I’ve only been here on this campus a few months — weeks, really. But even in these first few weeks, you can pick up the rhythms of this university.
Mornings on this campus, the buildings and grounds employees come out first, taking care of the lawns and the trees and the buildings, driving up the hill in university-marked trucks and vans, setting things right for the day. Soon the staff and the faculty begin driving up the hill, and they climb out of cars, holding cups of coffee, heading into Lathrop and Olin and Little halls. The staff start up their computers in James B. Colgate Hall and the ALANA Cultural Center. The athletes walk slowly back from morning workouts — the swimmers with wet hair, loud. Very loud.
By 9:00 in the morning, the campus is alive with students on paths. Department chairs read messages from the administration and they reluctantly set up more meetings. Faculty leave their offices and head to lecture halls and seminar rooms, and Colgate is awake. The rhythms of the day are in full force and there’s another day on the hill. And all of us, those who are here, play out our part on these days.
By night, after a day of meetings, I’m usually in my study, up in the house, answering e-mails, trying to write, and at some point the dog comes over and nudges me for a walk. Inevitably, we head down the hill into the Residential Quad, past all the first-years who want to say hello to the dog, and then we go into the Academic Quadrangle.
We pass by the Classics Library that faces into the quad from the first floor of Lawrence Hall. Peering in from the quad at night, the library room looks remarkably beautiful. It’s full of wood shelves and they’re covered with books, and there’s a large table in the center of the room and leather chairs all around.
On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, a class is held there. By the time I’m usually walking by, the class is typically in full force. The professor is speaking and the students are typing, or writing out notes, or some student is offering a point in the discussion.
You can imagine the beginning of that class — the students walking in, backpacks put on the floor. They’re saying hello, they’re sitting down. The professor is at the head of the table, taking a last glance at her notes. Maybe, after the students settle in, she stands up and she pushes her chair in — a signal. Maybe she puts her hands on the back of the chair and she leans forward just a bit, about to begin the seminar with some point. She has thought long and hard about that point.
And at that exact moment, every book she has ever read in her field, every sabbatical she’s ever taken, every departmental discussion about the curriculum, every moment of her graduate education is now in play. Every research project she started in a summer, and finished in the mornings when she was back on campus, is in that moment. Every time she has talked with her colleagues about this course, or the courses she has taught in the past, is in that moment.
And everything the founders of Colgate ever dreamed about is now in play. Thirteen men and 13 dollars, and all the faculty that have been here before are now in the Classics Library in Lawrence Hall with that professor. We are with her. She takes in a breath, she looks at her students, and she starts the discussion, and thus enacts one of the most important moments in our culture. This is our best moment.
We long to advance knowledge. And the more that we support that moment, and enrich the steps that led to it, and the more we gather students for whom this is the right form of education, and the more we support them, the more time that we afford for that moment — the more we honor the past 200 years, and the more we shape the next 200.
I can think of no greater calling, to be one more person, on this campus, longing to advance knowledge, to perpetuate it to posterity, and with this faculty, this administration, this board, to alter the world with the power of our ideas. It is why we’re gathered here, all of us, each to our part, and we are the luckiest people in the world to have this work, this virtuous work before us.