In a few short months, each member of the Class of 2010 will earn an auspicious title: Colgate Alumnus. While each of you have had countless advisors, faculty members, family members and friends tell you what you have to do to be good, contributing Colgate students, I suspect that no one has ever taken the time – as I will attempt to do here – to tell you what is required to be good, contributing Colgate alumni.
To understand what it takes to be an effective alumnus, it is first necessary to examine what it took for Colgate to provide you with the first-class education that you have received.
First and foremost, educating students in the Colgate tradition requires money. Lots of money. I am sure that each of you knows the cost of tuition at a first-class liberal arts college. What you may not know, however, is that tuition covers only 65 percent of the total cost of educating students at Colgate. The remaining balance is paid primarily by Colgate alumni and supporters through Endowment earnings and Annual Fund contributions.
Second, it took time, energy and commitment from alumni to provide you with the complete Colgate educational experience. How many of you have been able to meet and talk with Alumni Council members, discuss problems and explore possibilities with alumni mentors during Real World? These activities are a just a few examples in which alumni volunteer their time and expertise to help you, the current Colgate student, learn, grow and succeed. Without consistent and active alumni involvement, this vital part of the Colgate Experience would not be possible.
When you graduate, remember that your accomplishments are, in no small part, the result of the financial and non-financial contributions of countless alumni over many generations. As you graduate and join the esteemed ranks of over 30,000 Colgate alumni, remember that you are now a part of that foundation. What you do, what you give and how much time you volunteer will impact the educational experience for future Colgate students.
Years ago, I attended one of my class Reunions. As I stood in the tent, drinking beer and talking into the night with a number of classmates, I spoke openly about my consistent Annual Fund support. I asked one classmate if he would be willing to join me in making a gift in our Reunion year.
His reply shocked me. He adamantly suggested that because his parents paid full tuition, and because they contributed to the Annual Fund during his tenure, he didn’t “owe Colgate anything.” I pushed him. I asked whether he felt Colgate had shaped him as a young adult, whether the institution taught him lessons about hard work, problem-solving and human interactions. But he didn’t get it. In wanting to prove his independence, he refused to give even partial credit to anyone else for his success.
As you reflect on your own experiences at Colgate, remember that you have had the great fortune of being part of the extended Colgate family. This is a group that can not only support your career aspirations, but also be a source of friendships, happiness and sense of belonging. How valuable it that?
Over the years, other people have asked me why they should give back to Colgate. Certainly I feel it is my duty to give back. A better reason, though, is because I believe in the value of a top-rate liberal arts education. I believe that by making Colgate the best it can be today, I can positively impact the lives of countless Colgate students that will come to Hamilton in future years. The real reason I give back to Colgate, though, is because it feels good to be a contributing part of such a great institution. I once heard a sermon during which a priest said that the goal with charitable giving is not to give until it hurts, but to give until it feels good. Try it and you will see. It really does.
So, here’s the advice I’ll share with you as soon-to-be alumni. After you graduate, contact your local District Club. Go to events, meet people, have fun. Come to Reunion. Call on other alumni for help personally and professionally, and be willing to talk to students and other alumni who may call you for the same purpose. And give back, both of your time and of your financial resources. The actual amount can start small, when your income is low, but it should grow as your income grows. Do these things and you will have achieved the status of fully engaged Colgate alumnus. As a result, you will be able to enjoy, rightfully, all the benefits of being a part of such a wonderful extended family.