The Colgate Scene
May 2003

A message from the president
We don't just teach the text

Rebecca Chopp [Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]

It is the end of March as I write this and the first week of the United States' war with Iraq commands the headlines and occupies our minds. No one can know for sure where the war will stand when this column appears in May, but we all are hoping for a swift resolution and the safe return of our young men and women. Even at a time like this -- and perhaps especially at a time like this -- it is important that we remind ourselves of Colgate's purpose and continue to move forward with what we have done for 184 years -- preparing students to live full lives as active citizens. We provide an environment in which students can imagine themselves in the future, and that is the subject of my comments that follow.

In citizenship and in science, in athletics and in business, in parenting and in friendships, successful people need lots of imagination! From imagining new ways of shaping business to new games for one's children; from finding common places amongst diverse people and cultures to enjoying the value of a new place expressed in music, art and architecture -- Colgate graduates are leaders because, in part, they have learned how to imagine themselves and their world in new ways. Part of the spirit that is Colgate is our robust education of the imagination.

We bring 18-year-olds to Colgate and provide resources and opportunities, challenges and support, expectations and encouragement, to stimulate their reexamination of self and community. This takes place continuously: through conversations within and outside the classroom, in social organizations, backpacking in the Adirondacks, field trips to New York and study abroad to Wollongong, Australia.

During the spring semester Jess Buchsbaum '03 has been posting a "diary" entry on Colgate's website to describe a day in the life of a Colgate student. Many of the daily journal entries express how Jess and her friends learn to imagine themselves and their world in new ways. Here is her Feb. 25 entry, titled "Speakers, writers, performers, artists, hypnotists . . .":

There are certain particulars about Colgate that make it . . . Colgate.

The walk up the hill. Nothing conditions a hearty soul faster than a one-mile trek in negative temperatures, all in the name of learning.

Slices, or New York Pizzeria. $1.25 really can buy you a slice of heaven.

The swans on Taylor Lake.

Having coffee with a professor downtown, because [he or she] couldn't accommodate you and the five other students that day during office hours, so thought they would take you out that afternoon instead.

There isn't a single person on campus who is not involved in some form of extracurricular activity, be it a varsity sport, a club, an a cappella group, a community service group.

Speakers, writers, performers, artists, hypnotists, lawyers, scholars, authors, correspondents, poets, medievalists, physicists, laureates, activists, musicians, researchers, athletes: they all come to Colgate. A different performance, a different event, every day of the week.

The most "Colgate" of them all? It is physically impossible to do the same thing day in and day out. Followed closely by Slices.

One of the great gifts of the liberal arts is that we don't just teach to the text and we don't just shape our students for a profession or a world that will be outdated by the time they start building their communities, their careers and their families. Instead, we prepare our students to live in a dynamically changing world and provide them with opportunities to imagine the world being changed by how they work together to address problems. For example, 40 Colgate students, under the guidance of economics professor Jill Tiefenthaler, are participating in the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Program. As of mid-March, these students have helped 82 low-income families in Madison County file tax returns and have recovered more than $175,000 in Earned Income Credit for these families.

Colgate's ability to shape the imagination is deeply linked to its tradition. When 13 men with 13 dollars and 13 prayers founded this college, they imagined educating men who would be successful citizen leaders on what was then the western frontier. While the frontiers our students (men and women) will face are different than those confronted by the young men in the first graduating class of 1822, we will continue our long tradition of helping students meet the future by educating them to imagine themselves and their world in new ways. The spirit that is Colgate includes the ability to imagine success, citizenship, improvements in our community and service to our world.

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