Colgate Students Continue Initiatives to Reimagine Torchlight


Maddie Veronis, Maroon-News Staff

Konosioni and the Senior Class Council co-sponsored a brainstorming session, gathering students from all four class years together to reimagine a graduation ceremony for the Class of 2018 and beyond on Monday, February 26. 

This discussion followed the forum hosted by The Colgate Maroon-News on February 12, which featured President Casey and focused on the role of Artist-in-Residence Barnaby Evans and the involvement of alumni and students in discussions about the status of the Torchlight tradition. 

Seniors KJ Colman, Lucien Reubens, Shemuel Malave and Woohee Kim led the brainstorming session on February 26. They began by encouraging students to contribute as many ideas and opinions as possible. Konosioni displayed a slideshow they created that detailed an itinerary for the gathering. It emphasized the need to discuss what exactly will be held in place of a torch, how students will hold the new object and where exactly they will be holding it. 

Senior Raven Williams explained why Konosioni hosted the forum.

 “President Casey is talking to several groups on campus, and Konosioni and the Senior Class Council are two groups amongst those. A lot of students felt that no one knew what they wanted in terms of what we’d carry. In order to come up with ideas, we decided to hold a student forum so they could voice their opinions without an administrative presence. It was really for students to throw out their opinions as to what they’re expecting this May,” Williams said. 

The slideshow displayed images of four objects that have been suggested so far: a candle with a Colgate crest, a candle inside of a lantern, a glass bottle filled with LED lights and an LED balloon. In the process of coming up with these ideas, Konosioni agreed to keep with the tradition of passing on the light of knowledge, but without the imagery of the torch, which is perceived by many to be harmful.

Konosioni released a statement detailing its stance on the Torchlight ceremony on its Facebook page. 

“While this ceremony may seem harmless, we cannot deny that the use of torches by white crowds has been overwhelmingly violent. The combination of whiteness and torch bearing has represented violence from the dawn of slavery, to the lynchings during The Reconstruction and Jim Crow Eras. Even today, this image has been employed by Neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists to parade their hate, violence and idiocy through the streets,” Konosioni wrote in its statement. 

After viewing the suggestions made by Konosioni, several students expressed that they liked the idea of having a lasting object and something that can be personalized either with name or class year. 

Senior Molly Diamondstein brought up the significance of using an object that is powered by an LED light versus something that burns. 

Several students suggested that the procession from the Academic Quad down the hill should end surrounding Taylor Lake, and perhaps with placing an illuminated object either around the lake or floating onto lake. 

Other students questioned what would actually be feasible and sustainable with roughly 700 students crowding around the marshy area and whether these objects would be reusable.  

It was also discussed whether the candle option would change the celebratory atmosphere of this part of commencement – perhaps making it more of a somber procession that resembles a vigil. Shemuel Malave responded by arguing that this is inevitably a celebratory, high-energy event. 

Junior Renee Roundy reflected on the replacement options presented. 

“I enjoyed the forum and thought that it was a good space for hearing a variety of Colgate voices. Personally, I love the lantern idea because I think that it encompasses the symbolism of the ‘light of knowledge’ as well as unity of the student body,” Roundy said.

Some students voiced support for Willow Path to be decorated with strings of lights like it was during the holiday season this past winter.  The possibility of a musical accompaniment such as drums, bagpipes, a capella groups or a concert were all mentioned. In addition, the procession concluding with fireworks above Whitnall Field was strongly supported by students. 

A few students also envisioned the entire Class of 2018 congregating at the end of the procession to spell out “2018,” while a drone took a picture. 

Another issue raised was how students should continue to discuss and refer to Torchlight. The leaders of the forum reminded the audience that this part of Colgate’s Commencement weekend was originally called “Illumination.” 

Colman, Reubens, Malave and Kim also emphasized the importance of providing structure in creating a new tradition while also encouraging openness and the ability to evolve the tradition for future classes. They also expressed the need to set a positive precedent so that alumni who participate in recreating the Torchlight ceremony during reunion are accepting of this initiative and encouraged to follow what is created by the current students of Colgate. 

After the forum, senior Chloe Matonis expressed her views on the process of changing the tradition. 

“I am fine with anything as long as the harmful imagery of torches is replaced. As for alumni that have such strong opinions and are trying to dictate what the ceremony will look like, I think their input is irrelevant,” Matonis said.

Following this gathering, Konosioni sent out a Google form to the Class of 2018 giving students several options for the procession to rank in order of importance to them. The options included the objects that Konosioni had presented, in addition to ideas brought up at the forum. The form also provided space for comments. 

Following this email, over 25 students responded via “Reply All”  to the chain, voicing their opinions. A handful of students expressed concern about the fact that the original torch was not listed as an option in the form. Other responses expressed ambivalence when  faced with the choice between new and old traditions. Some even conveyed apathy for the form in which the ceremony will eventually take. Most common were criticism of the chosen avenue to express these concerns and pleas to stop flooding email inboxes across campus.    

Responding to the increase in conversations, Senior Class President Madison Bailey sent out an email to the Class of 2018 on Thursday, March 1 indicating the need to address this through another forum and urging students to join the working group. 

“I was asked by President Casey to form this working group and we will work directly with him to create a solution that our class is proud of. I want to reiterate that no single group will decide the fate of the Torchlight procession for our class, as many groups are meeting with President Casey to voice their opinions and ideas,” Bailey wrote in an e-mail. 

In the link to sign up for the workshop, it read, “The goal of this group is to have an open, honest, and constructive group for the purpose of collaborating with President Casey. This group will be led by Madison Bailey, 2018 Class President.”

While a consensus has not yet been reached as to what the senior class will carry this May, if anything, it’s clear that this is still a highly divisive issue. These events demonstrate that the student body and the administration will need to continue efforts to find a way to make it a unifying, positive and celebratory part of Commencement. 

Contact Maddie Veronis at [email protected]