The Colgate Scene
July 1999
Table of contents
A fine and festive day
graduation grounds Cosby carrying MorelliOld graduation hands agreed; they had not seen a more festive commencement on a finer day. Bill Cosby orchestrated the festivities. From the moment he arrived on campus, the entertainer, author and inveterate graduation speaker charmed his swarming fans. He signed, teased and mugged for a hundred cameras.

     Cosby reserved his best performance for the graduates. His address was mostly jokes and stream-of-consciousness advice that had to be seen and heard to fully appreciate, but it was his graciousness that made the day memorable.

     First, Cosby rose to congratulate each of the honorary degree recipients in turn and then, taking up a post at the far edge of the platform, he had a word and handshake for each of the graduates. For many there were bear hugs and tomfoolery. Jamel Mitchell, who had been the object of some of Cosby's vintage faux disparagement since trying to give the comedian an 8 x 10 glossy in an attempt to break into show business, had to chase Cos to get his embrace. Bill scampered between trustees and administrators making up the platform party before grabbing Mitchell in a bear hug.

     The lively and/or irreverent ceremony was part of a weekend that capped a remarkable year and began with the Senior Class Luncheon hosted by the Alumni Corporation. There were any number of themes running through the weekend and a variety of activities -- as formal as Phi Beta Kappa initiation or as laid back as a picnic on Taylor Lake. As much as anything, commencement provides an opportunity to listen as speakers offer advice, perspective and, for the Class of 1999 especially, lots of humor. JH

Cosby with Colgate Sweatshirt
Bill Cosby, unlike some previous commencement speakers, knew exactly where he was and removed his academic garb, revealing his Colgate sweatshirt, to prove it.
Here we go, real life
by Bill Cosby

I was at the Penn Relays and saw two Colgate runners -- I don't know how the team finished -- and I went over to 'em and I said, "Hey!" And these guys had a face like this; I mean, Bill Cosby just said "hey" to you! And these guys said to me, "We're not Cornell." I didn't know why, I didn't know why they said it to me. I felt, okay, somebody must be stupid somewhere. C-o-r/C-o-l. Maybe a person with dyslexia who saw it wrong or something, but I have no problem with Colgate. Or in Spanish, Colgaté. So there, we got rid of that, that tension fly away. [Bill takes off his academic robe to reveal a Colgate sweatshirt.] . . .

     I saw an interesting story, it was a church and the congregation was there, as well as the minister speaking. And the doors opened and there stood Satan. Took three fireballs and he threw 'em; lit on the sides of the church. The minister grabbed the Bible and said, "Be gone from here, Satan." Satan threw a fireball, hit the Bible, burned it up. The minister ran out, along with the congregation, except one fellow. One fellow just sittin' there with sunglasses on looking just as smooth as he can look. And the devil threw a fireball at him; it bounced off his shoulder. The devil went over to him and said, "You realize you are the only person still sitting here?" And the guy said, "Yeah." The devil said, "Do you know who I am?" The fellow with the sunglasses, looking just as smooth as he could be, he said, "Yeah, I know you." The devil took a fireball and threw it in his crotch -- the guy just let it burn. The devil said, "Why are you not afraid of me?" The guy said, "Because I graduated from Colgate -- and I had Jerry Balmuth for philosophy." . . .

Cosby and Seed
Bill Cosby, who also lost a son, embraces Dr. Jack Seed, who accepted his son Ryan's diploma.
     This thing about your going forth out into a new world is a terrible picture. You've already been out there. You know where the beer hall is, you know where the pizza parlor is. There is nothing you have to learn except something they don't teach. College teaches matriculation, not maturity. Your rooms are just as filthy as they were the day you graduated from high school. We want that cleaned up. . . .

     There is no going forth. You are considered healed. Walk on your own. Those of you sitting there, you'll walk across this stage and some of you, I've heard you already, can't believe it. Well, believe. You're outta here. Yeah! Believe it! You can't sit anymore. J.O.B. . . .

     I don't know how many of you started out, "I'm gonna get all A's" and then you saw your first C paper and you crumbled like wet newspaper. And you found that 70 percent of anything is good enough for you. There you are, magna cum laudes, summa cum laudes, cum laudes and thank you lawdys. . . .

