Welcome home, President Spencer


Keenan Brent

On October 26, Bates College faculty, staff, students, and alumni gathered inside Merrill Indoor Gymnasium to formally welcome President A. Clayton Spencer to her new home.

In 2011, Spencer’s impressive résumé and “Bates” personality convinced the Board of Trustees that she was the right pick for the school’s next president. Her vast experience with education began working as chief education counsel to the United States Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. During this time, she worked for Senator Edward M. Kennedy and made significant contributions to the nation’s education legislation and policy.

Spencer then went on to work in several positions at Harvard University before becoming the school’s Vice President for Policy. During her time as Vice President, she played an essential role in the redesign of the school’s financial aid program and helped to create the Crimson Summer Academy for gifted, yet financially-disadvantaged, high school students.

Since the official start of her term as Bates’ president in July, Spencer has been an ubiquitous presence on the campus, and her inauguration long-awaited.

Representatives from each part of the Bates community began Spencer’s inauguration ceremony
with kind words of welcome. Speaking on behalf of the students, Jacqui Holmes told Spencer, “It’s your down to earth nature and sense of humor that make you so Bates.” Alumnus Jennifer Bouchard assured the audience, “With President Spencer at the helm, the rest of the world will hear from Bates.” With each greeting from the community, it became apparent that Spencer had already profoundly impacted the lives of many and that each member highly anticipated her continued work with the college.

To conclude the series of greetings, President Adam Falk of Williams College applauded the president’s work in the educational field and offered further insight to her personality. As a classmate of Spencer’s at Williams College, Falk shared some of the pair’s personal experiences and added to the chorus of praise for the president.

“You understand as well as anyone I know, what makes colleges and universities work,” he stated, “That you have heart in abundance has already been shown… in your new home.”

Following the greetings from the Bates community, President Drew Gilpin Faust of Harvard University formally introduced the college’s new president with a summation of Spencer’s stay as Harvard’s Vice President of Policy: “Everything good that happened from when she arrived in 1997 to when she left in June was because of Clayton Spencer. Everything bad that happened while she was here was something she objected to.”

Spencer was then presented symbols of the office: the presidential collar, record book, and keys. The presidential collar was a gift from the Class of 1904, and has been worn for ceremonial events since 1954. The record book is meant to “represent the [college’s] longevity, high aspirations, and historical legacy,” while the keys represent the president’s authority.

With this presentation, the remainder of the ceremony was handed over to Spencer. Her sense of humor and presence on the stage commanded the attention of the audience as she accepted the symbols and moved to deliver her speech.

Almost immediately, Spencer took on a serious tone – urgently addressing current changes in the framework of the nation and drawing upon words of the same tone from past presidents of the college. Now, she said, it is critical to focus on both maintaing and improving the principles upon which the college was founded. To further expound upon this message, she related the story of late Bates alumnus, Benjamin E. Mays.

Mays’ story highlighted the essence of Bates College, but also called to attention changes that Spencer said will need to be addressed. With the story, she sought to show the Bates community the values necessary to improving the college.

“At Bates, we don’t have time to waste. We know who we are and what we stand for, and we stand ready – together – to challenge ourselves and to engage the world,” Spencer concluded.

The inauguration came to an end as faculty, staff, and distinguished guests marched out of the gymnasium to the beats of the Steel Pan Orchestra. Words of Harvard President Faust, however, lingered: “Bates is blessed to have found its perfect president.”