Homecoming at Colgate is an incredible time, due in large part to the alumni that come back to campus. On the Sunday of this past Homecoming, while many students had already made a bee line for the library, and others were getting last meals in the area with the alumni, an alum and I were on our way early to Colgate’s trapshooting range. How appropriate for us to be going the extra mile, trying out something out of the ordinary, while spending our last couple hours together on campus. On the car ride there, we reflected on our times at Colgate, and what the institution has done for us, when it just came out of my mouth:
“You can leave Colgate, but Colgate never leaves you.”
Cliché as that may be, it could not ring more true for me and my experience at Colgate University.
I came to Colgate having rarely stepped out of my comfort zone. My Jewish high school was tiny – there were 31 students in my entire class year – and everyone there came from similar backgrounds. As I walked at our graduation, I was happy to reflect on what I had accomplished in four years, but was ready to move onto the next step, to be sent off into the unknown, to meet a new world of my own.
That being said, when I arrived at Colgate, I didn’t exactly make great leaps and bounds in what I was exposing myself to on campus. I can’t say that I was the type of person to get up and actively make connections and find opportunities on my own. In fact, my friends in the first few weeks were people from around my hometown or that knew a home friend, people my twin brother (also at Colgate) had met, or people in my residence hall.
Extracurriculars introduced me to more individuals on Colgate’s campus, but I still very much stayed within the confines of my comfortability. I started a WRCU FM radio show with my brother, became involved with the Colgate Jewish Union, and joined the Blue Diamond Society, a philanthropic and social group comprised of male, primarily Jewish students at Colgate. That’s not to say that I didn’t see anything new by getting involved where I did on campus. Welcoming me into these activities were eager upperclassmen, who showed a very pointed interest and clear enthusiasm for their times at Colgate, be it based around their campus involvements or for Colgate in general.
And over the first two years of my college experience, I continued to observe this spirit that drove people to pour their hearts out into their contributions to campus and their continued learning. I became a sophomore, welcoming in a new class of Colgate students. I took on more involvements as I explored my own interests. But I still could not understand where this unified passion for Colgate came from. I was grateful for it, but I could not get why so many alumni bothered coming back up to Colgate for the SophoMORE Connections program. I had yet to see how Colgate really affected someone to the point of this unquestioned attachment and dedication.
It was with this mindset that I departed from Colgate in Spring 2014 for the summer and my ensuing Fall 2014 semester studying on a non-Colgate program in Florence, Italy. I was aware that people loved Colgate, but was very much looking forward to having my own experience in a place physically and culturally distant from my life in Hamilton, NY.
Well, they say you never know what you got till it’s gone. There was so much to look forward to while studying in Italy: the food, the nonstop dialogue in Italian, the sheer novelty of my situation. And yet, while I had an unforgettably pleasant, exhilarating time studying in a foreign country, there was a part of me that felt unsatisfied. Large gaps of free time outside of class, uninspired classroom settings – these unfamiliar phenomena got to me. It was when I was cast in a whole new world, when I wasn’t in the place or around the people that had groomed me in recent time, that I saw my cliché statement in true form. Familiar or unfamiliar, comfortable or uncomfortable beginnings – it didn’t matter, because I had picked up the same attitude that I observed from my first moments at Colgate, and finally made the realization of it.
And what is this frame of mind of which I speak, and with which I strongly identified? It starts with intellectual curiosity. Be it in the classroom or in pursuing our passions, Colgate students genuinely seek knowledge and question how the world works, what shapes our lives as we know them at a higher level, why things are the way they are. We look for ways to be exposed to new perspectives, and take them in for all that they are worth.
