Delivered: June 6, 1992
Fellow classmates, alumni of Hamilton and Kirkland colleges, ladies and gentlemen,
Before I begin to read my annalist's letter, a quaint designation for what is clearly not a letter, I acknowledge with special thanks the following:
Frank Lorenz, the curator of special collections, which include the publications from which I mined much of my material. Wally Wuensch, the archival assistant, who found much of the material for me and abided my presence many mornings. John Mavrogenis, who with his staff works hard to make reunions enjoyable.
A Candle in One's Heart
Look in a moment's silence at our home
These several years, this hill above the world.
Time spent becomes a candle in one's heart,
The flame remembering what is good and fled.
So a stanza of "Commencement—1942" reads. With the poem Tom Pryor, bright, very quiet, with eyes looking quizzically at the world, won the William Duncan Saunders prize for 1942. Tom, though he did not die until 1951, was a casualty of World War II, our war. He died of malaria contracted while serving in North Africa. The stanza rings true; the time on the Hill becomes a candle in the heart.
Let us look about us at this Hill as it is now, as it was then. Do you remember the interior of the Chapel? Behind me, a Romanesque arch in granite, pews for the choir, the organ. In front of me, pews of oak; the pervasive color, a dismal yellow. (By the way, pews then, pews now, uncomfortable — I suppose in the Protestant tradition of punishing the flesh.) Surely the renovation, a memorial to those of our class and classes before and after who died in the war, is an improvement, a vast improvement with organ pipes in the balcony opposite me standing in splendid array. And the Alumni Gym, which opened in time for us to use our last two years, is currently part of an athletic complex that must cause the greening with envy of the coaches and students of similar colleges. The old gym, described by a previous annalist as smelling "like an old barn," has disappeared into the renovation of what is now called Kirkland Dormitory.
As we look about us, I find the buildings of Kirkland campus handsome in a fine contemporary way, but I wonder about those enormous picture windows: splendid to look out of, but leaking heat surely, and exceedingly unprotective of privacy, especially at night. The newest building on that campus is the Schambach Center; its cultural jewel, the Wellin Performance Hall. It provides space for cultural events, particularly musical ones that in our time took place here in the Chapel and in the Alumni Gym. Two other buildings help support the intellectual and cultural life on campus: the James Library, rebuilt and rededicated as Christian A. Johnson Hall, and the Burke Library. In its reincarnation as Johnson Hall, the first floor of the old James Library provides space for the Emerson Gallery, where art exhibitions are mounted. The Burke Library is attractive both inside and out. The Indiana limestone offers wonderfully contrasting lights as the sun strikes it and nearby North and Carnegie dormitories. The interior of Burke is warm and inviting, especially to those of us who remember the dim, quasi-religious interior of James.
Not all changes in physical plant deserve praise. Occupying what was our unoffending, not altogether level soccer field is Dunham Dormitory, a building Tom Johnston, whose teaching many of us remember with pleasure, once described as "the triumph of economy over the imagination."
Both the buildings and grounds and the people who work, study, play within them and on them are provided for in part by a much larger endowment than that of 1941-42. The endowment fund assets as listed in the Catalogue of 1941-42 were $4,143,902.09; the endowment nowadays is a bit over $125 million — that is, about 30 times larger — thanks to generous donors, to the hard work of many volunteers and to the persistent efforts of the professionals at C&D, who have been led by Joe Anderson with great enthusiasm. The endowment has also increased through management and has floated upward on the rising tide most such funds have enjoyed since we were here.
The rising tide has also lifted the boats of the administration, the faculty and the staff. Upon our arrival on the Hill, we found a single dean, Frank Ristine. As a dean he tended to stick closely to the letter of the regulation; many deans spend their time tempering regulations so that lambs are not quite shorn. But those of us who were taught by Dean Ristine remember his courses as demanding and enlightening. In the current College Catalogue I counted three deans, five associate deans and five assistant deans. A number of those men and women also teach, as did Dean Ristine, so their administrative chores do not absorb all their energies. By the time we graduated there was a second dean, Campbell Dickson, who acted as dean of students and kept a knowing eye on the football coach and team.
