Address by Mimi A.R. Koehl

Unedited transcript, subject to change and correction, of Commencement 2009 remarks by Mimi A.R. Koehl, who received the honorary degree Doctor of Science.

I am so honored to be recognized in this way by Bates College, so thank all of you. Being here is bringing back lots of memories from my own undergraduate experience at a small liberal arts college.

I want to see a show of hands from the graduates. How many of you were caused to take a course in a subject that you would not have chosen to study otherwise [most raise hands]. As Trish [Morse ’60, citation presenter] said, I was an art major and I was caused to take a science distribution requirement, and it changed my life. One of the main messages that I want to get across to you who have had a liberal arts education is don’t be afraid to cross boundaries. A lot of the problems facing the world today are so complicated that it is going to take people who can talk across boundaries and work across boundaries to solve them.

We need more than just scientists and economists. We need humanists, as well, to work together to solve these complicated problems. You who have had a liberal arts education are probably better prepared than most people to be able to work in this new world and make it a better place. You’re graduating during challenging economic times, and you may not have your dream job right away. But that doesn’t mean life can’t be interesting or rewarding.

One thing I should mention is that we carry with us an education that makes us see pieces of the world more deeply than other people. We can see these flowers, and they are pretty to everybody but to me they are really gorgeous because I understand the physics of how water is transported through them. Those of you who are biochemistry majors probably think they are really cool because you understand photosynthesis. And those of you who studied other fields can perceive pieces of the world around you with more depth and understanding and appreciation than the rest of us. Don’t forget that.

You’ve learned how to learn here. The challenge that I would like to give to you today is, at the end of every day, as you go forward from here, ask yourself, “What did I learn today?” If you didn’t perceive your world enough to learn anything new, then live tomorrow differently. Life may be hard. But don’t let it be boring or superficial.