Alumni Column: Living Free

Joe Dolittle

Fifty-four years ago, I arrived at Colgate, lugged my gear to the fourth floor of West Stillman and began life as I would know it in the future. Returning in 2016 as an Era One Representative on the Alumni Council (yes, that’s the oldest Era), there are many memories and echoes for me, along with good vibes and new connections. My memories were deep and vibrant during the recent Homecoming Weekend with the Inauguration of President Brian Casey, the dedication of the Class of  ’65 Hockey Rink and all the homecoming athletics and celebrations. The “spirit that is Colgate” was palpable and comforting. What a gathering of good hearts and minds that weekend was! Its memory traveled home with me and set me to reflecting a bit.

I have always pondered the words of the Colgate song “1819.” It encompasses Colgate’s history and future in one document. One of my favorite echoes is the refrain:

Live true to the memory of those thirteen Men of yore.

Whose faith made tradition That shall live for evermore.

Whose deeds give us courage to strive as  They strove then.

‘Tis the spirit that is Colgate, dear mother of men.

The rush of the weekend, memories and Inauguration caused me to ponder what “living true to the memory” actually means, and what exactly is the emotion of “the spirit that is Colgate?” I do not believe I can adequately describe the “spirit,” although I sure felt its welcome and enthusiasm. Two echoes from Brian Casey’s remarks over the weekend helped my insight. Firstly, in expressing stewardship of the university, Casey promised he would care for Colgate, and also “let Colgate, be Colgate,” let that spirit continue to grow, shape and support Colgate, near and far. 

The second was a story about walking his dog, Emrys, on campus one night. He let the dog cavort with some first-years in front of the dorms, then continued around the quad. They paused in the dark in front of the Classics Library in Lawrence Hall. Casey described looking in from the dark to the lighted conference area, where a professor was just beginning a seminar. He noted that was probably one of Colgate’s finest moments, the interchange of ideas and learning between students and faculty. Moments that, he said, he would protect and build upon.

As I listened, I couldn’t place the Classics Library in Lawrence Hall. It was added as part of a renovation in the 1990’s. As I re-entered it for Alumni Council sessions, the place seemed unfamiliar. On Saturday, following the Inauguration, I was looking for the meeting room for the Committee Planning Colgate’s Bi-Centennial, and I had to ask a student in Lawrence Hall to guide me. He opened the door and, lo and behold, I entered the Classics Library!  There, the Committee, chaired by Jill Harsin, was actively engaged in discussions on learning, sharing spirit and history. I had entered President Casey’s story. The spirit that is Colgate was palpable.

On the drive home, I pondered a bit and said a thank you for the experience of the weekend. I was a part-time participant, an observer, and grateful for that spirit seeming to continue, growing stronger. I realized how many students, faculty and staff in the present nurture and generate this emotion and feeling of connection. So thank you for your care and contribution in that effort, and for guiding an old man into the Classics Library and President Casey’s story. Let us let Colgate be Colgate, generating Spirit, and may we live true to the memory of those thirteen of yore.