As you may be aware of and as I hope you understand, teachers are not always charmed by increases in numbers of administrators, but they are often pleased by similar increases in numbers on the faculty, except, of course, when a rival, and not nearly as important, department or program is allowed to make an additional appointment. Had we world enough and time, I might try to make an analysis of Full-Time Equivalents — FTEs in short form — on the faculty of our time and now. But the topic is arcane, and besides I do not like to think of persons who teach as making up Full-Time Equivalents — a kind of reduction of men and women to ugly jargon. Instead, I will give you what I believe would be called crude numbers, but revealing nevertheless. When we arrived in the fall of 1938, the faculty included 17 professors, five associate professors, four assistant professors, nine instructors and a lecturer. The 1991-92 catalogue lists 49 professors, 45 associate professors, 42 assistant professors and five instructors. There are also 34 members of the faculty who carry the term visiting in front of their titles. These men and women fill in for those with regular appointments who are serving as deans, or who are on leave; or they teach part-time, or they are on campus as distinguished visitors, as was Alfred Atherton this past term.
Just as the faculty has become more numerous, so has the student body. The total for the past year was 1,668, which included 32 part-time special and visiting students, almost exactly four times the number of students of our senior year. The students are far more representative of American society, indeed of our world, than our class and classes near ours. Students come from 44 states and Puerto Rico, and from 32 foreign countries, including the People's Republic of China and what used to be the U.S.S.R. In our class Hans Kessler was the exotic; he listed his home as Istanbul, Turkey. Larry Allen made his way here from Michigan, Brace Bennitt from Minnesota and Howie Keefe from Illinois — representatives of faraway states. In our time many of the students from New York State held state scholarships. These, alas, were eliminated by the state in 1991 during its budget crisis — a wearying yearly event. Fortunately, many federal programs are still being funded, and the College is still committed, though with great difficulty and at high cost, to "need-blind" admissions; that is, the College attempts to meet the financial needs of any student who matriculates but cannot pay the whole cost of his or her education.
Geographic distribution provides only one form of diversity. Current students also reflect more accurately than we did cultural, ethnic, racial and class differences. Through this diversity, the College is more like what students call the real world than was the College of our time.
For me, as an alumnus and a member of the faculty, the most important, indeed cataclysmic, change took place when Kirkland College was established in 1968. Like Wally Johnson, who was quoted in Hamilton Life in September 1938 as saying that he hoped the College would remain a men's college for many years in the future, I had believed that on the whole and for the future, the College should be kept for men. It turned out that I was and am wrong.
Kirkland College and Hamilton College had many differences in attitudes toward education, and in many different ways, these differences caused many tensions. To me the essential importance of Kirkland lies in the fact that it brought women students to the Hill. To conversion on that point I was shortly on my way after Margaret Forbes, Kirkland '73, walked into a course I was teaching in the fall of 1970. With great aplomb she took part in discussion despite being surrounded by 20 Hamilton men and facing me. She was an excellent student. Often women students bring qualities of perception different from, and frequently more discerning, than men do to the work being discussed and written about.
As the student body is more diverse than it was, so are the courses students may take and the concentrations — we called them majors — they may enroll in. Like ours, the curriculum now in force also requires students to become acquainted with different kinds of knowledge and acquire different skills. The distribution requirements of today resemble the group system we picked, or perhaps fought, our ways through, though the system today is more comprehensive, forcing students, for example, into an acquaintance with a form of art.
If the change that brought women students to the Hill occurred all at once, the other changes in diversity amongst students, the faculty and the curriculum offerings occurred more slowly. With all these changes, also occurring slowly and not always easily understood, came a general change in attitude toward education. Briefly I believe that in 1938-42, we went through an education that in most courses — gut courses existed then; they exist now — we were expected to do the work day by day by day. We had frequent quizzes and sometimes exceedingly difficult final exams. We were graded severely, and if we failed we were dismissed. Although some in our class undoubtedly left College for reasons other than academic failure, many of those who failed to graduate had not met the requirements. Of the 180 who entered in the fall of 1938, 87 graduated in May 1942. Three others graduated in later classes and five others from five different colleges. (The figures on graduates other than in May 1942 refer to living alumni.) The figures for the Class of 1988 are more cheerful: "85 percent of the 513 entering in 1984 were graduated by the spring of 1988; 88 percent by the spring of 1989."
Hard work, often more independent of direct supervision than ours, the students still face, but rather than being disciplined into beginning to be educated, they are nurtured, or perhaps cajoled, into those beginnings. Below are two revealing quotations, the first from the introduction, called "The Need" to "Administrative Rules of the Faculty," as published in the 1941-42 Student Handbook.