Speaking of seeking something out, Colgate students pick up an inclination for filling up their time with activities upon diverse activities. Just as you’d be hard-pressed to find students who don’t exhibit multiple areas of academic interest, so you likely could never find a Colgate student who isn’t up to multiple things on our campus. The upperclassmen I knew through my involvements didn’t just contribute to Jewish life. They were members of Konosioni, a cappella singers, SGA officers, editors-in-chief of the Maroon News, Sidekicks, Senior Admission Fellows, SOMAC volunteers, Office of Sustainability interns, Colgate Activities Board directors, and far more than I could even fathom. Everyone has their unique portfolio of activities that make them tick, and at Colgate, we embrace that diversity.
The most marvelous thing about all of these activities? People may start out in an a cappella group because they love singing, or take part in the Sidekicks COVE program because a friend got them to join along. In the end, however, their continued involvement in the same activities over four years boils down to a passionate, unwavering dedication to community. People don’t just stick to their hobbies, but rather, impact the Colgate community through their activities. Colgate students perform, volunteer, support, pursue the highest callings, and strive for change all to pass on an even better Colgate to their peers.
It was this impactful, multifaceted, inquisitive mindset that I felt almost alone in celebrating as I went through my time abroad. Only the interactions that I had with the few Colgate students on the trip could remind me of this spirit, and give me a taste of what I could look forward to as my time in Italy came to a close.
As comfortable as life in Italy was, I felt relieved as I drove down Route 12B in the chilly Winter of 2015 towards Hamilton, NY. I had relaxed the past semester away, and I was raring to dive into Colgate life head-first. I took part in an intensive Interfaith Retreat, where I learned more about the eight religious groups on Colgate’s college campus and bonded with peers over spirituality. I participated in Yes Means Yes, an eye-opening positive sexuality seminar. I became a leading figure in my interest house, Philanthropists at Colgate. I also took a course with an Intergroup Dialogue component. Later on, I even tried out being in a dance group, something first-year me would never be able to fathom. More than ever before, I felt the multifaceted stimulation that others before me felt at Colgate.
But might I remind you: you never know what you got till it’s gone. I was back at the place I missed so dearly, involved in all of my old activities along with some new ones, but there was one glaring difference. I still had one class year above to look up to, but without the Class of 2014 and many of my friends in the Class of 2016, I realized just how quickly I was being thrown into leadership and informal mentor roles on Colgate’s campus. As the presence of classmates above me dissipated, I felt more of an obligation to be that same guiding presence for the underclassmen. Presented with an opportunity to take the year to celebrate and look back on my time at Colgate, I instead took seriously my obligation to serve the Colgate community to the highest level that I could. I stepped up to be Colgate Jewish Union co-president in a time where the board needed leadership, and took my involvement with the Office of Admission to its peak by being a Senior Admission Fellow. Doing so gave me much more fulfillment and pride than sitting by the wayside. It put me in a position to lead and groom underclassmen, sharing little words of advice where I could and setting them up to eventually take the reigns.
Going through the last few weeks of my time at Colgate was trying. Although I may not have broken down, I definitely got sentimental on the inside about my college career. I may have gone back to Long Island for winter and summer breaks, and even lived in another country for three-and-a-half months, but Colgate became my home, my happy place for the last four years. Of course it would be difficult to leave. Nonetheless, I was able to keep myself in high spirits, knowing that part of the Colgate experience was acquiring personality traits that I would take along with me for wherever my next chapter and beyond take me. No longer am I the person restricting himself to people in close proximity and activities that fully suited my interests. I became a curious go-getter, someone who would explore any activity that I found the slightest bit intriguing. And through it all, I learned to honor the community around me, and do what I could to raise it up.
To the members of the Class of 2016 reading along: congratulations! I am so happy that I could share this transformative journey with you all. To those who have any time, be it a semester or the entire four years, left at Colgate, take one last word of advice from me: let Colgate do what it did for me for you as well. Try out that thing you’ve always been curious about. Give back to the community for the sake of Colgate, for all those that taught you and those waiting to be taught. Don’t resist change; embrace it! Once you do, you will have a part of Colgate that will never leave your side.