On Sunday, Wil Smith ’00 passed away after a battle with colon cancer. As has been widely written, Smith leaves behind a legacy as one of the most influential alumni in Bowdoin’s recent history. One of three African-American students in his class, Smith matriculated to the College when he was 28 and caring for his toddler daughter. Smith experienced hardships at Bowdoin in a time when our community was not as well-equipped to help struggling students adjust to Bowdoin.  

In Smith’s first few months at the College, graduation seemed like an unattinable goal. Smith was surely the only Polar Bear to ever study and play basketball as a single parent, and at the beginning of his first semester, he felt underprepared and inadequately supported. That changed quickly. Roy Partridge, the professor of Smith’s first-year seminar, and Betty Trout-Kelly, the assistant to the president for multicultural affairs and affirmative action, marshalled resources and support for Smith. The College provided housing and a meal plan, and an alumnus donated $25,000 for childcare for his daughter. 

After graduation, Smith became the director of multicultural student programs at Bowdoin, a position that allowed him to expand access to the College to new populations of students, and—once they arrived in Brunswick—to ensure that they received help if they needed it. According to Dean of First Year Students Janet Lohmann, Smith represents the idea of possibility at Bowdoin. “There was no scaffolding for a 28-year-old who wanted to play on the basketball team,” she said. “He just showed us what was possible—how we, as an institution, could meet people’s needs and how a person like Wil could really make this his home.”

Since Smith enrolled at the College, it has begun accepting a more racially, economically and regionally diverse student body, and it has developed progamming to meet that student body's needs. The administration has implemented the Bowdoin Advising Program to Support Academic Excellence (BASE) program, which provides robust advising to students who did not attend rigorous high schools. The College has also begun offering courses like Quantitative Reasoning, which help students improve the foundational skills they will need throughout their time at Bowdoin. Despite these efforts, there are students who believe that more should be done. Two weeks ago, over 200 community members gathered in the David Saul Smith Union to hear a small group of students talk about a variety of issues, including how Bowdoin can better support students from diverse backgrounds.  

Smith worked tirelessly on issues of diversity and inclusion both at Bowdoin and beyond. All who knew him speak to his skill in giving voice to those who were not always heard and his belief in the potential of everyone with whom he worked. As we remember and mourn him, we should also recommit ourselves to the causes he championed. Smith’s story is as an example of how Bowdoin can enable all of its students to succeed, regardless of their circumstances. At the Berkshire School, Smith was known for his catchphrase “keep working.” Bowdoin has worked hard to expand access and better accomodate the needs of all students, but it should honor Smith’s mantra as it moves forward. 

This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Garrett Casey, Ron Cervantes, Sam Chase, Matthew Gutschenritter, Nicole Wetsman and Kate Witteman.