Each May, President Harward signs 400-plus diplomas for the graduating class. He signs them in his office, at a round wooden coffee table where he does most of his work (on his desk are his working files, a row five feet wide).
The president’s signature goes on the right side of each diploma. In an adjacent conference room, Trustee Roger Schmutz ’54, as secretary of the Bates corporation, also signs each diploma, on the left side. Like swallows to Capistrano each spring, Schmutz migrates north from Marco Island to his summer home in Maine, and heads to Bates to sign diplomas before Commencement on Memorial Day.
Schmutz signs each diploma deliberately, over a day’s time. Harward signs them at the pace of his decade-old presidency, in a couple of hours.
As a campus photographer takes a few pictures of the Bates president signing this year’s batch of diplomas (see On & Off Campus), he’s asked if he reflects on the students’ names as he signs. The president stops and confronts the question. “Now, you’re not going to make this a big deal, are you? I really don’t see this as much more than a picture and a caption.”
President Harward doesn’t like big deals when he’s the deal. Yet Harward’s retirement announcement, effective June 2002, was big news at Bates this spring and summer. He will have served 13 years by 2002, about double the average presidential tenure, and the College is now as strong as ever in its history, in many ways. But Don Harward, for one, wishes the news wasn’t so big. “There will be no pause,” he said in his announcement.
Jim Moody ’53, Bates Trustee chairman, calls Harward “indefatigable.” College presidents are high-energy types—like any good CEO—but to watch Don Harward walking the Quad between meetings is to see a man who fully wishes he could break into a jog. His allegro footfalls on the stairs of Lane Hall signal his arrival on the floor for a meeting or discussion of the senior thesis, or endowment projections, or cooperative programs with Lewiston and Auburn. A walk behind Harward as he chats with the physical plant director reveals his curiosity about the width and surface of a new campus walkway, while his annual President’s Report is written by no one but Harward himself.
About those names on the diplomas, the truth is Harward knows many of the students by face and name. He’s seen taking his minimalist breakfast (often just a cup of hot water) in Chase Hall, often with students; and athletics director Suzanne Coffey says, “I don’t know of any other NESCAC president who attends nearly the number of contests as Don Harward.”
We’ve hoped to show you more about Bates’ sixth president, as his tenure extends towards the College’s 150th anniversary. But often, requests to document his life as Bates’ president fall into the Big Deal category. Maybe within the next two years a proper valedictory will appear in Bates Magazine. Or, maybe, just a photo and caption.
H. Jay Burns