Upon returning from today's brunch for the Colgate Class of 2013, I find I cannot in good conscience refrain from expressing my extreme disappointment with the event and in particular the two speakers for the senior class. If their speeches are supposed to be what it is that a Colgate education produces, I am thoroughly ashamed of the institution and regret my part in it. Their behavior was juvenile, vulgar, and embarrassing to all those of us who thought we were celebrating the coming of age of respectable adults. Both X and Y made it clear in their speeches that the most important parts of their Colgate experiences were those that involved drunken (and illegal) revelry. X even indicated that having Campus Safety shut down his party and being put on probation in his first semester were fond memories well above any he might have of a class discussion or intellectual achievement. I kept waiting for the part of the story that would indicate reflection on a sense of having grown from the experience, but there was none. Y meanwhile, got her laughs that did not refer to "nights we don't remember" and "the freshman fifteen" by mocking at least four people by name: two members of her entering class, an employee at the Coop and another downtown. I was unaware that humiliating other people - particularly those not present or with far less social capital- was still considered a rite of passage. Is this the level of maturity and character that is expected in a formal celebration of Colgate achievement? Is this what those of us who were invited with Torch Medals were supposed to be proud of?
The only acts of character I saw the class of 2013 demonstrate were the donation to financial aid and the acknowledgement of Dean Taylor's commitment to a more healthy and respectful community. Neither act was in keeping with the attitude of the rest of the event. I can't have been the only one who winced when X said that first semester was a particularly "good time" for freshmen males -- a reference I sincerely hope was only to drinking. I imagine Dean Taylor could provide some statistics on how good a time freshmen females often have in their first few weeks on campus.
Furthermore, while I recognize that it is perhaps in keeping with Colgate's "branding" to have its guest speaker celebrate financial success without reference to any efforts to improve society beyond "giving back to Colgate," the complete lack of reference whatsoever to anything that could be considered intellectual or even moral growth by the students and alumnus of Colgate was heart-breaking. (No, pointing out that even the tragedy of 9/11 could lead to something as positive as a marriage and child is not particularly inspiring or spiritually deep.) The speaker also referred to how entry to a particular industry was based on nepotism, and despite not having family of his own in it, he was able to speak to a top industry official through the intervention of someone who did. I may have missed the reference to his friend being from Colgate, but presumably this was to emphasize the usefulness of the “Colgate connection.” I had hoped a Colgate graduate would at the very least reflect on the problems associated with the fact that the highest echelons of financial and political opportunities are indeed largely closed to those without powerful patrons; in this case it seemed that Colgate grads were simply told to be glad that their association with the University gives them this access.
Even such laudable a goal as raising money for college scholarships was presented through samples of shampoo placed next to the champagne flutes. The card on the tables explaining the grooming products helpfully pointed out that while these were free, we soon would be able to buy them; it was basically an advertisement disguised as some sort of “gift.” While students may have become "consumers" in the ledgers of the University somewhere, I hope we do not need to enshrine the crass commercialism that even the most irredeemably middle class among us find tacky.
If I were not aware of the many Colgate students and faculty who believe that success is measured by more than a tax bracket and courage by more than risking a comfortable income in order to "provide an excellent product and service" to a luxury industry, I would have left the Senior Brunch today convinced that every negative stereotype of Colgate as the place for the well-heeled country-club set to send their children to drink for four years was accurate. If that were the only example of Colgate I saw, I would never encourage anyone to send their child here.
We are better than this – our students are better than this. I cannot fathom why an event this important did not demonstrate it.