Above: Christian Johns ’20 was this year’s student keynote speaker at the opening ceremony for Colgate’s commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.
Illustrations by Lauren Crow
Class of 2020 members write about their Colgate experiences: influential professors, proudest accomplishments, steepest challenges, and the unforgettable moments that constituted the wonder of it all.
The snow was falling in the middle of February, and it was well below freezing with the wind chill, but still I fell in love with you at first sight.
I moved into Andrews Hall where you said the time would fly. I didn’t believe you, but now, what can I say? As I finish my senior year on Zoom, I thought I would have at least a few more weeks to say goodbye.
You opened my eyes to philosophers’ unanswered questions from the first semester on, where you led me up the steps of Hascall Hall. After that C+ in Intro to Ethics, how could I have turned away? I wanted this kind of test; I needed to show you I would get better with practice and time.
Yet, the liberal arts are well rounded and you did not let me stay confined. Around the Hill, professors left it to our discussions to discover truths between the lines.
I wanted to write, and you offered a white space to spill my words. Working on the “Oldest College Weekly Newspaper in America,” I lived a dream job covering Colgate sports for more than a few terms.
When I sat in James B. Colgate Hall to hear the information session all those years ago, you told me I’d travel the world. And goddamn, did I see it all.
I ate a jellyfish in Xiamen — though slugging a Tsingtao helped it go down a bit. Ahh, learning by experience — that fundamental pillar of any college education; I haven’t been afraid to try a new food since. Then, first-year fun was done.
Through Sophomore Residential Seminars, I became part of a special community of scholars. We traveled to Munich and Bosnia, where elements of our readings came to life. Lessons and lectures did not stay confined to the campus; we heard survivors’ stories from primary sources and walked through concentration and refugee camps. The impact and memories of that trip will last forever.
Junior year did not wait for me to get my head straight. As the late summer turned to winter, the fall semester on campus swept by in a blur. Slow down!
Then I was gone again, studying literature in Bloomsbury. Exploring the corners of London was like a dream. I found my cities and picked up a couple of new best friends along the way.
I returned to you as soon as I could, picking up a summer gig in admission. There, I was on the other side, telling the next generation of students about the opportunities that lie ahead.
As I walked down Willow Path to class each day, I looked around Taylor Lake and saw the view of the Hill — sunny skies, rain, fog, or snow. Even when work was stressful and life was hard, I couldn’t help but smile at your beauty. I am grateful to have been in Hamilton for four years.
Thank you for the challenge, Colgate.
One Community, One Colgate
A community is made up of people who have different backgrounds, ideas, traditions, and values. Every person brings something special to the community that was not present before. We accept the uniqueness of each person’s identity and we make them feel at home; they become a part of our body.
Colgate’s community is no different; we can make everyone feel accepted and loved. I’ve seen it happen at ALANAPalooza, Dancefest, OUS/First-Gen family dinners, and so many other places. The power of a community can unite us in moments of joy or sorrow. It can be a constant in someone’s turbulent life. We must be mindful, though, that not everyone sees the same community.
That same heterogeneity can separate us and pull the threads that hold us together. I’ve seen up close the divisions we, as a community, have made along cultural, political, racial, and socioeconomic lines. Our challenge as scholar-students is to figure out how to overcome those divisions. How do we build a community that values personhood above all else?
My time at Colgate was spent trying to answer that question. I did not want to believe in the status quo, I wanted more for the collegiate experience of myself and my peers. Work needed to be done to bridge the gaps that had become so prevalent in our reality.
When the Student Government Association Roundtable was formulated, it was my intention to lay the foundation for the community building needed to change mindsets and connect students from across campus. It was truly one of my proudest moments to see people engaged in deep dialogue about creating spaces, student experiences, and how to make a profound difference on campus. Our community can come together in good faith for the benefit of every person at Colgate. Knowing that community is possible motivated me to keep trying to answer that guiding question.
My peers were trying to answer the question as well. The leaders of ALANA, Black Student Union, Konosioni, the Latin American Student Organization, women’s studies, and many more were driven to create community. I am so proud of the work we did together and of the leaders who will come after us. It is crucial for us to realize the power of uniting our resources and energy behind the common cause of making Colgate a better place for all people, especially marginalized identities.
Although the challenges that we, as a collective, faced were difficult, I don’t think many of us would trade it for another college experience. I love Colgate, and I would not have worked as hard for this campus if I didn’t.
