To my soon-to-be President, On Lewiston

It has been a week and a half since the Bates Board of Trustees announced their selection for the new President of Bates College (effective July 1st, 2012) Clayton Spencer.  I had many musings about her speech, which I attended with about 600 other students, faculty, alumni, and staff, but it isn’t until now that I feel they have all sifted down and I know exactly what I want to write.

Ava Clayton Spencer (bates office of media and communications)

First of all, her speech was wonderful; full of humility, kind words, joyful anticipation, and a wholly genuine spirit. It is not just the emotion with which she shared her address though, she shared some crucial thoughts that struck me deeply and made me rejoice that the Board had chosen such a wonderful person. Two things I loved the most: #1, One of the very first things she said in her speech when she talked about her “love at first sight” with Bates concerned Bates’ incredible history of its founding: both men and women, whites and blacks have been allowed to enroll in the college from its founding in 1855. This is also something I learned upon touring at Bates and it was learning the story of Bates’ founding that first touched my heart (before that moment all I knew were statistics). #2, The other moment when my heart swelled with pride for my school who seemed to have chosen such a perfect candidate was when Clayton began to speak on the role of higher education in our society today. This issue is crucial to me. And I will never ever think the subject exhausted. I don’t think the general population at Bates talks about this nearly enough. Many discussions I have had about this topic have been with my friends from Bates Christian Fellowship or with my friends who are international students. I won’t use any words but her own because she says it so eloquently:

“But there are also very real challenges — for higher education and for the residential liberal arts college in particular. This kind of education is expensive for institutions to provide and for families to afford, and it does not help that we have a slack economy and challenging demographics.
Furthermore, large forces — fundamental shifts in the organization of knowledge, the ubiquity of technology, and the fact of global interconnectedness made so apparent by the financial crisis — are changing both the context for what we do, and, in important respects, the content and texture of the educational experience itself.
All institutions need to engage these forces and adapt.  But we also need the courage to claim the power and importance of what we do.
More than ever, we need the frameworks provided by the liberal arts — to link values and knowledge to  a life of what historian Nancy Koehn has called “right action.”  To carve understanding and wisdom out of the welter of information bombarding us from all directions.  To learn, and relearn, how to live authentic lives in a world of images and constructed identities. To serve with passion and rigor purposes larger than ourselves in a culture rife with instrumentalism.
As Peter Gomes said it better than anyone could, always, we need to learn ‘to live in the full implication of our human gifts.'”

All of President Clayton Spencer’s speech can be found here.

And now one short word on the only thing that this altogether perfect President-elect hasn’t mastered yet: what Lewiston, our little town, is and how this school is a part of that greater community. I thought I would send her a little note “On Lewiston” because I think after four years, going to church in the community, volunteering at the youth organizations and soup kitchens downtown, going to Maineiacs games, and concerts at the Franco-American Heritage Center I would love to tell her the beauty of this city, maybe some things she might not know yet.

On Lewiston

Walking home from the library at 1:00 am, the city is deserted and dipped in a blanket of dimness broken only by glowing lights of the street lamps that are scattered amongst the century-old trees and asphalt walkways.

The streets I cross are north to south and the ones I walk along take me west towards the edge of campus. As I stride along the crosswalk, my nose tucked in my scarf, the wind whistles up from the south. The sweet smell of bread is in the air. Its warm, comforting smell seems slightly out of place in dark city streets. This smell pervades the whole city for at least one night a week. It happens when they do the bread-rising at Country Kitchen Bakery downtown.(Country Kitchen is one of the largest bakeries in New England.)

Because I have been working all night long, my headphones are in my ears and my music is softly urging me toward my room. His name is Ray LaMontagne. And he is an amazing singer. And he lived in Lewiston preceding his incredible career as a recording artist. While living in Lewiston he worked at a shoe factory (“Ray LaMontagne” – Wikipedia) presumably in one of the old mills down by the river. Lewiston, like every other town in New England, is next to a river upon the shorelines of which numerous mills are located. The height of the mills was (if my memory serves me correctly from my class in Francophone culture freshman year) at the beginning of the 20th century. The employment opportunities attracted many French-Canadians and established the large population of Franco-Americans that now live in Lewiston. And also the incredibly large population of cathedrals. Lewiston houses the only basilica in the state of Maine, and the second largest church in all of New England.

Speaking of immigration it would be hard to talk about Lewiston without mentioning the community of Somali immigrants in Lewiston, well over 3% of the total population. (It was 3% in 2003 when Ryan Heffernan’05 did an article for the Bates Magazine.) The diversity in Lewiston makes for a wonderful variety of people and situations in Lewiston and is a beautiful connection that Bates shares with the Lewiston community. Many students at Bates work in literacy programs in the city or homework help for ESL kids at Tree Street Youth (an organization founded by Julia Sleeper ’08).

As I near the house and get ready for the exhausting climb up to the third floor (I know it isn’t much but after lifting and erging in one day, you’d be a wimp about it too), I regard our beautiful old victorian house with fondness. The stars are glinting from behind the many angled roof (you can always see vibrant stars despite the city lights) and deep stately shadows are cast across the elegant face of the house.

My musing only begins to cover the character of this city, one of the most important things I haven’t mentioned yet is that the food in Lewiston is incredible. Perhaps I will devote an entire entry to food in Lewiston. It deserves an entire blog.

For now, a view of the city, yellow in street lights and above dotted with stars, will rest the tale.

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