President Clayton S. Rose’s remarks, August 22, 2017.
Good afternoon! Good afternoon. This is one of the coolest days of the year for us and in life in general.
I’m Clayton Rose, I’m the president of Bowdoin College. I’ve had a chance to meet some of you today and look forward to meeting as many more of you as I can at the reception that will take place afterwards. I am going to begin in a minute with some introductions but I want to share a story with you.
This is now my third year. In my first year, as we’ve done for the last three years, Julianne, my wife, who’s in front, and I visit all the bricks and try to say hi to folks as they’re moving in and engaging in the exercise of negotiating space and so forth. And so we begin in Winthrop, which is the closest to the house we live in. We arrive on the dot at 9 o’clock as people are starting to move in. A mother was carrying a plastic container with stuff in it, and I motioned for her to go through the door, and she looked up at me — and I was dressed exactly like this, which isn’t the way I moved my two sons into college — and she looked at me and said, “You’re not going in empty handed are you?” So I picked up a plastic bucket and of course, Murphy’s law engaged and she and her son were going to the fourth floor of Winthrop. And by the time we had made it to the fourth floor, her son had informed her who I was and she was mortified of course, which was all quite funny.
Then a week after, as the first-year students all come to my office with their dorms, the fourth floor of Winthrop and so forth, to sign the matriculation book, the fourth floor of Winthrop shows up and I said, “Okay, who’s the guy with the mom?” And all of them went like that. [Makes a motion of pointing in at the one student.] I said, “How’d it go with your mom?” He said, “Well, as she drove away she said to me: ‘I’m sorry I ruined your college career.'” So that’s move-in day, that is a true story.
I’m delighted to be here with you and I, as I said, want to introduce a few people you should know. Liz McCormack, our dean for academic affairs, will speak in a few minutes about our academic program. Liz is a physicist, and a scholar and teacher of some renown and will drive you through our academic programs.
There are several people in the audience here who you either have had a chance to meet or you should know. I’m going to ask each to stand so you get a sense of who they are. Tim Foster, our dean for student affairs. Janet Lohmann, our dean of students. Melissa Quinby, our acting dean for first-year students, and Khoa Khuong, our assistant dean for first-year students. Melissa and Khoa are essential go-to people for your sons and daughters during their first year of acclimating here. And someone else you already know, or you wouldn’t be here, is Whitney Soule, our dean of admissions and financial aid. We can give Whitney a round of applause to thank her for her work.
And last but not least is my wife Julianne, who is here with me. Many of you got to meet her this morning.
Now as I said in the video that went out a week or so ago, for Julianne and for me, this is one of the most remarkable days. We know very much how it feels to be in the shoes of the parents and the families who are here today. For me this day of moving into college is just one of those remarkable moments in life. In my study at home, I have a picture — three pictures. One is of me with my father on the day I went off to college, and the other two are of me with each of my sons on the day they went off to college. And this is just one of those deeply great moments in life, so we’re thrilled to be here with you.
For our new students in the room, much of what I’m going to say is more directed to the parents and families here, although relevant very much to you. When you return from your orientation trips on Saturday, we will gather on the Museum steps and will have a chance to talk with one another very directly, and I look forward to that.
It was 215 years ago — almost to the day — that Bowdoin began. We opened the doors of Massachusetts Hall with a single professor and eight students — five from Maine and three from Massachusetts. Although those of you who are keen history buffs will know they were all from Massachusetts because at that point Maine was a district of Massachusetts.
Today, we’ve got a little over 200 faculty, something like 1,800 and change in students who are on the campus at any one time. So we’ve done a really good job in 215 years of maintaining that 9-to-1 faculty-student ratio. Evenly split between men and women, almost every state covered, and about 30 countries in the class this year.
And we continue to honor the statement of purpose that was articulated by our first president on that opening day, September 2, 1802. Thomas Jefferson was in the White House. And Joseph McKeen, our first president, said to those who assembled in front of Massachusetts Hall: “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 is a timeless philosophy of education — the notion of serving the common good — that is infused in everything we do at Bowdoin. And, along with the words of another Bowdoin president, they are really the touchstones that guide us here.
“The Offer of The College,” written by our sixth president, William DeWitt Hyde, conveys the idea that a liberally educated person will be “at home in all lands and all ages;” will “count nature a familiar acquaintance and art an intimate friend.” They will “carry the keys to the world’s library” in their pockets; “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.
That remains our ambition for our students: that these four years in this place will be among the best four years, forming a solid and enduring foundation for lives of learning, achievement, fulfillment, and joy.
So how is it that that happens?
