Barry Mills: Thanks All Around

Bowdoin’s annual Scholarship Appreciation Luncheon brings students together with their financial aid donors. It’s a chance for the students to meet and thank their benefactors. It’s also—as Barry Mills pointed out in his remarks—an event that says a lot about opportunity and responsibility.

The Scholarship Luncheon is my favorite event of the year because it embodies my highest priority and Bowdoin’s highest priority for our future. Many people, when they come back and visit, take the measure of this place by looking at our beautiful facilities and our wonderful campus. But in fact, our College has always been about the talent and achievement of our students, faculty, and staff. And our ability to bring enormously talented students to Bowdoin without regard to financial need is at the heart of our past and remains the only way to ensure the future of this great College.

Donors in the room today have a very special opportunity because you have a chance to spend time getting to meet and talk to our students in ways that others returning for Reunion and other events do not. These young men and women represent the real strength of our College. For the students in the room, you also have a unique opportunity today—an opportunity to say thank you. So, I’d ask all the students in the room to stand and give a big round of applause to the people who have made it possible for you to be here.

Thank you.

At Bowdoin today we are, very simply, creating opportunity. That’s what college is all about—it creates opportunity. The opportunity for students to come here, succeed, and go off to do fantastic things after Bowdoin. In the process, families change and communities change. It is the amplification of our financial aid efforts that really have a profound effect well beyond this small college in Maine. That’s certainly something to be proud of, but challenges remain.

At Bowdoin today we are, very simply, creating opportunity.

For those of you who know me well, we never rest on our laurels. We always think about the future. This week, our trustees will meet and we’ll think again about our comprehensive fee. Each year, the comprehensive fee goes up and people ask me why it has to increase so much. Without deciding for the trustees, it is likely that we will raise our comprehensive fee this year at the lowest rate since 1971. That would be a great accomplishment for Bowdoin, but there’s no assurance that this rate of increase will continue into the future. The economics of a great place like Bowdoin are really defined by what we charge, how much parents can pay, and what our endowment represents, all of which translates into quality. It’s an equation that is, in some ways, just immutable. As we seek always to maintain the highest quality at this college, we also recognize that we must maintain a realistic expectation from parents and families, and we understand the importance of our commitment to financial aid. If we are going to maintain our quality and we’re going to control what we charge, our endowment must be strong enough to support that financial aid commitment into the future.

An article last week in The Wall Street Journal predicted that the class of 2011 will graduate with the highest debt burden of any class in our time. Now, the Bowdoin Class of 2011 doesn’t graduate completely without loans because we didn’t put our “no-loan” policy into place until a couple of years ago. But for those first-year students and sophomores in the room, you’re in a position to graduate without incurring any loans unless you choose to take them out. That means that after Bowdoin, you can make choices that aren’t driven by a crushing debt burden that might affect your choice of a career. But in lifting this burden, we have placed Bowdoin finances on a path that is even more challenging. So, it comes as no surprise that while I am here today to thank each and every person in this room for their commitment to the College and for the support that you’ve shown us, I must also remind you that our work is not done. We will continue and should continue to seek your support and the support of many, many other folks who are committed to this College in order to grow our endowment for financial aid.

So, the message to all of you students is to remember the people sitting at the tables next to you when you eventually leave Bowdoin and Brunswick. Remember the commitment they’ve made to you.

Let me finish with a story. I was sitting at my desk the other day when I received a phone call from Pam Phillips in our Development office. She said, “You can’t believe what just happened! I just got a check for $14,000.” That may not sound like a lot of money, but let me tell you the story: There’s a woman who graduated from Bowdoin last year. Now, every student who graduated from Bowdoin is my favorite, but this student was really one of my favorites. I had consulted with her numerous times on all kinds of issues, and she gave me fabulous advice. She grew up in the Bronx and her family couldn’t afford to send her to Bowdoin, but she came here and succeeded fantastically. So, we received this check for $14,000 last week from her father who, in his letter, revealed that he had inherited a little bit of money and now had the resources to send us something in recognition of the fact that we were able to support his daughter for four years at the College. That $14,000 was enormously special to me because here was a fellow whose daughter had already graduated, but he recognized the value of what we’d done for her, just as I recognized what she had done for Bowdoin.

So, the message to all of you students is to remember the people sitting at the tables next to you when you eventually leave Bowdoin and Brunswick. Remember the commitment they’ve made to you. From where I stand, it is your responsibility to pay that forward—to remember the opportunity that was given to you, and to know that in the future, there are going to be students exactly in your situation who ought to be at Bowdoin. You can help make that happen, and from my perspective, it’s your responsibility to help us make that happen.

This is a fabulous College because of the quality of the people in this room, and the quality of many, many others who support this place and represent Bowdoin College. I’m always proud of Bowdoin, but today when I look around this room, I think I feel the most pride. Thank you for your commitment to our College. I look forward to many more years of working together with you to ensure our commitment to the accomplished students everywhere who ought to be on our campus. Thank you very much.

****

In the coming weeks, I will continue to offer my thoughts on subjects interesting to me or of importance to the College, but I want to hear your ideas too. If there is a subject you’d like me to address, send me an e-mail at mills@bowdoin.edu

Previous Bowdoin Daily Sun columns by President Barry Mills are available on here or on the Bowdoin website.

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