President Clayton Rose, joined by Associate Professor of Romance Languages Arielle Saiber, welcomed parents, families and guests of the Class of 2019 with remarks delivered August 25, 2015, in Kanbar Auditorium, Studzinski Recital Hall.
Good afternoon and welcome. I’m Clayton Rose, the president of Bowdoin College. I had the opportunity to meet some of you this morning, which was terrific. And I’m looking forward to meeting the rest of you at the reception that follows this program.
Let me begin with some important introductions. I am joined today on the stage by Professor Arielle Saiber. More about Arielle in a few moments. Sitting here are several people some of you have met and all of you should know. They are Scott Meiklejohn, our dean of admissions and financial aid. Tim Foster, dean of student affairs. Janet Lohmann, our dean of first-year students, Khoa Khuong, our associate dean of first-year students. Janet and Khoa are important “go to” people for your daughters and sons as they acclimate to college. And finally, my wife, Julianne.
As many of you know, like your first-year student, I’m also new here. And like her or him, I am incredibly excited to be at Bowdoin. I share a special bond with the class of 2019; we begin our journey as members of the Bowdoin community together.
I also have something in common with each of you.
I know just what it’s like to sit where you sit today because it wasn’t too long ago that Julianne and I dropped our sons off at college. And I remember both of those days as if they were yesterday.
We realize what an extraordinary moment this is, and the remarkable opportunity that lies ahead for our daughters and sons, one that he or she earned with enormous effort, persistence, accomplishment, and a wonderful set of values.
For the “first-timers” among you, you’re probably feeling some combination of relief, deep pride, a little anxiety, and some concern about getting through that last hug and the trip home without shedding a tear or two. That was me.
For those who have already perfected the college drop-off, all of this is likely familiar and perhaps a bit easier — but actually not that much easier. That was me as well.
It was 213 years ago, almost to the day, that Bowdoin first opened the door of Massachusetts Hall to a single professor and eight students; five from Maine, three from Massachusetts.
Today, with 204 faculty and about 1,800 students split evenly between men and women from nearly every state and 30 countries, we’re actually pretty close to that original 8:1 student-faculty ratio. And we also continue to honor the statement of purpose expressed by Bowdoin’s first president.
It was on that opening day, September 2, 1802, as Thomas Jefferson presided in the White House, when Joseph McKeen reminded those assembled that:
“Literary institutions are founded and endowed for the common good, and not for the private advantage of those who may resort to them for education.”
This timeless philosophy of education—to serve the Common Good—is a value infused in everything we do at Bowdoin. And, along with the words of another Bowdoin president, they continue to guide Bowdoin today.
“The Offer of The College” conveys William DeWitt Hyde’s view that a liberally educated person will be “at home in all lands and all ages,” and will “count nature a familiar acquaintance and art an intimate friend.”
That they will “carry the keys to the world’s library” in their pocket, “gain a standard for the appreciation of other’s work and the criticism of [their] own,” and “make hosts of friends who will be leaders in all walks of life.”
And “The Offer” concludes with the promise that these will be among the “best four years” of their lives.
This remains Bowdoin’s ambition for our students, that four years in this place will be among the “best years” because they will form a solid and enduring foundation for lives of learning, achievement, fulfillment, and joy.
How does that happen?
It happens when students immerse themselves in an interdisciplinary curriculum that encourages connections among subjects and prompts exploration of the unfamiliar. It happens when students are challenged by faculty to dig deeper and to cultivate an ongoing love for learning. And it happens in our performance and gallery spaces, on our playing fields, and in our student organizations, as these young men and women experience success, disappointment, creativity, develop resiliency, and learn the attributes of leadership.
The Bowdoin faculty— they are the heart of our College. They are dedicated teachers and deeply accomplished scholars and artists. They will mentor, motivate, and inspire your sons and daughters during their four years on campus, and for many years after they leave. In a moment, you’ll hear from Arielle Saiber, a distinguished member of our faculty and one of our most talented teachers. She will describe our academic program in greater detail.
Bowdoin is also blessed with a dedicated staff that takes tremendous pride in their work supporting our academic and residential life programs. These folks take care of our grounds and buildings, prepare some of the best college food in America, advise our students about career and health choices, offer counseling and support, provide top-notch technology, and simply underpin everything we do at the College.
And we are tremendously fortunate to be located here on the coast of this extraordinary state and in the community of Brunswick — home to wonderful neighbors who appreciate all that Bowdoin offers and who join with us to form a community that is welcoming and supportive.
As you’ve no doubt figured out, Bowdoin’s culture is one of respect, inclusion, engagement, and warmth. One unique tradition that dates back many, many years and speaks to this culture is “The Bowdoin Hello.” When we pass one another on campus or in town we say hello (ok, it’s become “hi”); we acknowledge one another. We all do it and, through this simple act, reaffirm our bonds and help to make the day a bit better.
