Alumni Council Column: Enduring Connections

I attended Colgate between 1975 and 1979. Coming back to campus regularly over the past 40 years has shown me just how much students’ experiences have changed. My daughters (Classes of 2011 and 2017) didn’t even believe some of the stories I have shared with them! But as different as our experiences on the hill have been, students still create incredibly deep and enduring bonds during their time at Colgate. 

Instead of getting breaking news alerts on our smartphones, my classmates and I had to wait to read news a day later, in the newspapers found at the Coop and in the library. We communicated with our families utilizing pay phones at the end of our dorm’s hallway (which often provided parents the opportunity to hear background conversations that would’ve been better left unheard).  Instead of unlimited meals, the Hall of Presidents offered 90 minute meal slots for each meal. We walked up and down the hill – a lot – and didn’t have heated steps at Persson Hall. If we were hungry late at night, we relied on “Grinder Man,” rather than the dining hall. It was less sketchy than it sounds; Grinder Man would show up to the dorms around 11 p.m. on weeknights to sell sandwiches to hungry students. You’d know he arrived by the cheers of “grinder!” that echoed throughout the dorm.  

While the academic rigor of Colgate and an invested and engaged faculty remain as constant today as they were when I attended, the experience of taking classes was radically different. We wrote papers on typewriters and covered up our mistakes with whiteout. If we made too many mistakes, we had to re-type the entire assignment. Papers were hand delivered to the professor at the start of class. We had a January term and a required summer semester, both of which were awesome. 

Current students have new academic and residential facilities, computers,

instant communication, 24-hour dining halls (and alas no need for Grinder Man), cruisers and a growing Career Services Office and connections to alumni. Colgate even now has nationally ranked women’s athletic teams, including the women’s hockey team which recently played in the NCAA Frozen Four Finals.

But even amid these changes, much about Colgate has remained constant over generations. Colgate continues to provide a rigorous academic

environment, through its excellent faculty, diversity of course offerings, student research opportunities, and study abroad groups. Homecoming, Spring Party Weekend and the Torchlight tradition connect alumni across the years. Most importantly, Colgate students continue to have something that is, I believe, unique to Colgate: the friendships we create with our fellow Colgate students. Despite our busy lives, we all manage to stay connected. And when we have the opportunity to get together – whether at reunions or elsewhere – it is as if we never parted. My daughters’ first friends were the kids of the friends I made at Colgate (they always appreciate it when we bring out the baby pictures). Now as an Alumni Council member, I’m further struck by how quickly connections are formed between alumni of different generations. Something about this place connects people.

While I can’t say for certain why Colgate produces these close ties, I am thankful for it. My enduring Colgate friendships are perhaps the greatest gift of my Colgate education. I encourage you to find community and friendship while you are here: seek shared spaces, be kind, debate differences with civility and open-mindedness, be willing to learn from one another. Foster these relationships, because your Colgate friends will support you for many years to come.