     Faculty are going to stay here and they are going to teach new fresh people coming in. They are going to try to put their ideas across and they are going to do it with hope and a want and a need in themselves to make a change.

     Those of you, if you would like to, send a letter to one or two professors that you didn't do well in their class because you just didn't have it. That professor came through and did his/her best; send a letter to say, "I'm sorry." You don't have to put your name to it, you know. You have no idea what it will do for a professor, just to know that two or three people said, "You didn't fail, you didn't miss, I just didn't care and that's that." Makes 'em feel much better. . . .

     Alright. So now what are you gonna do? Face up to it. Here we go, real life.

Woody Thompson speaking
Woody Thompson '89 was back at the Senior Luncheon podium ten years after being the class orator.
Senior Luncheon
Woody Thompson '89, who had been the senior class orator a decade earlier, returned to the microphone as the creator of VH-1's Pop-Up Video to decry the cult of celebrity.

     "What I'm trying to say," Thompson told the seniors after recounting run-ins with various celebrities who didn't go to Colgate, "is that you've been given a tremendous opportunity here over the past four -- for some of you five, six -- years. You enter into the next phase of your life with a tremendous advantage over most people your age who've never experienced a Hunt Terrell class or a Coop cookie.

     You are the new "celebrity." You are entering into a world where some of you are more valuable and have more insight into the future of business and commerce than the highest level executive working today. Everyone, including myself, is scared to death of you guys. There are no more barriers of entry into the working world -- the Internet will change our lives in the next five years more than they have changed in the last 50 and you guys will lead the charge.

     Ten years ago, when I ran that red light downtown for the last time on my way out of town, my choices were simple. I could join the business world or not. I chose not to and I made a go at it on my own and I will never look back. Today you have unlimited choices before you. You can join a firm who's desperate to have a Colgate grad on its team or you can create your own destiny with a keyboard and an idea. Make the right choices. Trust your instincts. Believe in yourself and you never know what will Pop-Up. After all, you did go to Colgate, and so did I."

Adam Olshansky
Adam Olshansky '99 played and sang for the Senior Luncheon gathering.
     Next up was class orator Kieran Campion.

     "I have learned some things in the last four years that I think are of immense importance. As we come to this turning point in our lives, it's important to remember that . . . it's scary. I think all of us are feeling apprehension to one degree or another right now. We are about to undergo a change of Copernican proportions when we are forced to emerge from our protective shells here at Colgate and admit that the universe does not, in fact, revolve around this little molehill in Central New York. Change is never easy, and being thrust from a comfortable place that you have learned to call home, into a cruel, mysterious world is, indeed, frightening. We will no longer have the safety net of Colgate to fall back on. I'm not afraid to admit that I feel a little bit like a baby antelope with a cough, trying to sneak past a hungry lion's den . . .

     Senior Class President Robin King presented President Neil Grabois with a silver cup, which goes annually to the person who has done the most for the class. Sarah Treffinger had a presentation for Grabois as well, turning over the class gift -- an endowed scholarship.

     The program closed with Adam Olshansky, who introduced his "Corn Song," a moving ballad about growth and change, by saying, "I've changed a lot in my four years here and I attribute that in large part to you guys."

Neil Grabois with torch
President Neil Grabois began the Torchlight Procession.
A Saturday luncheon hosted by the athletic department featured Tony Whaling '59, a former student-athlete and father of intercollegiate athletes.

     "These coaches have chosen the life of teaching you, the student-athlete, how to sacrifice, how to win and how to lose and learn. It's not important now to have figured out where you want to work or live. Those decisions will evolve. At the moment, now, have fun and remember -- savor the good times, the victories, the tears, the sweat, the dull practices, the cold drizzly days on the bench and even the defeats. That's life.

     "You'll find, and I can assure you, there are many bumps on the road through life. You must always move forward and not be crushed by the unexpected.

     "To set goals, to practice, to share, to communicate, to sacrifice -- that must sound familiar to you all -- and that is the formula to a successful life beyond this beautiful valley."

     By Saturday night, following faculty receptions and Thirteen, Swinging 'Gates and Resolutions concerts, the seniors mustered for the Torchlight Procession. They circled Taylor Lake, sang the Alma Mater and kept tradition.