Your sons and daughters will come to know and appreciate these traditions. They will live “The Offer,” they will practice “the Bowdoin Hello,” and they will come to have a greater understanding of what it means to serve “The Common Good.”
They will also be challenged here like never before. They will explore and change. They will succeed and they will fail. Whole new worlds will open up, and old assumptions will fall away. And for most, if not all, of your daughters and sons who have done so well to get here, some of these struggles will be a new experience. This is an important part, an essential part, of a great education — pushing ourselves, coming up short, picking ourselves up and figuring out how to move ahead.
Some will feel that they fit in here from the very start. Others may struggle at first. And in the course of this first year, they will all feel some of both emotions. But, they will have friends, staff, and faculty to support them.
In the end, they will discover new interests, find their passions, know themselves better, and leave here well prepared to enter the world, to make a living, and to make a difference.
Speaking of making a living, let me talk briefly about something I suspect is on your mind. We live in an age and in an economy where some question the value of a liberal arts degree, arguing at the extreme that a liberal arts education is somehow at odds with gaining the skills necessary for professional success. I can tell you unequivocally that this idea is wrong. A strong liberal arts education, a Bowdoin education, provides the range and depth of knowledge, capability for continuous learning, the critical thinking, the communication skills, and the ability to engage in deep analysis that are essential to adapt, evolve, and succeed in the workplace and in our society.
I know firsthand how well-equipped those with liberal arts educations are to compete at highest levels and thrive in their chosen fields — whether it is science, medicine, teaching, the law, government — whatever. My own liberal arts education was essential to the success that I enjoyed in business before I turned to my career in education. And I have seen the same with my own kids, who all had broad liberal arts educations. My older son was a philosophy major who wrote on the Socratic dialogues; he is now a lawyer in Washington, DC. His wife was an English major focused on Chaucer, she is now also a lawyer. And my younger son was history major who wrote on post-Revolutionary War veterans; he went on to business school and is now a consultant. I have witnessed the power of the liberal arts as a teacher at the Harvard Business School and, before that, working for more than thirty years in business, where a strong liberal arts education provides a distinct competitive advantage.
Now I want to be very clear. While I have no doubt that a liberal arts education provides a great foundation and pathway for professional success, this is not the central reason for a student to come to Bowdoin. A great liberal arts education provides the opportunity, the privilege, to understand the world and our place in it, and to create and live a life with deep personal meaning. And this education plays a critical role in creating informed and engaged citizens, which, with all the challenges facing our country and the world, we need now as never before.
Today, you too become members of the Bowdoin community — and some of you are renewing that membership. Unlike some places that may want you to drop off your kids and fade away — and while we do invite you to leave this afternoon — we also encourage you to stay in touch. So, subscribe to the Bowdoin Daily Sun and the Bowdoin Orient. Read the alumni magazine. Follow us on social media, and visit in person.
But as you stay connected, my suggestion—my urging—is that you let your sons and daughters do their own thing. They will always need you, and your support, and your love. They also need to make their own decisions. You won’t agree with all of those decisions, and we might not agree with some of them! But the growth and discovery that comes with struggle and managing the consequences of decisions is essential to learning and to learning how to face what challenges the world will offer up when they leave here. Let them navigate college, make their own mistakes, figure out how to recover, and create their own triumphs.
As President Hyde said many years ago, for your daughters and sons, these will likely be among the best four years of their lives. They will be filled with learning, friendship, fun, challenge, and intellectual and personal discovery. I am incredibly excited for them.
This is truly a wonderful day for you, your student, and the rest of your family. Julianne and I offer you much congratulations!
Normally, I would be joined on stage by our dean for academic affairs, Jen Scanlon. However, today is a very special day for Jen. She is sitting with her family, as you are, at another school, dropping her son off at college.
I am delighted to introduce Arielle Saiber, Bowdoin’s associate professor of romance languages and literatures. I am grateful to Arielle for her willingness to step in today for Dean Scanlon.
Professor Saiber joined the Bowdoin faculty in 2001 after serving here for two years as a visiting professor. A graduate of Hampshire College, Arielle earned her doctorate in Italian literature at Yale. At Bowdoin, her teaching areas include Medieval and Renaissance Italian literature, Dante, literature and science, and science fiction. She has published on Dante, Renaissance Florence, Renaissance mathematics and philosophy, early modern typography, and science fiction, among other subjects.
In 2004 Arielle was awarded the Sydney B. Karofsky Prize, presented annually to a junior member of the Bowdoin faculty for distinction in teaching. Read Saiber’s remarks here.
Once again, to all of you, welcome to the Bowdoin community.