Alumni Column: Camelot, Courses and Cultural Capital

Harry Horwitz

This article is directed, primarily, to second semester seniors. If you are not one of them, and can spare two more minutes, read on anyway. I will share with you some positive thoughts about Colgate and liberal arts education, but perhaps expressed differently from what you have heard or read.

During my senior week, after our last exams ended and before graduation, I stayed in Hamilton. Back then, many seniors did.  We did not travel to Hilton Head or other places. There was enough to do in Hamilton, at the golf course, Lake Moraine, Lebanon Reservoir and other places. The lack of sleep and anxiety from final exams was over. I was with my friends, and there were no pressing demands. I was about to graduate. I should have been very happy. I was, but in a sense, I was not.

I had just spent four years in a beautiful place, with great people. Most of the people were around my age. We had diverse interests, but it didn’t matter. That helped make the community. During senior week, I was not thinking about the pressures of studying for exams. I was thinking that I experienced things in a fun, collegial, terrific atmosphere that I would never experience again. I thought it was those people, during the past four years, in that place, that made things so good. I thought I had been in Camelot and that after graduation there would be no more Camelot. I was wrong.

When I return for reunions, I am back in Camelot. When I attend Homecoming, things are good. When I go to regional Colgate events, I have fun with old friends and make new Colgate friends. I see many of my old friends, though not as often as I would like, but life is full of competing demands for our time.

Some of you may already be lamenting your impending departure from Hamilton. I have heard that before. Just realize that the ties that you develop at Colgate can last a lifetime, and you can go back to Camelot.

Now, onto the liberal arts. When I was a Colgate student, I learned fencing in a gym class. I had no desire to be a competitive fencer, but I had a feeling if I didn’t try it then, I would never try it. I was glad I did. In my last semester, one of my friends encouraged some of us to audition for the spring musical theater production. I did. I had a small part with my friends. One of the cast members is pretty famous now. A lot of good things came out of that for me, but I am not sharing my entire personal life in this article.

You are nearing your last chances to take advantage of a liberal arts education. There are probably some interesting physical education programs that you haven’t taken. Sign up for golf (or at least pay a round on Seven Oaks after the snow melts), scuba fundamentals, trap shooting or skate skiing. Visit Chapel House. Do something different. You will have other chances after you graduate, but the opportunities may not be as diverse or close at hand.

Some of you may not know what your post-Colgate career path will be. Most people don’t know what the future will bring, although lots of people have plans. Plans change. Regardless of what you do after Colgate, you may be surprised when you realize how much of your liberal arts education you apply in “real life.” Even if you do not become a physicist, if you learned about the coefficient of friction, you may apply it in the real world if you work in the construction industry, law or interior design. I can’t recall all examples of things I learned at Colgate and later used at work, but two examples are the price elasticity of demand (economics) and cognitive dissonance (psychology).

So the three points are:

(1) If you are sad about leaving Colgate, that’s understandable, but you can still enjoy Colgate after graduation.

(2) It is not too late to expand your horizons, so learn something different.

(3) Regardless of how unusual those things are, and maybe how impractical they appear, you may actually use them (many times) in the real world.