About Our Founder, Senator George J. Mitchell

Senator George Mitchell

Senator George J. Mitchell was born and raised in Waterville, Maine. He is a graduate of Waterville High School, Bowdoin College, and Georgetown University Law Center. Senator Mitchell served as United States Attorney and U.S. District Court Judge for Maine. In 1980, he was appointed to the United States Senate from Maine to complete the term of Senator Edmund S. Muskie, who resigned to become Secretary of State. He was elected to a full term in the Senate in 1982 and reelected in 1988. He left the Senate in 1995 as the Senate Majority Leader, a position he had held since January 1989.

Senator Mitchell served as chairman of the Peace Negotiations in Northern Ireland. Under his leadership, the governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom and the political parties of Northern Ireland agreed to the historic Good Friday peace accord. At the request of President Bill Clinton, Senator Mitchell served as chairman of an International Fact Finding Committee on Violence in the Middle East. The committee’s recommendation, widely known as The Mitchell Report, was endorsed by the Bush administration, the European Union, and many other governments. In 2009, President Obama appointed Senator Mitchell as Special Envoy for the Middle East.

Senator Mitchell is the son of immigrants who, though they did not receive formal education, deeply understood the power that education would provide for their children. Although his family was poor, they embraced the American dream. With the support of scholarships and financial aid, Senator Mitchell and his siblings were all able to go on to college.

While he served in the U.S. Senate, Mitchell spoke at a graduation at every Maine high school at least once. When later asked about his experience with students, he had this to say:

“…I met and talked with thousands of students. I learned a lot from that experience, much of it valuable, some of it humorous…Over and over again I saw in the students’ eyes and heard in their words mirror images of myself at that age. Enough intelligence to show promise, but often obscured by anxiety and insecurity; and a lot of feigned indifference. At first I thought, ‘I can help these kids.’ Gradually, that changed to ‘I have to help these kids.’ I came to believe that I, who had received so many helping hands, had a duty to use whatever ability I possess to see that no child in Maine who wants to go to college is without a helping hand. It is, of course, a huge aspiration, perhaps unattainable in a precise, mathematical sense. But, I thought, just trying to meet that aspiration can do so much good for so many of our young citizens.”

With a personal knowledge of the importance of higher education, Senator Mitchell established the Mitchell Scholarship Program in 1995 with the goal of increasing educational opportunity for Maine students. A foundation grant in 1999 enabled him to establish the Mitchell Institute, adding career and personal support programs for Mitchell Scholars, as well as a research component. Since its founding, the Mitchell Institute has awarded more than $23 million in Scholarship funds, representing an enormous investment in Maine communities.

More than 25 years since the Institute started awarding Scholarships, our mission — and Senator Mitchell’s vision — are more vital to Maine than ever.