The Colgate Scene
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Colgate commences for the 180th time
The University Marshal, Professor of English George Hudson, leads the commencement procession.
by Steve Marsi '01Upon receiving my diploma on Sunday, May 20, I returned to my seat with little fanfare. I turned to my left and looked at two friends whose common last name, Martin, conveniently placed them right next to me in the ceremony, and asked them if what just happened had, in fact, happened. "I think so," one of them replied. "I don't remember," said the other. It took several days before I
The torchlight ceremony, an undertaking I had witnessed as a spectator the two previous years, is the most anticipated event of the weekend, and my emotions had been building up all week. Beginning with four great days with the senior class in Hilton Head, S.C. and a couple of great nights back in Hamilton, I felt more fortunate and grateful for my opportunities here than ever before. The onslaught of speakers, lunches and concerts was enlightening and enjoyable, but not nearly as memorable as the senior slide show in the Hall of Presidents and the night spent downtown that followed. What I have always loved about this school -- from my preteen days as the son of an alumnus, to my early days as a first-year student, and throughout my time in Hamilton -- is the camaraderie and appreciation of the Colgate experience that the student body shares. This had never been truer to me than in my last week as a college student. Especially after the tumultuous year that the campus has endured, it was inspiring to see that the true spirit of the Class of 2001 was as strong as ever.
When it was finally time for the torchlight, I was overwhelmed by thoughts -- some of them emotional and nostalgic, some of them less profound. I must be the luckiest guy alive to get to participate in this; there is just so much to take in. I can't believe they let 650 college seniors carry flaming torches down by the lake. This is absolutely magnificent! Which way do we go when we reach the bottom of the hill? This must be really special to see for my father, who experienced the same thing 32 years ago. Why is Nathan jumping into the lake with torch in hand? I think I have about ten minutes before I can't hold back the tears anymore. I hope I don't accidentally set a tree on fire.
After the ceremony, and after the spell of tears that I accurately predicted, my friends and I celebrated on the lawn of my fraternity house. We have held plenty of celebrations there in the past several years -- to ring in a new semester, to mark the last day of classes, or to commemorate most Wednesdays -- but this one was different. How many times do you get to partake in the festivities with your parents, all of your best friends, and all of your best friends' parents? It was like we were one big family, albeit one that gives more than a normal share of hugs and handshakes and enjoys throwing just about anything into an enormous bonfire.
Chimeh Nwokeji with his family
Although my eyes took a few days to recover from all the picture-taking,
sharing such a moment with pretty much all my favorite people is not something
I will soon forget. These people allowed me to forget the uncertainty of my
future for an instant and revel in the happiness of the moment.|
Commencement itself, which has often been billed as anticlimactic after the night that precedes it, did not feel that way. It probably didn't hurt that it was arguably the nicest day of the year. The ceremony went too fast to induce any disappointment, and elicited more of a subdued feeling than anything else. Seeing that you only get one of them, I don't think anyone really knows how to react to a college graduation. President Karelis's introductory remarks and the conferring of honorary degrees flew by, bringing us to the address by CBS News anchor Dan Rather. The journalist's words were quite well-received among classmates and parents I talked with, although I wish his 10-word message of, "If it is to be, it is up to me" had instead been "Steve, your future is set, come work at CBS News."
Aside from this omission, I thoroughly enjoyed the address. Before I knew it, degrees were being handed out and Gary Ross was almost halfway through the alphabet. Thankful that my name is easy to pronounce, I shook hands with Gary and, eventually, Rather, picking up a diploma somewhere during my time on stage. Although I managed to make it across the stage and down the stairs without falling (no small feat for a clumsy person), I took a turn down the wrong aisle returning to my seat and brought the Martins with me. Perhaps I was overwhelmed at being part of Dan's world for a second, or the victim of inattentive junior marshals (isn't it their job to prevent that kind of thing?) or distracted by my father's incessant photography. Whatever the reason, we eventually made it back to our seats as college graduates, not seniors. Talk about a strange feeling.
While these details are sure to fade in time, the emotions I was feeling throughout the weekend will be long lasting. We all knew it was coming. Every Colgate senior, whether they had seen the univer-sity's commencement festivities in previous years or not, had a pretty good idea of what the weekend would entail. Having attended these events as a spectator for the past two years, I feared being too familiar with what would take place. In spite of this, I found the weekend to be one of the most memorable, bittersweet and uplifting experiences of my life. It says a lot to feel so strongly about an event with such a well-known script and foregone conclusion.
In short, it was perfect.
What a special place.
Authors Steve and Rick Marsi
Again, for the first time
by Rick Marsi '69T.S. Eliot must have smiled from his grave.
The Anglo-American poet and critic, who died in 1965, captured "quote of the day" honors at graduation. News icon Dan Rather quoted Eliot twice during his commencement speech. The words he chose came from Four Quartets:
"We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time."
Directed at my son Stephen and 650 other graduating seniors, Eliot's words struck me, too. They capture the essence of what life has been like watching Steve go through Colgate 32 years after his father squeaked through.
Stephen's experience has allowed me to attend Colgate twice. I've double-dipped the second time, gaining insight through his eyes and mine. Through Steve's eyes I have been reminded just how hard it remains to assimilate all Colgate throws in a young person's lap. My eyes have shown me all the chances I blew during my four short years in his shoes.
