After a four years' course, I graduated here, just 50 years ago, and went forth into the world with little Latin and less Greek, and but weakly furnished with the arms offensive and defensive which fit one for victory in life. This is through no fault of our dear alma mater. The blame rests solely upon me. She has sent forth many heroes and martyrs, and among them were some members of the Class of 1825. In the list of her alumni, the fatal star is prefixed to the names of thirteen of that class. Of the nine who, with myself, survive, I have not seen one for very many years. Of the dead I do not purpose speaking at length. Three of them certainly did the state some service, and Harrison Gray Otis Dwight was a valiant and faithful soldier of the Lord until his life's end. Some of the 13 died too early to fulfill the promise they held forth of extended usefulness.
A few of my classmates seemed to me stern and repellent, merely, I doubt not, because they were absorbed in preparation for the holy office they aspired to, and disinclined to familiar associations with such a boy as I was. Now my love embraces all — the living and the dead. But, while I hold them all in my affection, my memory lingers over Isaac Smith — he was so gentle and so kind; and Joseph Hopkins — he was so helpful to others, so manly and so frank, and though they bear, in our catalogue, no special marks of honors won, I have comfort in believing.
Owing to ill health, Hon. Darius Peck, Class of 1825, of Hudson, could not fulfill his appointment to read the half-century annals of his class, at the meeting of the Society of Alumni. This loss was partially repaired by Hon. George W. Clinton, 25, of Buffalo, in the introduction to his address before the Phi Beta Kappa — Hamilton Literary Monthly. That they did win what is more precious than fame. Peace be to the ashes of the dead! All happiness and honor to the living!
Since 1825, I have visited the College twice only, and I cannot now name the years, nor have I a distinct recollection of what I then saw of change. Can you wonder, then, that when I received your president's invitation to be your orator for this day, my old heart was stirred by a crowd of sweet and bitter memories, and that I longed to revisit these once familiar scenes? Then, too, there was the sweet hope of meeting here, in this Commencement time, some of my long-lost but unforgotten friends. I knew, indeed, that with my avocations and engagements, I could have but the slenderest opportunity for preparation. But the letter of invitation seemed to intimate that, so far as securing an orator was concerned, I was the last resort, and that but little would be expected from me.
And then I remembered the Oriskany, in whose clear waters we bathed and fished, and the village, with its central green and modest church, and the smiling valley and the great hills, and what then seemed to me a forest on College Hill, and the deep and dark ravine which ran through it to the plain; and especially did I recall the pleasures I had enjoyed in that forest and ravine, in making acquaintance with them and their wild inhabitants. And I said to myself, God willing, I will see those fair scenes, and, if they still exist, I will traverse that forest and that gulf once more before I die. And so — foolishly as I now know — I accepted your president's most urgent invitation.
Alas! The little space that I could set aside for preparation has been trenched upon, and I have no access to the books and papers, which I think might help me, and could not duly use them if I had. There can be no limae labor et mora now. I must write right on. I claim your kindest indulgence. I have made this statement, my true apology, to the end that you may not attribute the crudities and imperfections of this poor performance to any want of love for our alma mater, or of respect for you or our society.
I know that I shall find great changes. Very likely the village green has become a park, with trees and shrubs and flowers, and perchance a fountain. The church has been removed I know. Probably the humble village has become a beautiful suburban town. The valley must smile yet, though very likely it is permeated by a noisy railroad. The bounding hills must still be lovely in their massive gentleness. I apprehend that the unsparing axe has swept away my forest and bared the ravine to the scorching sun. Such changes would be but in accordance with the progress that has everywhere marked the flow of the last half-century. It has been very fruitful of great improvements and of great events. It has been especially fruitful of benefit to our country. It has seemed to me, at times, that the God of our fathers had extended a specially protective and succoring hand over our country.
"I remembered the Oriskany, in whose clear waters we bathed and fished, and the village, with its central green and modest church, and the smiling valley and the great hills, and what then seemed to me a forest on College Hill, and the deep and dark ravine which ran through it to the plain; and especially did I recall the pleasures I had enjoyed in that forest and ravine, in making acquaintance with them and their wild inhabitants."