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An old Polar Bear salutes Bowdoin’s new president, Safa Zaki

October 20, 2023

This piece represents the opinion of the author .
Caroline Adams

I am absolutely thrilled that Safa Zaki has taken the reins as Bowdoin’s sixteenth president and the first woman president.

Long ties with Bowdoin shape my perceptions. Great-grandfather George B. Kenniston (Class of 1862), grandfather William B. Kenniston (Class of 1892), son Jon (Class of 1990) and two granddaughters Karis (Class of 2023) and Emma Barker (Class of 2025). Moreover, my wife, Tina, and I have had more than 15 host students over the last 20 years. I also worked in the Bowdoin admissions office when the College admitted the first women in the Class of 1971.

President Zaki was born in Egypt and Awa Diaw ’11, the grand marshal of the inauguration, was born in Senegal. She is currently the president of Bowdoin’s Alumni Council. By contrast, when I was a student at all-male Bowdoin in the early 1960s, there were no women on the faculty, few women on the staff, no full-time international students and fewer than 10 students of color in the entire student body of 800. The times they are, indeed, a changin’—and all for the better.

Each of the speakers at the inauguration hit the mark with humor and humanity, wit and wisdom. They stressed the capacity of a liberal arts education to foster “generous enthusiasms,” open new worlds and serve the common good.

President Zaki showed real class at the outset by thanking all the people who spoke before her and all the people who staged the entire inauguration weekend. She referred to Bowdoin as an open-hearted community, a long-standing virtue. She spoke of learning alongside students from different places with different perspectives, of how ideas learned in one class infuse other classes. She concluded by referring to a phrase from Ars Poetica #100: I Believe by Elizabeth Alexander: “Are we not of interest to each other?”

I connected with many people who have “been of interest” to me because of Bowdoin. Al Fuchs, my faculty advisor at Bowdoin, pointed out that he and I had been around the College during the tenure of eight of Bowdoin’s 16 Presidents. Mamadou Diaw ’20, the brother of Awa Diaw, one of the graduation speakers for his class and one of our terrific host students; Julia Fiori ’24, whose father, Michael Fiori ’74, I interviewed when he applied to Bowdoin, sat behind us; I hugged the incredible Bill De La Rosa ’16, who spoke at his Bowdoin graduation and will be president of the United States some day. (I wrote about him when he was a first-year student.) I reminisced with Michael Owens ’73, whom I recruited to Bowdoin from Haverhill High School. He went on to serve as a mentor for African American students and a member of Bowdoin’s Board of Trustees; he now serves as president of the Black Alumni Association. I chatted with Bobby Ives ’69, a good friend and the winner of the Common Good Award for his work with the Carpenter’s Boat Shop. I also caught up with Lisa McElaney ’77, a former trustee, who, along with her husband, Abelardo Morell ’71, Tina, and me, served as a host parent to Alicia Lima ’19, a native of Cape Verde who is now working on her Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Chicago.

About eight of my Bowdoin classmates were there, including Rob Jarratt ’64, who sang at my wedding at the Bowdoin Chapel in 1989, and John Gibbons ’64, who, along with his wife Lile, funded the John and Lile Gibbons Center for Arctic Studies. I sat with two classmates, Tom Oliver ’64 and Vic Papacosma ’64, at the spirited gathering at Smith Union on Saturday afternoon. We were the oldest people in the room, which was rocking with young alumni exhibiting their generous enthusiasm for reconnecting with classmates.

Other highlights of the weekend included an enlightening panel on Friday afternoon, “Beyond Good or Bad: AI in the Context of the Liberal Arts,” and the wonderfully diverse student performances on Friday night, featuring the Middle Eastern Ensemble, Ursus Verses, Obvious, a swing dance group and, my personal favorite, a magnificent poem written and recited by Weatherspoon ’25, which was dedicated to the new president.

Oh, and here’s another fond memory of the weekend: President Zaki joined the Bowdoin football captains in the middle of the field for the coin toss before the game with Bates. Bowdoin won the toss (and the game), and as Safa was walking back to the sidelines, I noticed that she was smiling and, yes, she pumped her fist. Now that’s my President. Go, Us Bears!

David Treadwell is a member of the Class of 1964.


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