There are officially 31 varsity teams on campus, but the largest and most influential one operates off the field. The players make “warm and fuzzy” boards instead of scoring goals and decorate hallways in place of racing; we spend free time practicing toleration and active listening.

“I write to announce that Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Director of Residential Life Mary Pat McMahon will be leaving Bowdoin to become the next Dean of Student Affairs at Tufts University.  Although it’s hard to say farewell to such an incredible colleague and friend, I invite you to join me in sending her off with well wishes as she embarks on this challenging and impressive next chapter in her career,” Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster wrote in an email to the student body on Wednesday.

The Residential Life (ResLife) staff at Bowdoin sets the tone of our campus community, and this spring we will say goodbye to our head coach.

I met Mary Pat McMahon my first year on campus. I felt like a very bland student—a deer in the headlights of the “I got into Bowdoin, now what?” realization.  I wasn’t in clubs and didn’t stand out in any particular way. I spent my time making friends and hanging out with my new boyfriend—how college.

Somehow, I was chosen to live in MacMillan House my sophomore year and somehow, my housemates elected me President.

I sheepishly marched up the front steps of Moulton Union for my first meeting with ResLife, thinking they would change their mind once I showed up.

During my meeting with Chris Rossi, Mary Pat poked her head in the office—I remember that her excited tone, fast speech and determined gaze made me feel momentarily excited, official and important.

The ResLife office is in the people business—the staff’s personal goal is to shape your Bowdoin experience. Think about your first year roommate, your proctor, the people you met in your College House and the R.A. you had as a sophomore—these people influence your time on campus and have provided you with support at all times.

In other words, ResLife has got your back. And Mary Pat has ours. 

I’ve been involved in many aspects of campus over my Bowdoin career, but by far the most fulfilling has been as a proctor with ResLife. I am an odd recruit: a former College House Prez (insert fist pump) going into her senior year. I went into my interview last spring thinking I had already lost the job.  Bowdoin students, as the best and brightest, most creative and thoughtful, have a tendency to make me feel defeated.

Mary Pat asked me a series of questions about my time abroad, my decision to join staff as a senior and my priorities for the year. I never felt like I was convincing Mary Pat of my ability to be a proctor—she was calm and inquisitive, and genuinely interested in my thoughts. She even wanted to know how I would handle Senior Nights at Joshua’s, and if I would miss living with my friends—social things that had been important to me for three years. She knew I was afraid to leave parts of senior year and she made me question why I was fearful of ditching.

I am in no way the most important or vocal member of ResLife—or the most qualified—but it would be a mistake to let (as Tim Foster wrote in his email to the student body) “our incredible colleague and friend” leave on such short notice without honest words of gratitude for her demeanor and commitment to this institution and its students.

Mary Pat McMahon makes decisions from her gut.  She knows you within seconds, is candid with her thoughts and morally consistent. She will make time in her schedule, listen to your problems and quickly put them in perspective.  She connects, thanks and forgives people; she sees the potential in every student no matter their history and empowers them.

But it would also be a mistake to glaze over the fact that I’m upset.  

I’m sad about the hundreds of students who she’s influenced outside the official ResLife sphere who are also rocked by the news. I’m emotional because she has had a thankless, invisible role in the student body I love. But I’m excited for the Tufts students she’ll be able to influence in similar, powerful ways.
I am not alone in saying that Mary Pat and the ResLife office saved me from the doldrums of insecurity and plainness and gave me the confidence to make my time at Bowdoin what it has been.  

Mary Pat is headed into a new chapter in her career, and I have a feeling the staff will be gathered in Moulton Union next year invigorated by her lasting policies and leadership—but also bragging about how many home runs she hit in her latest Jumbo game.

-Natalie Clark, Class of 2014.