Alumni Column: A Great Place to Fail

James Campbell Quick

In my freshman year at Colgate (1964-65) I was seriously challenged by the academic rigor of the Philosophy & Religion core course with Professor Hunt Terrell but I became more than passionate about the opportunity that Professor Terrell offered during that first year. That passion has never left me and I am now doing research with a bright, young, first generation Goolsby Scholar who won a summer McNair Research Scholarship. He chose as his ethics standard Immanuel Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals for evaluating the management of British Petroleum (BP) in his before, during, and after study of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As we work together in this research, I am using my copy of Kant from spring 1965 with all of my own freshman notes and comments. I was so passionate about the challenge and opportunity that Professor Terrell offered at Colgate that I still recall arising at 3:00am before that spring final to check out some expressions of Kant’s categorical and practical imperatives. I had turned them into equations since numbers have always been easier for me. That spring final was the first college final that I nailed with an A+. My four years at Colgate were far from over and I had my share of ups and downs but I never lost track of the great opportunity I was afforded.

In the midst of my effort to meet the challenges and exploit the opportunities, I did not fully appreciate how well I was being prepared for graduate school and beyond. It took a decade or more of perspective for me to fully understand the outstanding preparation I’d received. While I chose mathematics as my major (numbers were always easy, words…not so much) and did my Honors Thesis on the Projective Plane, I never ever lost my passion for P&R, taking as many classes as I could there. In addition to Hunt Terrell, Steve Hartshorne was absolutely great for my intellectual and spiritual development. I still teach Sunday School periodically using his Faith to Doubt, again with all my college notes in it and then some from years later.

It was not until Rebecca Chopp was chosen as Colgate’s first woman president that I became acquainted with Robert M. Shelton. From Dr. Shelton I learned more about the deep P&R tradition of Colgate and our first ’00 famous son Harry Emerson Fosdick, whom Dr. Shelton had interviewed in 1964-65 for his dissertation research at Princeton Theological Seminary. It was an interview that ultimately saved his own career in the ministry and theology.

My wife Sheri says that she knows no one who is more passionate about their alma mater than I am about Colgate. I make no apologies. While the challenges of my four years at times frustrated me and I experienced some down times and disappointments, I never lost track of the opportunities, both in the classroom and outside the classroom. I had the privilege to serve as Business Manager of the Colgate 13 my senior year and continue to stay bonded with my 13 brothers. As I watch Victor Gonzales grow through the application of Immanuel Kant’s classic moral imperatives to the events surrounding the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, I am reminded of my own passion in studying with Hunt Terrell and Steve Hartshorne nearly half a century ago. I am also reminded of when I listened to Ryan Loomis ’12 at lunch in Hamilton in April 2012 describe his passion for studying China, Chinese, and the Chinese culture.

I encourage this new generation of Colgate men and women, (my cousin Eleanor McNees ’73 was among the first women who came to Colgate by passionate choice and have made us all the better), to be fully engaged so as to take advantage of all Colgate has to offer. Be mindful of the pitfalls and problems that will keep you realistic, but stay focused on the challenges and opportunities to insure that you embrace college life with optimism and hope.