunity as wide as we can has a very personal face.
It is present in the face of Tung Nguyen, whom you will hear from momentarily, as engaging, personable and accomplished a young man as you could hope to meet. Whether he pursues a career in science, health, medicine, business or something totally different, it will not matter. This is a young man who will make all kinds of positive contributions to the world around him.
It is present in some well-known alumni who benefited from financial assistance to attend the College:
- George Mitchell, former US Senator and broker of the Northern Irish peace accord, to name just two of his many accomplishments.
- My personal hero, Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone and one of the country’s leading voices on education and education reform.
It is present in Bowdoin alumni whom I have been blessed to count as good friends over the years:
- David Morales, current trustee of the College; former heavyweight in Massachusetts state government circles and now in the private health care sector; I first knew David, a native of Lynn, Massachusetts, as a fiery student and young alumnus voice for increasing diversity at the College.
- Karen Edwards Hines and Roodly Jean, two of the first Boston public school students I was heavily engaged in recruiting to Bowdoin in the 90s. Karen, now a successful entrepreneur and business owner, and Roodly, a teacher and chair of the language department at a Boston area high school, came to Bowdoin at a time when it was highly unusual to find natives of St. Vincent and Haiti, and graduates of Dorchester High and English High, at Bowdoin. Karen’s newborn son and my younger son shared their respective first play dates together 14 years ago, and I, in the company of my older son Robert, delivered the toast at Roodly’s wedding. Today, whether reading one of Karen’s publications or standing and talking with Roodly at the 1794 reception in Boston in February, I feel a mother’s pride at the polished and articulate professional each has become.
- Peter Lyle, a veteran of NY’s ABCD program before coming to Bowdoin and member of the admissions staff after graduating from Bowdoin. After he headed to law school, I tried desperately to recruit him to my law firm at the time, only to ultimately follow him to my current firm, Ropes & Gray.
- Cassandro Joseney, another Boston public high school student and Posse scholar, and Michel Bamani, whom I met after he graduated from Bowdoin and law school. Fresh from law school at the height of the recession, both hit the job market when it hit bottom. Their tenacity and resilience, together with the power of the Bowdoin network, saw them through to promising and fulfilling career opportunities in the law where each is flourishing today.
Each of these individuals has made a powerful personal impact on me. Moreover, there is no question in my mind that Bowdoin is better because each of these individuals chose to come here, and Bowdoin, in turn, chose to support them. Yet for all the joy of their many accomplishments, I am reminded that the path to ensuring opportunity for them and others like them has been neither easy nor straightforward.
It required grit, determination, hard work and courage from each of these individuals. But it also required enormous commitment of resources from the College. By way of example, in 1983, when I graduated from Bowdoin, 35 % of students received aid. In 1994, when I became a trustee of the College, 36 % of students received aid. For the 2013-2014 academic year, that figure had increased to 46% of students. From 1983 to 2013, the average grant as a percentage of cost of attendance went from 40% to a whopping 67%.
These changes did not occur by accident. They sprang from the will of our community as a whole – students, faculty, staff, board, alumni – to make educating a more diverse – in the broadest sense of the word – student body a priority and from the dedication of a president and a board of trustees who were willing to ensure that necessary resources were available. Barry – you are to me a friend, a mentor, and an inspiration, but of all the things I cherish about you, your devotion to ensuring access is at the very top of the list.
Today, much remains to be done to ensure that a Bowdoin education can be available not only to the least affluent families but also to families firmly in the middle class, for as the comprehensive fee has risen, the ability of these families to take advantage of a Bowdoin education has been compromised. I challenge each of us to answer President Mills’ call so that the Bowdoin we all cherish – the Bowdoin whose proud community my son will join this fall – will continue to flourish, to educate the best and the brightest and to serve the common good.