— Christian Johns, recipient of this year’s 1819 Award, is a political science and African American studies double major from Chicago, Ill. He will begin his postgraduate career at UBS Financial Services, Inc. as a public finance analyst in the firm’s investment bank.
Room with a View
As a writer, I have always gravitated toward fiction and journalism — that is, writing about others. But in Professor Jennifer Brice’s Creative Nonfiction course, my peers and I learned how to write about ourselves and why we should. It is not the grandiose events, we discovered, but the mere substance of our lives that makes for interesting prose. Professor Brice helped me realize that moments at Colgate are worth documenting.
It was Thursday, March 12, the day Colgate announced all students would have to leave campus and return home. Oddly enough, it was my favorite day at Colgate.
In the late hours of the night, too sad and too wired to go to sleep, a few of us huddled inside my friend Mal’s small but always orderly single. Her bed rested against a window that overlooked Lebanon Street — with a view spanning from Swank to Slices. We propped open the window, wrapped ourselves in a weighted blanket, and played music out of an industrial-sized speaker for the passersby below.
We watched as students danced on the sidewalks and in the streets. Strangers and friends waved up at us; they shared cigarettes (clearly, social distancing had not yet gone into effect in Hamilton); they linked arms; they gulped down pizza, oil and ranch dressing dripping down their faces. This will be here when we’re gone, I thought.
At about 2 a.m., a police officer in a black beanie and gloves looked up at us from the street and asked that we turn the volume down. “It’s getting late,” he said shyly, apparently sorry to interfere with our impromptu block party. We quickly complied and asked him if he had any song requests. He picked something by a heavy metal band, maybe Metallica, I can’t remember now. “And turn the volume up,” he said with a laugh. I think he understood we were desperately trying to wring out what was left of our time together.
Rock music echoed through the village as the wind carried parchment pizza liners down the street like huge snowflakes.
Although my senior year was interrupted and a diploma in the mail will mark its ending, I find consolation in knowing that life on Lebanon Street will eventually resume. Maybe someone else at Colgate will write about it.
— Lucy Feidelson, from Bedford, N.Y., majored in psychological science and minored in Spanish and creative writing.
A Deep Level of Service
When I came to Colgate, I knew I wanted to be involved in a volunteer emergency services agency, but I didn’t realize how large of a role Southern Madison County Volunteer Ambulance Corps (SOMAC) would play in my Colgate experience. SOMAC became like a second home for me. Even when I was not on shift, I frequently spent time at the station on Lebanon Street, studying or spending time with friends. I made many friendships over my four years in SOMAC, both with students involved in the program as well as with staff and community partners.
Through SOMAC, I traveled to areas of the Southern Madison County region where I wouldn’t have otherwise gone. I was also able to become involved with the Hamilton Area Community Coalition, which helps to prevent substance abuse. Overall, this deep level of service made me feel more like part of the Hamilton community for the past four years.
Being a student in any of the first-response agencies through the Center for Outreach, Volunteerism, and Education at Colgate is not a typical student lifestyle. It can require helping someone having a cardiac emergency, rushing a patient to a hospital in Utica, N.Y., and then returning to campus to take an exam that afternoon. Or it could call for extricating someone off of a snowy hill in the middle of the night and then attending an 8 a.m. class. Even so, serving the community in this way is one of the most rewarding challenges.
One of the most heartwarming parts of volunteering for SOMAC and also being a Colgate student was seeing how much the University cares about its students. SOMAC works with the counseling center and the sexual violence response center, Haven, to learn how to support students in crisis; the athletics department to assist injured athletes; campus safety to plan a response to emergencies on campus; and other departments — all with a goal of supporting Colgate students. This made me feel incredibly cared for by the University, and it was heartening to see how much work so many departments devote to keeping students safe.
I remember being in an orientation session during my first week on campus and hearing that much of what I’d learn at Colgate would not take place in the classroom. Being an EMT with SOMAC, I have learned so much. I’m so happy that during my first semester, at the activities fair, I approached the table with the ambulance parked behind it.
Through Peaks and Troughs
In the early afternoon on March 12, an email from President Casey interrupted a discussion between a friend and me. It said the University would be closing shortly because of the COVID-19 crisis. We had been talking about our honors theses, the recent meltdown of the stock market, and the future — as all seniors do. The ordinary conversation was overwhelmed by the bitter farewell. Grapes unexpectedly dropped on the ground, unripe.
