Bicentennial message: Colby’s greatest foe is complacency

Colby Bicentennial Seal 1964-2013

February 27, 2013


President William D. Adams speaks at the bicentennial celebration, Oct. 19, 2012, along with Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin ’64.

Our greatest risk is complacency. Against the background of our history, characterized for so long by scarcity and relentless adversity, the sources of that complacency are not hard to see. The permanent resources of the College have increased dramatically in the last several decades, and we live in a fundamentally different financial universe than our predecessors of even three or four decades ago. We enjoy unprecedented demand for the experience we provide, and the quality of the student body improves with every passing year. Our national and international reputation is enviable and growing, and we have a proud and loyal and engaged alumni body, 26,000 strong, that is willing to give of its wealth and talents to make the College a better place.

But we must not give in to complacency. And so I ask us to think again of Daniel Merrill, sitting in a pool of candlelight in a small, cold room in Boston, writing to his wife on the night of February 25th, 1813, the entire history of the College still before him. Imagine with me the intensity of commitment, the sense of urgency, the courage and the faith that inspired him and so many others in our history to imagine the future and then to make it appear, against so many odds.

It is this relentless passion for an idea that we must attempt to recall and to model in the future. If we do, then there is no challenge that will be beyond our capacity to resolve. And as we do so, we will be mindful of the fact that we have a resource that Daniel Merrill and his colleagues did not have–the extended Colby community of students and faculty and staff, of alumni, parents, and friends, all pulling on the same rope. It was an earlier version of that same community that President Champlin had in mind when he closed his 50th anniversary address with an emotional appeal to “the labors and contributions of the wise and the good.” One hundred and fifty years later, the presence of that community, so clearly visible here tonight, should give us confidence and inspire us.

In 1936 President Franklin W. Johnson, the architect of Colby’s move to Mayflower Hill, wrote a short article in the Colby Alumnus following his attendance at Harvard’s tercentenary. He concluded that piece by evoking this very moment and the broader Colby community gathered around it. He wrote:

Last Sunday evening, we had a picnic supper for our Freshmen on Mayflower Hill, followed by a vesper service as the sun went down. And in imagination I pictured the bicentennial of our College, which none of us will attend, when thousands of Colby men and women, now unborn, will gather to recount the achievements of the past and to honor the memory of the many who have made possible the Colby which then will be.

Just as President Franklin imagined, we have indeed gathered and remembered and honored, as another generation of Colby men and women will do 100 years from now. There will be much to talk about, I know. In the meantime, there is much to do. “The future is not some place we are going to,” a former teacher of mine liked to say, “it is something we are making.” Thank you for your contributions to the work of the College and to the future we are making together.

–President William D. Adams