Close to 40 students, faculty and members of the Class of 1953 gathered in Hubbard Hall on Monday for the dedication of the Thomas R. Pickering Room, named in honor of Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering ’53, H’84. Previously called Hubbard 2 West, the classroom is used by the government and legal studies, economics and history departments. 

The Class of 1953—led by class secretary J. Warren Harthorne ’53—initiated the dedication. Renovations to the room were made possible by a $100,000 donation from Harthorne and a $150,000 grant from the George I. Alden Trust. 

The dedication on Monday was not the first Bowdoin tribute to Ambassador Pickering, who was awarded an honorary doctorate of law degree from Bowdoin in 1984 as well as the Bowdoin Prize—the highest honor the College offers—in 2005. 

Pickering has served in a number of influential diplomatic positions, including tenures as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President George H.W. Bush and the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs under President Bill Clinton.

“Ambassador Pickering has lived his entire life in support of the common good and in service to our country.  He is a shining example to all of our students of the important work one can do for our government and foreign service,” President Barry Mills said in a speech at the dedication event.

Lining the tables were framed letters from former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright H’13, former National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, former Senator George Mitchell ’54, Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government Professor Nicholas Burns, and former Senate member William Cohen ’62 that echoed Mills’ praise for Pickering.
In his speech, Harthorne spoke with affection for Pickering, his Bowdoin classmates and the importance of leadership and public service.

“The genesis of this room was partly in the hope that the students who study here will see the value of a life devoted to public service,” Harthorne said.  

Harthorne said that after studying at a place like Bowdoin, students have a responsibility to give something back to the world.

“If I had to make any change to this room, [I would] print the expression ‘noblesse oblige’—‘from those of noble birth, much is expected,’” Harthorne said.

Pickering also spoke at the dedication. He said he loved his time at the College and recalled studying in the room that is now named after him.  

“The school offered a lot of things I didn’t expect to find and opened doors to me in many ways,” Pickering said.

Though the whole room is a tribute to Pickering, Mills said that the nook of couches and chairs in the back of the room especially reflect Pickering’s character. 

“This part of the room is much a testament to Tom [in that] people [can sit] quietly…carefully considering the important issues of the day,” Mills said.

The renovations are part of a larger plan for Bowdoin classrooms to better equip students and teachers with the proper space and tools to evolve with changing teaching methods. 

Bowdoin’s grant proposal to the George I. Alden Trust highlighted the College’s intentions to improve classrooms according to “modern pedagogical practices.”  

Bowdoin’s “strategic plan for classroom refurbishment” aims to “preserve the history integrity” of the classrooms, while furnishing them with lighting, flexible furniture and technology  “conducive to today’s more interactive pedagogies.”

Many of the Pickering Room’s renovations are subtle. They include LED lights and uplighting in the bookshelves, a projector and screen with a control panel hidden in the bookshelf and hidden acoustic panels lining the walls.

“We really tried to preserve the integrity of the room,” said Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd. 

Suggestions to lower the ceiling to better the acoustics were dismissed to avoid altering the aesthetics of the room.  The acoustics presented one of the biggest challenges to the renovation. Professor of Government and Legal Studies Allen Springer said he teaches his lectures in the Socratic method and found that students previously had a difficult time hearing each other talk.

In addition to improving the acoustics, the old tables and chairs were all replaced with movable, lightweight ones to allow for easier reorientation of the room for more interactive classes like Springer’s. 

“You can teach here in the most traditional way possible [or the] tables can be pushed to the side [for] a function room,” Judd says.

“This room is a shining example of old Bowdoin mixed with new Bowdoin,” Mills said.  “The technology in this room is pretty special and allows our faculty to do important work in today’s style of education.”

Pickering echoed Mills’ sentiment of the past and present.

“This is the best combination of the old and the new,” Pickering said.  “I feel very strongly that the new must prevail.”

Pickering said he thinks that the new room could have benefits that extend beyond Bowdoin.

“If [this room] can interest [students] in any way [to look] at the service to your country,” Pickering said, “my sense is that this room is more than a reward for me and indeed for Bowdoin, but for the country as a whole.”