Sunday began with the baccalaureate service and an address by Robert J. Lifton, professor and atrocity scholar.

     "For you the members of the Class of 1999, this is a special moment. You should savor it, take it in, take in this chapel, the sky, the clouds, the sun, because as human beings we live on images. On pictures of the world. Take in this one and store it in your mind, to be called forth when you feel the need for a rush of pleasure and beauty. But at the same time, you need to retain a sense of the dangers and the absurdities of our world, and these are all too manifest.

     "To evoke that absurdity in a more personal way, I want to mention one of my little bird cartoons. In order to perhaps keep my sanity, if one can say that, I draw these little bird cartoons, which have no artistic talent but enable me to say things more directly than in my proper intellectual writings. And in one such cartoon, which I like to consider my existential classic and which I hope applies to your feelings as well as mine, a little naive, young, enthusiastic bird looks up and says, `All of a sudden I had this wonderful feeling I am me.' And an older, bigger, more skeptical, jaundiced bird looks down and says, `You were wrong.'

     "You only need to read the first page of the New York Times a few mornings to realize that we live in a crazy mixed-up world in which new dimensions of threats seem to emerge by the day, just whether in Kosovo, or Littleton, in the prison system of New York State and the new lust for capital punishment. Now we need not, and should not, be immobilized by these threats and dangers, but neither can we ignore them.

Adonal Foyle, Neil Grabois, and Eugene M. Lang
Adonal Foyle, who made good on his promise to complete his degree, chats with honorary degree recipient Eugene M. Lang and President Grabois after the Baccalaureate service.
     "The principle here is that we must look into the abyss in order to see beyond it. We don't want to be held to the abyss, but we can't ignore it. Only by confronting these vastly destructive forces that have made this the bloodiest of all centuries, can we take steps to avoid their recurrence, to find alternative directions and possibility in the next century and indeed the next millennium. That is, a certain amount of awareness of what human beings are capable of doing to other human beings is necessary in order to lay claim to the pleasures and achievements of ordinary life."

Bagpipes sounded the call to order early on a glorious afternoon. Candidates for honorary degrees, trustees, faculty, administrators and seniors fell into line behind University Marshal and Professor of English George Hudson for the processional to the stage.

     There, President Neil Grabois addressed his 11th and final class of seniors.

     "The class owes a debt of gratitude to many people who have made these last four years so special. Let me speak for you in thanking your parents, whose support has been formative, generous, emotionally significant and essential; the members of the board, who hold this institution in trust for this generation and those to follow, nurturing Colgate's excellence and ensuring its continued enhancement; the faculty, who so devotedly shape the experience of learning that is at the very heart of the Colgate experience. And to the class I say that you have worked hard, occasionally played hard, so that you might acquire the knowledge and skills that will serve you in whatever you may choose to do.

     "The last four years have been extraordinarily important in shaping who you are. Many of you have won special honors: Antonio Delgado, Tanner Johnson, Jenny Erickson, Eric Lewin, Kjersti Nichols, Michael Neidig have won Rhodes, Watson, Fulbright and Churchill fellowships, for which I congratulate you. And our faculty colleague Peter Balakian has been honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship. But the memories are not all joyous: three members of the class have been taken from us; although they are not here to celebrate with you, Aaron Franceschi-Green and Elizabeth Victor will be receiving honorary BAs and Ryan Seed will receive a posthumous BA.

     "The bittersweet will continue to play a role in every important milestone you celebrate. Looking back, you are no longer the hesitant, uneasy expectant teenagers I met at the ice cream social four years ago. Looking ahead, you will be facing a rapidly changing world desperately in need of humane, moral, knowledgable and effective leaders. You must rise to the challenge. Be bold and go for it.

     "In this sea of change, Colgate will be a fixed point for you, as will your family and friends. The university will change, too, but its basic values will remain strong. We are counting on you to accept the mantle of responsible leadership. Colgate opened up ideas for you, encouraged independent thinking as well as mutual engagement; it will remain here for you for the rest of your lives. You will be drawn back to this valley by its beauty, by the memories it evokes and by the innocence you felt here.

     "As Yogi Berra put it -- I'm sure he was thinking of the great Class of '99 and of me -- if we had it to do all over again, we'd do it all over again."

See also:
Becoming herself Honorary Doctorates

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