Alumni Column: Yes, Fairest Theme of All Our Lays

Bob Austrian, Class of 1985

In recent years, my family and I have been fortunate to return to Colgate – to Hamilton, I mean – more often than most alumni. Whether in the depths of January for a hockey weekend, during a reunion or homecoming, an event connecting with students or for bucolic visits during the gorgeous mid-summer everyone should experience, each return to Hamilton reminds me that I never left Colgate at all. We depart from and return to Hamilton, that’s true, but not Colgate. That said, I wish more alumni could make it home to Colgate more frequently, as it’s an unmatched experience.

Nevertheless, Colgate isn’t merely a placefrom which we yearly roam, despite timeless lyrics by Lindol French ’02 in our Alma Mater (perhaps he was referring to summer recess).  Colgate is aspirit – that “same, fond spirit” – and these past years I’ve realized that the Colgate spirit extends far beyond Hamilton, and even further in time than our handful of undergraduate years. It is everywhere that students, faculty, staff, alumni and our families are found. And these days, that’s an increasingly global footprint that seems to reach into all aspects of personal and professional life. Hamilton may be our home for a while, and campus our centerpiece, but that’s just the start of an enduring and far-reaching Colgate spirit we all share. Wherever we are – wherever you are –that’swhere Colgate is found (and wherever the number 13 is found, of course).

At work, a handful of Colgate alums who knew nothing of one another, some graduating decades apart, share an instantaneous bond. It has changed our working relationship as we leverage the Colgate experience. Parents of current students I welcome every year seem as familiar and warm as the parents of my classmates when we first met freshman year. Current students are equally welcoming to alumni, in my experience, and not just when networking for internships or when going downtown for late night at the Jug. An alumnus in a distant city admired my Colgate hat in passing this previous weekend, and a friendly conversation began immediately. It always does. And better still, the Colgate spirit seems only to grow over time. 

I’ve often wondered about the phrase “fairest theme of all our lays” in the Alma Mater. As an Economics major, I at times wondered what that line meant and admit to not knowing, despite singing the words hundreds or thousands of times. Apparently, a lay (or lai) is a narrative poem, song, lyrical writing or a “romance,” defined as a medieval tale based on legend, love and adventure.  

The Alma Mater suggests that the Colgate experience and spirit is our fairest theme. But our fairest or finest of them all? Undergraduate years that I recall didn’t exactly fit within that romantic description, much as I loved my experience and it was a legendary adventure. As my Colgate life, involvement and friendships have unfolded since graduation, the phrase has begun to make sense. In fact, it has proved true and more important than I appreciated.

Today, decades since I first met classmates, professors and alumni, Colgate has become a foundation for so much of my family, friendship and professional life. As a student, I never anticipated the permanence and importance of the friendships I made through student groups (a cappella, Greek life) and engagement with favorite faculty and administrators. Adult children of classmates have become my friends. Classmates have become career advisors to my adult children. Hamilton has become a regular destination and home-away-from-home. Alumni and networking events fill my calendar months in advance, as do dinners and parties with classmates and their families, and the list goes on. Many aspects of life come and go, or fade with time, but not Colgate.

Suffice it to say that while it has taken years to become apparent, for me Colgate truly has become the fairest theme of all our lays. I only hope that over time, all undergraduates (all soon enough alumni) find this proves as true, meaningful and satisfying. 

Colgate, Alma Mater, Yes, fairest theme of all our Lays.