A Bowdoin Tradition: A Presidential Welcome on the Museum Steps

Every year, once first-year students have returned to campus from their orientation trips, they gather at the Museum of Art steps for a welcome from some of Bowdoin’s administrators. They also sing the alma mater together. This spot on the Quad is symbolic, for in four years, the students will gather once again in front of the Museum to walk up its stairs and receive their degrees. Dean of First-Year Students Janet Lohmann introduced the two speakers, Dean of Admissions Scott Meiklejohn and President of Bowdoin College Barry Mills.

“I always think of today a little like gift giving,” Meiklejohn told the class. “All of us in admissions have put together a really nice gift for the rest of Bowdoin college. And the college is about to take the bow off and open the box and find out how cool you are. …I’m excited about the impact you’re going to have on this place and the pathways you will take.”

Next, President Mills ’72 told the class that they have “become part of a wonderful institution with a great history. You’ll be part of its traditions and you’ll forge new ones.” He spoke about reinvigorating a Bowdoin tradition called the “Bowdoin hello,” which was a practice when he was a student at the College. The Bowdoin hello (“more a genial hi”), is the habit of students to always greet one another on campus and downtown. “I know many of you chose Bowdoin because it was a place where you felt welcome when you came to visit. It is the ringtone of the Bowdoin hello that is the core of that welcoming sense.”

Mills offered advice to the new college students, including encouraging them to explore Bowdoin’s wide academic offerings. “Our hope is that you will venture outside your comfort zone in what you choose to study.” English majors should try a few science courses, economists should take a sociology or anthropology class, non-artists try a painting class or music class. “You might find a hidden talent or a new dream.” But even if nothing quite so dramatic happens, Mills said, at least “you will have spent important time thinking and learning in a new and different way.” He added that “understanding how others think about a problem and having familiarity with their vocabulary is essential in a world that is changing so rapidly.”

The president also urged first-year students to reach out to professors for advice and guidance. “It isn’t just about getting an answer to a question in your mind; it’s about developing a relationship with someone who can have a profound effect on your life for the rest of your lives,” he said. “Forging relationships with professors will be one of your greatest rewards.”

At the same time, students will also learn from one another. “You are all very different people, so if you’re open-minded, kind and respectful, you’ll learn an immense amount from your new friends about their customs, the way they think, what they believe and what’s important to them,” Mills said. Of course, in a diverse community, disagreements can crop up. “Respectful disagreement, respectful questioning and challenging, respectful listening and communication are what we’re about,” he said. “This means real engagement with each other — not politically correct platitudes.”

Mills then advised, “For at least these four years take a risk, express your views, but be willing to be challenged and be willing to listen to others. Be fearless in your desire to be excellent — excellent for yourselves and excellent for your college.”

Photos by Dennis Griggs

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