With its barrel vault ceiling, airy spaciousness and natural light from high windows, the room on the second floor of Hubbard Hall was, for more than a century, a perfect place to spend an afternoon reading.
Increasingly, however, faculty members were using the large hall to teach in, and the acoustic qualities that made it ideal for studying made it poor for lecturing and discussing.
This summer, with a gift from the Class of 1953 and a grant from the George I. Alden Trust, Bowdoin renovated the room to make it suitable for 21st pedagogy.
On Monday evening, the College dedicated the classroom to Thomas Pickering ’53, who holds the rank of Career Ambassador, the highest in U.S. Foreign service. In a diplomatic career spanning five decades, he has served as U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation, India, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Pickering also served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and was the Executive Secretary of the Department of State and Special Assistant to Secretaries William P. Rogers and Henry A. Kissinger from 1973 to 1974.
To modernize the room, Bowdoin upgraded the acoustics by adding innovative wall panels and a sound reinforcement system. The College also discretely embedded modern technology, preserving the space’s historic character while providing services such as wireless Internet and audio-visual capacity.
Yesterday evening, President Barry Mills addressed the group of people invited to join the dedication celebration, a group that included several members of the Class of 1953 and faculty from the government, economics and history departments. These academic departments will primarily use the room. “This will be the Pickering Room forever,” Mills said, “for faculty and students to come and study.”
While the Pickering classroom has been designed to accommodate up to 50 students sitting in rows, it also offers an alcove at one end that is outfitted with comfortable, well-padded chairs. This nook in particular is a “real testament to Tom,” Mills said. “People sitting and quietly talking, in careful consideration of the important issues of the day.”
Mills noted that Pickering, “who lived his entire life in service of the common good,” is a “shining example for students of the good you can do with public service.”
Propped up in the room were framed letters from Henry Kissinger, Hillary Clinton, William Cohen ’62, George Mitchell ’54 and Ambassador Nicholas Burns. Each praised Pickering’s career. “Tom had a brilliant mind, penetrating insight, and a firm grasp of the broader issues of diplomacy and international leadership,” Kissinger wrote, recalling Pickering’s work for him.
Pickering, who spent much of the event making the rounds to chat with students and his college friends, began his remarks by appreciating Warren Harthorne ’53. “I want to make it clear how much I appreciate the room, and how much I appreciate Warren’s inspiration, perspiration, excitation, cogitation — and we’ll leave it there,” he said. Harthorne was a major impetus behind raising funds and dedicating the room to Pickering. “I argued with him not too forcefully, but forcefully enough,” Pickering went on, “that it was a bad idea to name anything at Bowdoin for anyone still living, for all the obvious reasons. But he was kind enough to push ahead with it.”
Pickering said he thought the room a great combination of the old and the new, but, he emphasized, he felt the new must prevail. “The new is in many ways about getting in touch with the world and society,” he noted. “Public service is an important part of our country’s survival and success. And if we could interest you [students] in any way to provide service to your country, and if this room can add a little bit to that, my sense is that this room is more than a reward to me, and indeed for Bowdoin, but to the country as whole.”
Photos by Dennis Griggs