The next day, I would say goodbye to the classroom. I would have the last class of my Colgate experience, Modern China. It was a good place to conclude. For the same reason I chose to audit the course, I decided to come to Colgate four years ago to explore my identity, my country, and my civilization in a foreign environment. Today, I’m grateful for what I have learned from my Colgate experience. The liberal arts atmosphere allowed me to learn from different perspectives and think more comprehensively about questions on identity, modernity, humanity, and more. If in the early years of my life, I could only inspect myself through heavy fog, now the figure has become increasingly clear. I have never missed the taste of Xiaohuangyu (a kind of fish that is famous in my city) more than I do now.
Looking back on my four years on the Hill, I will appreciate my time here, but it was also complex. I sometimes felt powerless in class discussions and thought some classmates only spoke for the sake of the participation requirement rather than a passion for learning. I guess one could regard it as a general criticism of the materialism in society, but I think there is more to an education than simply graduating to get a well-paying job. Of course, idealism does not write me a check in the real world. And fortunately, there were places I could share my ideal vision. Many professors in this ivory tower exemplify the beauty of humanity: seeking knowledge, helping students, and contributing to society. There’s not enough space to thank the many professors who influenced me. But, I would like to express my special gratitude to Professor Peter Klepeis (geography), who discussed happiness with me; Professor Thomas Michl (economics), who showed me a vision beyond neoliberalism; and Professor Maura Tumulty (philosophy), with whom I was lucky to take Challenges of Modernity. The interactions with all the professors are the biggest treasures of my Colgate experience.
The good and bad at Colgate are like different seasons in a year. The long, fierce winter in Hamilton is almost unbearable, but the scenic spring, summer, and fall attract people to this remote village. The four seasons constitute a year, and the good and bad enrich the experience.
Writing at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, I realize the gigantic amount of uncertainty awaiting. When will I return home? Will my graduate school open in the fall? How long will this pandemic continue? How will the economy look next year? Some of the answers will be good and others will be bad. Fortunately, my four years at Colgate have taught me how to live through peaks and troughs.
Sometime before fall comes, I shall leave this village quietly, leaving no trace behind.
— Ruixing (Tim) Lin is an economics major from Ningbo, China, and a Phi Beta Kappa inductee. At the time of this writing, he was one of the few students still living on campus.
A Second Family
Looking back on my time at Colgate, there have been so many amazing moments that I have been fortunate to experience. I think about the incredible things I have been able to do — playing rugby, going to Martinique with the French Club, studying abroad in Wales, the time I’ve spent in Tri Delta — and it is impossible to choose just one aspect of Colgate that has impacted me the most.
However, the one thing that has stood out to me among all of these experiences has been the community and people whom I have met at Colgate. Even in everyday life on campus, I have learned from some the most amazing professors, and some I’ve even been fortunate enough to call my friends. This is the type of connection that seems to only exist at Colgate. These professors taught me more than just academic curriculum; they also taught me how to see the world and make it better. They’ve given me a space where I could grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be and supported me throughout some of the most challenging times in my life. When I wasn’t sure that I could finish my junior year due to my hospitalization, they were there to help me.
This can be said about the entire Colgate community as well. I have found a second family, from my rugby teammates and sorority sisters who raised money to help my family with my medical bills, to all of the alumni and parents who reached out with kind thoughts and showed their support. Colgate is not just a university to me, it is the people I’ve met and the relationships I have formed. It’s the friends I know I will have for life and the strength they have brought out in me. These past four years have pushed me in many ways to be a better and stronger person than I ever thought possible. There were times I couldn’t understand how I would get through it, and yet here I am, sad that it is nearly over, but prepared and excited for what is to come. I am thankful for every experience.
— Hannah Tubbergen is a computer science major from Clackamas, Ore. She was featured in a spring 2019 Colgate Magazine article titled “Patient Zero,” which chronicled her life-threatening battle against meningococcal meningitis.
