Barry Mills has just a few more months as Bowdoin’s president, and students in the first-year class are trying to take advantage of the remaining time they have with him. Before spring break, members of the Class of 2018 invited Mills to a Friday afternoon reception in Moulton Union and asked him to impart a bit of presidential wisdom.
The first-year council, including Wylie Mao ’18, organized the event. Mao said it was a chance for both students to get to know the president a bit more, and for Mills to chat with students. Musicians from the first-year class played while students helped themselves to a buffet of cheese, crackers and apple cider. “It’s President Mills’s last year,” Mao said, “so we only have one year with him. He’s a lovely person to be around.”
Mills began by reminding the students that the first time most of them had met him was during orientation, when each student signed the college’s matriculation book in his office. “When I saw you back then, you were all trying to figure out what this place was about, who all these new people you were meeting were about—whether you would like it here. You were eager to get to class, and to get to all the activities you were going to be involved with,” he said. “Now it is six months later, and what I promised you then is what I hope is true for most of you now.” Mills had promised that they would grow to love the college, even if it took some a while longer than others.
Mills admitted that he had withheld an important message from students during matriculation. “I hope you are all enjoying the intensity of the place,” he said, “and that is what I didn’t talk to you about in the fall, because I didn’t want to scare you.” The intensity, he said, comes from rigorous academics and a diverse and lively campus life, as well as from the intimacy of Bowdoin’s small community.
Students asked the outgoing president a number of questions, including a few that prompted Mills, who graduated in 1972, to recall his own time as a Bowdoin student. One student asked about changes at Bowdoin and the things that are the same since Mills’s time as a student. Mills noted that the student body was very different in the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially because Bowdoin was an all-male college when he arrived and was just becoming co-ed when he graduated. But much else was the same. “The Quad,” Mills said. “The interactions you have with your faculty members, coaches and people on the staff. The culture at Bowdoin is very much the same. That same, caring, intimate intensity was there then and is here today.”
Another student asked about his favorite memories as a student and as college president. Mills recalled a government professor with whom he had argued “like crazy,” but who “had an important impact on the way I thought about issues.” He described spending his senior year doing biology experiments in the stuffy basement of Searles. He also spoke about a time when, as president, he and his wife, Karen, were serenaded by the Class of 2007 at their Federal Street home. And he remembered addressing the Bowdoin community on September 11, 2001, which brought home to him that being the leader of the College entailed so much more than fundraising and administrative priorities.
Mills said the best part of spending 14 years at Bowdoin was getting to know so many “fabulous young people,” and watching what they accomplish over four years as college students, and then seeing what they accomplish five, 10 years out as alumni. “It is enormously gratifying,” he said. “I can’t think of anything I could have done in my life that would be as rewarding.”
Photos by Dennis Griggs