Wil Smith is a role model for minority students at an elite college in Maine
BRUNSWICK, MAINE | Starting with 11-year-old daughter Olivia, Wil Smith tries to point young people in the right direction. He’s an assistant dean at Bowdoin College, a small, elite school in Maine that, with Smith’s help, has changed from virtually an all-white campus to a school with nearly a 30 percent minority enrollment.
Smith’s mission is to make sure those students succeed.
“It takes support to remove that self doubt that they belong here,” Smith says.
One reason Smith connects so well with Bowdoin’s students is because he also attended college here — graduated back in 2000 — and those years are where this story really began.
When Smith enrolled at Bowdoin, Olivia was just 2. He was raising her alone, struggling to pay tuition, not eating some days so his daughter could.
He took her to class, to basketball practice. He had no money for day care. Eventually, the Bowdoin community learned their story and helped Smith become the first single dad ever to graduate from the college.
“He gives people like me inspiration, he gives everyone on this campus inspiration,” says student Hassan Mohammed.
Beyond campus, Smith just coached a girl’s high school basketball team to the state championship game. They lost, but players say Smith taught them how to win.
“He’ll always be, like, in the back of my head, come on you can do this, just push a little bit harder, you can go a bit further,” says Morghan McAleney, a student at Catherine McAuley High School.
Summers he spends at Seeds of Peace, a camp where Israeli and Palestinian kids come together, trying to build a peaceful future. And of course, he’s always there for Olivia.
“I think more than anything, young people need to know that the people who love them are going to love them no matter what,” Smith says.
He thinks of himself as a “coach” from a small place, helping young people do big things.