You must come full circle to see what you saw the first time with perceptions only time can mature. That is how I would rewrite Eliot's words. You have to screw up, muddle through, make a million mistakes and squander a million opportunities before you learn to get it right. Such was my life at Colgate.
But somehow I've received a reprieve, a chance to savor Colgate, not gulp without chewing. Living just 65 miles away, I have taken advantage of this proximity to visit Steve many times.
This is what I have seen:
I saw his first-year room in Stillman Hall. Most of the time -- no, all the time -- it resembled a landfill after a tornado. Dirty laundry everywhere. Sleeping bodies everywhere. Old pizza cartons. Nobody sleeping on sheets.
Same with me in Andrews Hall my freshman year.
I saw Steve's second-year room in brand-new Drake Hall and heard nothing but complaints about how sterile it was. Same with me my sophomore year, which I spent in a now-defunct, mercifully bulldozed dorm complex on the hill we dubbed the "turkey coops."
Franklin Day, who died of leukemia in March, was awarded his diploma honoris causa postume. Father Overton studies it while mother Jayne watches for her son's friends to cross the stage.
I also played parental observer during my son's junior year, which he spent in
a Burch Complex apartment with three other guys. More stuff strewn all over,
plus the college-boy Kitchen-from-Hell. Don't explore too deeply in that dark
counter corner. You're sure to encounter mold-friendly remains of a chicken
wing orgy from a fortnight ago.|
It was to this apartment that Stephen and other pledges from Kappa Delta Rho towed the sledge-hammered remains of a long-abandoned Nissan they had exhumed during a clean-up project behind the fraternity house. Members of the Hamilton police were not pleased by this act. Their displeasure stemmed, in part, from the fact that, during the towing procedure, the Nissan's tires had deflated and the car had been dragged through the streets on its rims.
I never did anything that stupid my junior year, while occupying an apartment over Walt Baum's clothing store on Broad Street. Did I? I do remember encouraging John Clifford Darrin, one sunny afternoon in mid-October, to negotiate the long corridor in said apartment on his BMW motorcycle, which he did slowly but with constant engine revving, blue smoke and incredible noise.
During Steve's senior year I watched as he willfully entered the belly of the beast. He told his mother and me he was living in KDR. This venerable landmark didn't burn down during his time there, so we consider the year a success.
Over that year I watched Steve cement lasting friendships with a number of wonderful people in his fraternity. I did the same during my experience as a member of Beta Theta Pi. I also attended several parties with Steve at KDR. The last one, following the torchlight procession, featured the ritualistic burning of stuffed chairs and other objects seniors were not about to take home.
I never did anything that stupid during my senior year at the Beta house. Did I? If truth will out, I am forced to recall one afternoon, during a spring party weekend, when I joined a large crowd gathered on the front lawn. There, mouths agape, we watched as a floor model TV become airborne, flew out a second story window and disintegrated violently on the front steps below.
Stephen and I shared other, less inexplicable, experiences while at Colgate.
We both slept late, watched our beloved athletic teams win games and lose them, fell in love, felt rejection, recovered and went back for more.
We both studied hard for exams and were shocked, more than once, to get C's. You mean you have to work harder than that?
We rode an emotional mechanical bull, soaring high on elation, tumbling into pits of despair. Reminding ourselves adulthood was near, we tried to prepare for its impending arrival and most of the time came up short.
But I must make this clear: Stephen made more of his time at Colgate than I did.
From the day he arrived, he appreciated the moment. He appreciated where he was, how special the place was, how the experience wouldn't last forever. During football games on fall afternoons, he enjoyed climbing with me to the top row of seats at Andy Kerr Stadium. There we reveled in a panorama no campus can match. Stephen drank it in. He loved the fact, he said, that from one lofty perch, he could see beautiful campus buildings, grazing Holsteins, stunning Chenango Valley foliage and Division I athletes -- all just by turning his head.
Stephen also made a mark on his school, which I didn't. As editor-in-chief of
the Maroon-News, he worked tirelessly to improve the paper he had
inherited as his to guide for one year. His success required attending constant
meetings, taking heat for stories readers didn't like, arbitrating personnel
squabbles and, on Thursdays, staying up until 3 a.m. putting the paper to bed.
It meant sacrificing time he otherwise would have spent on studies. It required
taking on the equivalent workload of another course but receiving no
recognition other than the satisfaction of knowing he had accepted a challenge
and met it.|
At Colgate, Stephen has exceeded my hopes. He arrived clueless. He leaves knowing much of this world. Yet he still fights uncertainty. He heard Dan Rather ask his graduating class, "What will you do with your lives?" and he heard himself say, "I don't know."
That's OK, Steve. Welcome to the club. You will find your way. Your four years at Colgate will guide you.
And here's more good news: When uncertainty gets you down, and you need a Gibraltar, you can always look back to the valley from whence you have come. Colgate is that rock. It is timeless.
Come back a decade from now, or two decades, and you will see the same place. Old willows may have given way to new ones, but they still will shade the path we both know. New buildings will have sprouted, but their cut stone façades will blend in with the oldest on campus. Swans will float on the pond. Colgate will feel, smell and look as it did when you called it your home.
You will see the same Colgate, but you will see it through the eyes of a person older, wiser, more practical -- and a bit less exciting than the vibrant young man you are now. That's life. It happened to your old man; it will happen to you. But I have been lucky. Thanks to you, Stephen Marsi, and with a nod to T.S. Eliot, I have seen Colgate again for the first time.
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