The Colgate Scene
July 2005

Family past, family future

[Photos by Timothy D. Sofranko]

Matt Brogan receives congratulations from Bart Hale '04 during the processional.

Bilon Geiger, from Philadelphia, Pa., cheers toward the crowd as she walks across the stage to receive her diploma.

Fast facts on the Class of 2005

Service and action
Lessons from Commencement Speaker Marian Wright Edelman

Editor's note: On the eve of his son Matt's graduation, G. Martin Brogan reflected upon the campus landmark that has been the backdrop of commencement ceremonies since his own graduation — and the intertwining of family and Colgate history.

This morning we were reviewing some of our family's Colgate history with my wife's parents, in from Florida. We were going through the timeline of the university, and for the year 1905 there is an entry describing the development of Taylor Lake that mentions my great-grandfather, Lant Gilmartin, who worked as supervisor for the university's buildings and grounds staff from 1884 to his retirement in 1936. During his career years and until his death, he and his family lived on campus in the approximate area where the ALANA Cultural Center is now located, in a house that James C. Colgate had moved to the campus more than 50 years prior to his death.

The year 2005 marks the 100th anniversary of the digging of Taylor Lake, and as we sit at graduation tomorrow, Lant Gilmartin's great-great-grandson, Matthew Gilmartin Brogan, will be receiving a Colgate degree — 100 years of family involvement starting with an ambitious Irish immigrant who, through hard work and vision, made an impact on the university, most of which still exists. At his death the New York Times (Sept. 1, 1947) wrote: "At his retirement in 1936, the college had 17 buildings, a network of modern roads, and one of the most beautiful campuses of the nation, and university records give Mr. Gilmartin credit for some part of almost every improvement made in the 52-year period (of his employment)."

The Rev. J. Bryan Hehir listens as he is introduced before delivering his baccalaureate sermon at Memorial Chapel. A theologian well respected for his work in ethics and international relations, Hehir is the Parker Gilbert Montgomery Professor of the practice of religion and public life at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. 2005 honorary degree recipients: lawyer, education advocate, and civic leader Emlyn I. Griffith '42, doctor of laws; theologian, author, and professor Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, doctor of divinity; commencement speaker Marian Wright Edelman, doctor of humane letters; and world-renowned American artist Alex Katz, doctor of fine arts. [Enlarge]

His son Benjamin Gilmartin was born in East Hall and attended Colgate, Class of 1917; Benjamin's daughter (unfortunately) was a graduate of Syracuse University, as Colgate was still all-male at the time of her college years. I graduated in 1973, the first year graduation ceremonies were held with Taylor Lake and Willow Path as a background; my daughter Jane graduated in 2002 and Matt will graduate tomorrow. While Colgate has made great progress towards diversity admitting women (a particular interest of Jane's grandmother) and students from throughout the United States and now worldwide, there still is a tradition of New Yorkers and New Englanders attending this great university, many having connections and stories as my family does.

Tomorrow as I watch my last child graduate, thoughts of family past and family future will be palpable as Matt steps to receive his diploma in view of Taylor Lake and Willow Path, where five generations of family — some who worked on these places, some Colgate alumni, and others just family visiting a special piece of ground — all connected in some way with Colgate.

Our family tradition is a parable of change and growth and connection. No longer a homogeneous Irish clan, we have grown into a larger group with widely varying socioeconomic situations and educational experiences. While we celebrate the tradition begun by an uneducated Irish immigrant in Hamilton, N.Y., who pursued his own self-education by interacting with college presidents and corporate leaders, we also recognize that through a friendship with and advice from James C. Colgate, he set his family on a course vastly different from what he had followed or could imagine at that time. As I consider how different Colgate is from my time there to Jane's and Matt's at the start of a new millennium, I can more clearly see that Colgate has been embracing and oftentimes defining educational change since its beginning. Lant Gilmartin's contribution was to help define a physical environment that would match the excellence of Colgate's growing academic standards; my children's was involvement in sports and the arts and completing solid and proven academic programs, beginning their evolution towards citizens who value lifelong learning.

In Colgate tradition, the Mohawk Valley Frasers lead the way into the Class of 2005 Commencement ceremonies. A group lets out a big cheer for a graduate.
Future generations may attend or teach or lead at Colgate — I cannot know that now — but I do know that each will face a different Colgate and will, I hope, continue the tradition of doing something that is based on thoughtful and integrated planning, whether it be landscaping, further enhancing the educational experience, or participating in the many opportunities Colgate alumni have to volunteer and stay connected.

Change is the way an organism, organization, or family maintains its viability. It must act and react in order to survive and grow. I am thankful that over the course of five generations we have witnessed the efforts of so many who have been dedicated to do what has been necessary and right to ensure that Colgate is more than it was in 1905 and in 2105 will be even more than it is today.

G. Martin Brogan '73, an active Colgate volunteer, was honored to receive the District Club Award for Distinguished Individuals 2003-2004 from the Alumni Corporation; Jane K. Brogan '02 earned an MS in environmental science at the University of Sydney in Australia and is an environmental scientist/project manager for an environmental engineering consulting firm in Manhattan. Matt G. Brogan '05 is taking a few well-deserved weeks off lying by the pool, awaiting agents' calls before hitting Broadway.
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