Tomorrow, President Clayton Rose will speak at the College’s 15th inauguration. For this week’s edition of Talk of the Quad, the Orient looked to Bowdoin’s past inauguration speeches. Rose enters a lineage of presidents who have taken the opportunity to explore what Bowdoin represents and how the College defines itself. Below, we’ve included a selection of quotes illustrating previous presidents’ views of Bowdoin’s past and their hopes and concerns about the future. 

Joseph McKeen | September 2, 1802
“The organization of a literary institution in the district of Maine, which is rapidly increasing in population, is an interesting event, and will form an important epoch in its history. The disadvantages with which the district has contended from the days of its early settlement, have been numerous and discouraging. The scattered inhabitants were long in a weak and defenceless state: for more than a century the sword of the wilderness was a terror to them; and they were frequently constrained to lay aside the peaceful instruments of the husbandman, and to seize the weapons of defence. Planted in detached settlements along an extensive coast, and depending on precarious supplies of subsistence from abroad, it was long before they could enjoy the means of education with which some other parts of New England were early favored. Add to this, that deep and strong prejudices prevailed against the soil and climate, by which immigrations were discouraged, and the population of the district long retarded. These mistakes have yielded to the correcting hand of time; and Maine is rapidly advancing to that state of maturity, in which, without being forcibly plucked, she will drop from her parent stock.”

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain | 1872 
“Neither men nor things are what they were, and the question for us is, whether there may not be other courses that might also be worthy of something better than scorn. Let us take no unfair ground. Let us say education is for the man and not the workman. Very well, and by education we mean that training of the man by which he will be enabled to summon and concentrate all his energies upon a proposed end. Let us say that discipline is the chief thing in education. The question is now clear—whether there is only that one course prescribed in an age and society far different from ours, to which every man shall be brought who aspires to liberal culture and disciplined powers...These earnest young men who seek the new course do not seek to avoid discipline or toil. They want their studies to face outward toward action, as well as inward towards life. They want to acquire discipline through studies which take hold on present activities, and whose results abide and can be turned to use. They do not wish to practice with masks and foils that must be thrown away in the field of action, but with the edge and point with which they are to win their way.”

Kenneth C.M. Sills | June 20, 1918
“‘In college we deal with the spirits of men, not with their fortune,’ wrote once a distinguished teacher. Our aim is not vocational; our goal is not efficiency. We hold that the real object of education is to make men free intellectually and spiritually, to develop the resourceful mind in a strong Christian character. Education concern is itself primary with the individual. It strives to make him not only more useful, but a happier, more tolerant man. A person who in his formative years becomes acquainted even somewhat distantly, with the best in literature and science and art, who has had some training in philosophical and religious thought, and in the historical point of view has within himself resources that will grow only more potent and more delightful with age. These are all truisms but they need constant repetition.”

James S. Coles | October 13, 1952
“More and more often on our campuses today will a student, in introducing a visiting speaker whose ideas may not be common with conservative thought in the country, explain that the ideas of the speaker are not shared by the student introducing him, but that the organization the student represents feels that the speaker should have a right to be heard on campus. I mention these incidents only to indicate part of the background for my own fear that there is developing on our campuses, an atmosphere which does not permit the free expression and exchange of ideas.”

Barry Mills | October 27, 2001
“Now, the fact is that the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and their aftermath have forced many of us to reassess our lives and our priorities. Things that appeared so vital and important only two months ago can now seem trivial. I have sensed this ongoing reassessment as I travel around the country on behalf of the College. I hear it from parents who tell me how relieved they are to have their sons and daughters studying in the relative safety of Brunswick, Maine.
This sort of reexamination is valuable because to some extent, I believe the excesses of the recent past have led us away from what is truly important in our lives and in our society. And as we recalibrate our priorities, I believe that the value of education will be reaffirmed as central to a rational future.
The question, though, is where our particular form of education - the residential liberal arts college, fits in any reaffirmation of the value of education.”