More Than a Mentor
I first met Professor Pérez-Carbonell (whom I know now as Marta) during the first semester of my sophomore year, when I took her Spanish literature class on contemporary short fiction. By my second semester, I was enrolled in another of her classes, and by the end of the year, I had declared a Spanish major. While this decision was motivated by my love for the subject, it’s also impossible to understate Marta’s influence. She took me under her wing as an advisee, and we soon grew close. It was she who encouraged me to submit an essay I’d written to an undergraduate conference on Spanish literature, and it was also Marta (along with Karyn Belanger, associate director for the Center for Learning, Teaching, and Research) who arranged the funding to cover travel and lodging. Marta’s influence on me, however, has never been limited to the purely academic. During this conference, I first realized how lucky I was to have her as my adviser. Arriving late at night in Tennessee, I had to take a taxi ride alone from the Chattanooga Airport to my hotel, and I was completely unfamiliar with my surroundings. Without skipping a beat, Marta called and kept me on the line for the entire ride to ensure I felt safe.
In the summer before my junior year, she proposed the possibility of coauthoring a paper together. It was the most intellectually stimulating and exciting project I embarked upon in all my time at Colgate. By the time I began applying to PhD programs in Spanish in the fall of my senior year, our paper had been accepted for publication in Anales de la Literatura Española Contemporánea.
During winter break of my senior year, I went home to California. Marta happened to be visiting Santa Monica for a conference, so I drove down to meet her for lunch and a movie. Our once strictly academic relationship has evolved over the years into one of mentorship and friendship, and our conversation topics now run the gamut from literary theory to our favorite pictures of baby animals.
Marta was also with me every step of the way throughout the graduate school application process. She helped me identify schools with strong peninsular literature programs, provided invaluable feedback on my writing samples, and wrote more letters of recommendation than anyone should ever have to write. When interview season rolled around, she even loaned me stacks of blazers and dress shirts. A few weeks ago, I officially committed to Princeton University.
These days, Marta and I Skype regularly to talk about my honors thesis, which she’s advising, and our calls are often more than an hour long because we spend the first half hour chatting about life. Throughout the last three years, Marta has been a mentor, a friend, and above all, a role model. Recently, a fellow Colgate student whom I tutor in Spanish texted me after a session, “You are future Marta!” I’ve never been prouder of a compliment.
— This year’s valedictorian, Renee Congdon is a Spanish major from Seal Beach, Calif. She received the Phi Beta Kappa Prize, which distinguishes her as having the highest GPA among the honor society’s inductees.
Professor Marta Pérez-Carbonell was named Professor of the Year by the Colgate chapter of Phi Eta Sigma.
To the Class of 2020
Before the events of last spring, you were already a class that would stand out in Colgate history: You are the first graduates of Colgate’s third century. Born as the new millennium was emerging, you came to Colgate at a remarkable moment in its history. You were also, always, my class.
We arrived together in the summer of 2016 and shared the highlights of a first fall semester: We memorized the campus map, learning to distinguish between Lathrop and Lawrence, East and West. We figured out how to climb from Persson to the chapel without looking too winded at the top. We ate together and talked about our hopes, challenges, and worries. I saw you sing, and dance, and compete. And while Emrys could never take the place of your own dog, he did his best to offer affection, which you gave back with enthusiasm. During our evening walks, we watched you find your footing and make this place your own.
Course lectures, labs, brown bags, Patriot League Championships, Dancefests, theses, all-nighters in Case, early mornings in the gym and pool — the traditional elements of the Colgate experience are now your memories. Some moments stand out. In our happiest, we planned and celebrated Colgate’s Bicentennial. In our somber moments, we confronted threats to physical health and to the spirit of inclusivity that we treasure in our scholarly community. You met all these moments. Your achievements, both individual and collective, are numerous and inspirational.
Members of the Class of 2020, you carry the light of knowledge into the world at a dark hour. Never underestimate its brilliance. Do not doubt its warmth. I ask that you take what you have learned since you climbed the Hill at convocation and use that wisdom to address the challenges you see in your community and in your world. This might seem like a tall order, issued at an inopportune time. But I know this class. I have seen you grow, and I know that you are capable of remarkable feats.
I also ask that you create and build. Use your light to build wonder in this world — to build families and friendships, communities, art, and enterprises. This class will set an example for graduates throughout Colgate’s third century should you leave with the talents and potential you all have.
From here, our experiences will begin to diverge — as they must for classmates who go in separate directions to pursue different ambitions. That’s why we have reunions. It is why we will plan to meet again next spring on the banks of Taylor Lake, to celebrate you, to exchange stories, and to make up for lost time.
And I cannot wait to see you again.
Until then, congratulations for all you have achieved.
President Brian W. Casey
This message was excerpted from the booklet sent to graduating seniors with their diplomas and other gifts from the University (pictured above).