by John and Amy Higgins '92
Imagine this -- two Colgate students, boyfriend and girlfriend, are strolling hand in hand around campus on a brisk spring evening. As they walk, they talk about upcoming mid-term exams, the hockey playoffs, plans for break and the band that is playing at the Pub over the weekend. They stop at the Willow Path bridge over Payne Creek to watch the water flow into Taylor Lake. With the air crisp, the campus quiet as students study and the Chapel light glimmering through the trees, the question is asked. "Will you marry me?"
The details may change but for many Colgate couples this story strikes a familiar chord.
There weren't many all-Colgate weddings in the 1970s, when men far outnumbered women on campus and in the alumni base, but now, after 27 years of coeducation and with the ratio of women and men nearly equal, there is a sizable and growing population of Colgate couples. Indeed, more than seven percent of the alumni base, or 1,650 alumni, are married to fellow alumni.
All known Colgate couples were invited to respond to a survey so that the university could learn how couples met, when they were married and how they feel about Colgate as couples. Response to the survey was positive -- it seems most couples identified with the uniqueness of being married to somebody with whom they went to school. Many Colgate couples commented that their marriage is a love relation with their spouse that is intertwined with their love of their alma mater.
According to survey answers, couples met through all areas of campus life. The largest number of couples, about 20 percent, met in the residence halls. In class and studying were also common ways to meet. Quite a number of couples met at the local bars -- Hickeys, the Jug and the Back Bacon. Like that couple who became engaged while listening to the gurgle of Payne Creek, one out of five couples decided to get married while they were still on campus.
One of the exciting aspects of a Colgate wedding is the natural reunion of old college friends. Nine out of ten couples had Colgate people in their wedding parties. As if a big turnout of Colgate friends isn't enough to make for a glorious event, more than 70 couples reported being married on campus. Many couples exchanged vows in the Chapel, where as students they had once been entertained by the Thirteen and contemplated a future during the baccalaureate speech. Chapel House, Colgate's retreat center, has also been a popular wedding site. Some "tied the knot" outdoors in front of the chapel or on Whitnall field. Often couples turn their campus weddings into weekend galas with golf tournaments at Seven Oaks, rehearsal dinners on campus, parties at fraternities and receptions on Whitnall Field or in the Hall of Presidents.
Not surprisingly, Colgate couples are inclined to have children. More than 70 percent of Colgate couples have kids and are passionate about returning to campus with their offspring. Almost half of the couples' children have been to Colgate to romp around campus and hear stories of where the parents met and about their experiences in college.
Survey says: Colgate couples love Colgate. Their affinity for the college is evident in the fact that more than 90 percent said they would encourage their kids to attend Colgate. More than 70 percent have attended reunions. Almost all couples support Colgate financially and about one-third are active with Colgate as class agents, admissions volunteers or through career counseling.
In addition to the data on Colgate couples, the survey also produced personal anecdotes that create a mosaic of diverse and interesting stories. One women swore she would never marry a Colgate guy. Of course, she did and admitted to the survey, "Sometimes life surprises you!"
Three sisters followed their father's footsteps to Colgate and now each is married to a fellow alum. And, a story of great coincidences -- three of four roommates who shared a Colgate apartment are married to alums, all named Mark!
One couple not only went to college together and later married but they also started their own company together. Another alumnus told the story of passing up an appointment to the Naval Academy in favor of Colgate, where he met not only his future wife but his best friend as well.
Many couples are nostalgic about their romantic moments on campus. They told stories of strolling around Taylor Lake or warming up with hot chocolate at the old Bluebird Restaurant downtown. One couple wrote about their romantic nights stargazing at Colgate's observatory during an astronomy course.
Colgate's off-campus study programs also provide great opportunities for future spouses to meet. Traveling on field trips and experiencing different cultures for the first time brings Colgate students together and sometimes it keeps them together. In such instances Payne Creek is replaced by the Danube River and the twinkling lights of Budapest, that splendid Eastern European city, are substituted for the stars above campus.
Many couples didn't know each other on campus but sometimes started dating partly because they had something in common -- Colgate. One such couple met while waiting for a train to New York City one evening. They were three years apart in age and both had graduated years earlier, but they recognized each other and one thing led to another.
One alumna, visiting a friend in the masters program, met her husband-to-be, who was taking a break from the Colgate Inn kitchen where he was executive chef, at the Back Bacon.
Orientation appears to be fertile ground for future couples. Often these initial campus encounters are memorable and sometimes freshman-year relationships carry through all four years and beyond. One couple recounted a first-year experience: A group of students planned to go on a hike to blow off steam while studying for finals, except only one guy and girl showed up. They said it was a magical day, sunny and warm as they tromped through freshly turned fields and newly budding forests. Eventually, they realized that they were lost but just as it was getting dark, they saw the brilliantly lit dome of the Colgate chapel, which guided them home. That was the day they fell in love.
There were other stories of first-year sweethearts going to Olin Hall for Take Two movies, a cheap date, especially when the couples could sneak in concessions.
Many couples are sentimental about their marriages and feel that being a Colgate couple is more than sharing the same academic or social experience. It is about having developed similar values and views about life during their formative years. Colgate creates a bond in marriage because college life and the campus are so special and memorable. One woman wrote about the intermingling of her wonderful college memories with her memories of falling in love at Colgate -- meeting at the coop between classes, playing pinball at Hickey's, taking cold walks to fraternity parties. Survey responses made it obvious that some of these couples are not only deeply in love with each other but are also truly fond of their Colgate memories. One couple shared with the survey their fantasy of becoming farmers in upstate New York!
Considering current trends, by the year 2005 more than 10 percent of the alumni will be Colgate couples. Never underestimate the potential of a walk down the Willow Path.