On Saturday, July 30th, College of the Atlantic celebrated another year of extraordinary support with our most important giving society, The Champlain Society. The reception was held at Skylands, the summer home of Martha Stewart. Martha was a generous, gracious host and the evening was spectacular. These were the comments I delivered that evening — to a crowd of nearly 200!
I’m going to yell because I want all of you to hear the words ‘Thank you” very clearly.
When our founders hatched COA 46 years ago, they had three missions in mind: revitalize the economic, intellectual, and cultural life of MDI; cultivate the most dynamic, adventurous and effective minds to address the most pernicious problems we face a a planet; and bring a new model of education to the world.
With revitalizing MDI, it wasn’t just about warm bodies living here year round and spending money, but, rather, about the preparation and seeding of an amazing cadre of COA alumni who would settle here. Alumni who
- Built businesses like Reel Pizza and the Criterion in Bar Harbor
- Founded restaurants like Havana and The Burning Tree and Café This Way
- Care for our health as leaders of the non-profit Healthy Acadia and as doctors and physician assistants in the hospital
- Steward the land as rangers in the park, biologists at Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and as staff at Friends of Acadia — a third of FOA staff are COA alums
- Sculpt the land as landscape architects like Dennis Bracale, as gardeners like Mary Roper of the Azalea Gardens and as farmers like Matt Gerald at Sweet Pea Farm
- Teach the kids in our public schools and run the schools as principals and vice-principals
- Are the artists like Jennifer Judd McGee or like Dan Farrenkopf of Lunaform
- Are the founders of the newly established MDI Community Energy Center, which will bring energy efficiency and sustainability all over the island.
It’s amazing when you list things out like that: COA folk help make this Island thrive.
Our second mission is to seed the world with creative, entrepreneurial, adventurous people to make it more just, more humane, more beautiful, more sustainable.
Surya Karki is one such seed, an incredible Davis Scholar from Nepal. In his senior year he joined our Hatchery Program for entrepreneurship and went home to Nepal to develop the Nepali version of Zipcars, a company of shared, solar powered rickshaws. But a week after he arrived the earthquake hit. He pivoted and six months later founded a non-profit, built 3 schools, and secured $3 million dollars from the Nepalese government to build an additional 20 schools in the countryside that will provide education to 5000 Nepalese children affected by the earthquake.
He’ll be managing that work from China, because he was one of just 111 Schwarzman scholars selected from an applicant pool of 3500 to participate in a new masters program in Beijing. Among all the Ivies, Oxfords, and Cambridges – there he stands among the 111, representing our great school.
But there’s also the subtle student. My 13-year-old daughter Molly and I performed in the spring talent show at COA – a hip-hop performance I was told specifically NOT to replicate here tonight.
Right before we went on, Molly and I watched from stage left as a quiet, young woman I hadn’t met performed a ballet of Ludwig Minkus. She left the audience stunned. She had this quiet confidence and from that day on I called her the stealth ballerina.
Just this past Sunday I was on our boat bringing gear and people to Mt. Desert Rock, 25 miles out at sea. The sea was angry that day my friends. To land at The Rock you need a small zodiac with an outboard. You need to set the zodiac, load it, speed off to the boat ramp and land. With everything loaded to the hilt and 20 pairs of eyes watching, who jumps on to start, pilot, and land the zodiac?, No other than Elsa the stealth ballerina; and she speeds off through the chop as if she were on a glassy lake – unbelievable. It was a very different performance, a different ballet, but also one of quiet confidence and every bit as amazing as Surya.
Students like Surya and Elsa – and all our students who hail from 40 states and 40 countries this year – have this incredible vision, capability, and daring and should give you hope in a time when it’s in short supply.
As a school of 350 I’m often asked – why so small? It’s strange: no one asks The Julliard School “why so small?” And that’s my vision for COA: the Julliard of the environment.
Like Julliard, we’re small by design.
We’re small because our focus is on the quality of experience – think of us as small batch whiskey — and we want the best people here regardless of their financial background.
We’re small because we demand our students NOT be anonymous and not simply pass through college, but become a part of a community and learn what it means to run an institution.
We’re small because the way we teach demands it; because you can’t learn by doing in a lecture hall of 1200. You learn by doing in a field, in a boat, in a tidal pool, or on a mountain with 12.
We’re small, but we have greater impact than our own numbers alone because of our third mission: to take our model for learning and set it down elsewhere. We see that here on MDI with the new Community School, based on our model for younger kids; or the Sage school a new high school in Idaho based on COA or in Germany and the Philippines where two new colleges have formed in our image; or, most recently, in Japan where on the invite of the governor of Hiroshima we are helping build a Japanese COA.
Importantly, our success against these three missions is being recognized.
Our success is recognized in the media where over the past year we were featured in the NYT three times, the Wall Street Journal, on the front page of the Chronicle of Higher Education, and were recently named the best collegiate website in the country.
Our success is also attested in the record number of student applications to COA we had this year and the quality and number of faculty applications that have brought us artist Sean Foley and agronomist Kourtney Collum.
And finally, our success is felt in the number of people here and in the growing number of people who really love us and want to see us succeed.
A toast to Martha for having us, for all of you and for your support, and to the College of the Atlantic. Thank You.