It happens when students immerse themselves in a curriculum that encourages connections among subjects and prompts exploration of the unfamiliar. It happens when students are challenged by their faculty to dig deeper and to engage in a love for learning. It happens in our performance and gallery spaces, on our playing fields, in the outdoors, in residence halls and in our student organizations. As our students experience success, disappointment, and creativity, they develop resilience, and nurture the attributes of leadership.
Now our Bowdoin faculty — they are the heart of the College. Dedicated teachers, deeply accomplished scholars and artists, they will mentor, motivate, and inspire your daughters and sons for their four years on campus and for many years after. In a minute, you’ll hear from Liz [McCormack] about our academic program.
We are also blessed with an amazing and dedicated staff. They take tremendous pride in supporting our academic and residential life programs. They take care of our grounds and buildings, prepare some of the best food in American colleges, advise our students about career and health choices, offer counseling and support, provide top-notch technology. They make the college go and run, and make the experience that our students have amazing every day.
And we are tremendously fortunate to be located in Brunswick — a place I suspect you have now had a chance to get to know — as a physical location on the extraordinary coast of Maine. But also the people of Brunswick are wonderful and make the Bowdoin experience that much richer.
Now, as you’ve no doubt figured out, we have this culture of respect, and inclusion, engagement, and warmth. There is a tradition that dates back many years that we have here called “The Bowdoin Hello.” We all do it, and it is a simple act when we see each other on campus or pass one another in town of saying hello, of looking each other in the eye. We all do it. Through this act, we reaffirm our bonds and, frankly, make the day just a little bit better. Although I have found a downside. I have gotten so used to doing it here on campus that when I travel to big cities — I was in Chicago recently, a woman walked by in scrubs, I was at the Northwest Medical school, and I looked up and said hello and she looked at me like I was a stalker and ran away. So you have to be a little bit careful.
But our students, your sons and daughters, will live “The Offer;” they will come to practice “the Bowdoin Hello;” and they will learn for themselves what it means to serve “The Common Good.”
They will also be challenged here like never before. They will explore, they will change, they will succeed, they’re going to fail — I talked about that in the video a bit as well. Whole new worlds are going to open up, and old assumptions are going to fall away. And for most, if not all, of your daughters and sons who have done so extraordinary well to get here, some of these struggles will be a new experience. This is an important part, an essential part, of an education – pushing ourselves, coming up short, picking ourselves up, and figuring out how to move forward and create success.
In the end, they will discover new interests, they will find their passions, they will know themselves better, and they will leave here very well prepared to enter the world, to make a living, to make a difference.
Now, speaking of making a living, let me talk briefly about something I suspect is on the minds of many. It certainly was on mine when I was sitting where you are. We live in an age and in an economy where there are some who question the value of a liberal arts degree, the idea at the extreme that it somehow leaves you ill-prepared for success in your chosen career. I can tell you unequivocally that this is dead wrong. A strong liberal arts education — what it is we do here at Bowdoin — provides the range and depth of knowledge, the capability for continuous learning, the critical thinking, the communication skills, and the ability to engage in deep analysis that are essential for professional success. And we have graduates from every era engaged in every conceivable form of professional endeavor — and they are killing it.
Now, while I have no doubt that a liberal arts education prepares our students well for professional success, that is not the central reason why I believe a student should come to Bowdoin. A great liberal arts education provides the opportunity, and I would argue, the privilege, to understand the world and our place in it, and to create a life and to live a life with deep meaning. And it’s also an education that plays a critical role in developing individuals who can engage thoughtfully and meaningfully in civic life. And with all of the challenges we have in the world today, we need this now more than ever.
So to our parents and our families, today you, too, become members of the Bowdoin community. Some of you I know are renewing your bonds. Unlike some places where they may want you to drop your kids off and fade away — and I will say we do ask you to leave this afternoon at some point — we also encourage you to stay in touch. So, read the Orient, the alumni magazine. Follow us on social media, and be back on campus.
But as you stay connected, my suggestion — the thing I would urge you to think about — is that you let your daughters and sons do their own thing. They will always need you, your support, and your love. But they also need to make their own decisions. And you’re not going to agree with all of them — and we’re not going to agree with all of them — but the growth and discovery that comes with managing through those, managing the consequences, figuring out how to course correct when they make a bad decision is an essential part of learning and growing and figuring out the challenges they’re going to face when they leave here. So let’s let them navigate college, make their own mistakes, figure out how to recover, and create their own triumphs, which they will do. They will be magnificent.
So as President Hyde said many years ago, for your daughters and sons, these will be among the best four years of their lives. They will be filled with learning, and friendship, and fun, challenge, and intellectual and personal discovery. I could not be more excited for them or for you.
And from Julianne and me, many, many congratulations on this amazingly wonderful day.
It is my great pleasure to introduce Elizabeth McCormack.