Alumni Column Capturing Colgate’s Brand




I have the privilege of serving on the Colgate Alumni Council and recently attended the Council’s mid-winter meetings in Hamilton at which, in addition to helping to host Real World, the Council devoted substantial time and thought to President Herbst’s Strategic Planning Pro­posal for Colgate. Colgate’s next strategic plan is a weighty and important initiative that will shape Colgate’s future. We applaud President Herbst for welcoming the voice of alumni, among the other key constituencies of Colgate (including students – yes, you too have a voice, so be sure to let it be heard).

Before grappling with Colgate’s critical needs for the future, the Council thought it was important to identify what is right about Colgate. What makes Colgate special, unique and successful?

What is Colgate’s brand? While this may seem like a simple task, it is surprisingly difficult to articulate our brand in succinct terms – even for Colgate liberal arts graduates who know and love our college and have been taught to think critically and to marshal our words in a compelling fashion.

The problem is that there are so many facets that make Colgate…well, Colgate, that no single statement captures the Colgate brand effectively. Here’s what we know: Col­gate is about engagement of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents and the community – intellectual, social, athletic, civic and global engagement. It’s about being taught and inspired by members of the faculty who also have us over for dinner.

It’s about being small but mighty, fielding Division 1 ath­letic teams, having our debate team advance to the World Universities Debate Championships and producing leaders in the world of finance, media, marketing and law (to name just a few). It’s about having the “oldest college weekly in America.” It’s about our student athletes who put us at the top of the NCAA Graduation Rate.

It’s about the beauty of our campus and the surround­ing countryside and yes, the isolation of our residential college community. It’s about our increasing diversity and expansive study abroad program. It’s about the strength of our Core curriculum. It’s about alumni who reach across generations to provide financial support, mentoring and job opportunities. It’s about snow, snow and more snow (not for the faint of heart). It’s about engendering an entrepreneurial spirit. It’s about the lessons in self-gover­nance and philanthropy, fostering community across classes and the fun provided by Greek life. It’s about having our lucky number be 13 and those 13 men with 13 dollars and 13 prayers who started it all. It’s about our enduring tra­dition of the torchlight ceremony (also not for the faint of heart).

It’s about Gary Ross’s handwritten notes to candidates for admission and the ice cream sandwiches, too. It’s about increasing and achieving our capital campaign goal during an economic crisis when other colleges are lowering theirs. It’s about having a complete stranger embrace (and almost accost) us when we are wearing a Colgate t-shirt, hat or any other Colgate garb, just to say that “his sister’s husband’s best friend’s daughter” went to Colgate. It’s about the love and passion that Colgate students and alumni (and their families) have for our college and for one another.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. All of those things comprise the essence of Colgate, or the spir­it that is Colgate; something that is difficult to capture in a brand, but powerful and important to preserve. Can we improve Colgate? Absolutely. Are there drivers for change that we must pay attention to in order to keep Colgate competitive and successful? Yes. Changing demographics, globalization and the increasing pressure to make the case for Colgate’s value proposition against the cost of a Colgate education and, in the context of a difficult economic cli­mate and job market, require us to step up our game. The world is changing around us, and Colgate must be proac­tive in anticipating and meeting those changes in order to continue to excel. But I believe that the answer to the fun­damental question of what we want Colgate to be is that we want Colgate to be Colgate, only stronger.