"You would not try to drive a car, play football, or even go trout fishing without first knowing the rules." Even with what I take to be the jocular "even" in front of "go trout fishing," the message is clear: read the following rules, and obey them. Here is the contemporary counterpart, from On the Hill, the handbook for 1991-92.
"Voluntary attendance at the College is an indication of willingness to accept these responsibilities as your own [that is, reading and understanding the regulations and procedures of the College] while a resident of the Hamilton College community. It should be noted that membership in the Hamilton community provides no immunity from the laws and standards of local, state and national jurisdictions." You will notice that the language is kinder and gentler, though not as witty, with an underlying tone of legalese. (Incidentally, I cannot recall reading the rules in 1938. Did any of us? Do any students now?)
Still, one way to gauge life on the Hill at different periods of time would be to analyze the rules for students. Never fear. I shall not attempt such an analysis, which would be long and complicated. But let me remark in passing that there is no doubt that current members of the Hamilton community have to cope with tensions stemming from the very diversity I have spoken about, the most obvious of these being racial and sexual. Even so, my impression from the media and from friends who teach and administer at other institutions is that life on the Hill is more civilized than on many another campus.
Life on the Hill was more or less civilized when we were students and quieter, I am sure, for our record players and radios, even at full volume, could not reach the ear-splitting racket that contemporary stereos attain. And to be here cost a lot less than it does now, though figures on tuition, room and board are misleading for any number of reasons — the rise in the cost of living being just one. Nonetheless, I pass along a contrast in costs just to boggle our minds a bit and send us back to the days when we were here.
This past fall students were charged $16,650 for tuition, $2,300 for room and $2,250 for board in the College dining halls. For 1941-42 the charges were $400 for tuition and from $90 for the least expensive room in North to $200 for the most expensive one in South. At Commons board was $7.50 a week, hence about $285 a year. For room and board the fraternities often charged somewhat more. Though these charges might stimulate us to think a bit about the past, they probably would not light candles in our hearts.
For that purpose, like a marauding pigeon, I have picked here and there in my memory, in the reminiscences of my classmates, and in the publications of our day, principally Hamilton Life. The overarching memory is that of World War II. Like a cloud it hung over us from the time of Germany's invasion of Poland in the fall of 1939, but the war did not alter our lives until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. That Sunday, which all of us then alive have burned into our memories, made us give up whatever long views we may have had and concentrate on the short views: what shall we do now? President Cowley had warned us in September that the U.S.A. would be in war by January, and after we were in it, told us "to keep our shirts on."
His warning we probably paid no mind to, and though we tried to keep our shirts on, the spring of 1942, our senior spring, was filled what questions we asked ourselves about what we should do. As I recall, many of us asked the questions in the local taverns, sometimes in one that stands still on College Street, in bright red, near the contemporary post office. In our day, it was known as Peg's, later as Downey's Rest; now it is called Don's Rok. A friend of mine of the Class of 1940 called it his spiritual home; for the curious it hasn't changed much. The greasy hamburger grill is fortunately gone, and the pinball machines have been replaced by electronic games. But the locals and the other College students still tolerate one another, though a bit uneasily, and the general atmosphere is pleasant. (So I found out several years back when the students, including Mary McLean Evans '82, on a search committee I chaired persuaded me to accompany them there after our chore had ended.)
If World War II became our preoccupation, the personality that filled the pages of Hamilton Life, spoke out on many topics during morning chapel, and sometimes preempted conversations among ourselves was that of William Harold Cowley. At first, he was exceedingly popular, appearing to breathe new life through into his widely proclaimed philosophy of holoism into what were sometimes prone to believe was a nearly moribund institution. Etched in my memory is a picture of President and Mrs. Cowley passing through a cheering gauntlet of students on February 21, 1941. During chapel he had just announced that he "must remain at Hamilton" rather than accept the presidency at the University of Minnesota. As time passed students picked up scraps of information, or what appeared to be information, about battles between Cowley with his supporters on the faculty and Cowley's opponents. He was able to effectuate some changes; he persuaded the faculty and trustees to drop the requirement in mathematics and to require students to take only one foreign language, instead of two, and take it until proficient. (Proficiency became a trap that a later change had to build a door out of.) And Cowley also persuaded the faculty and trustees that only one degree, the Bachelor of Arts, should be granted. (Those of you who received the degree of Bachelor of Science know that your diplomas are not only precious but scarce.) Probably his most important accomplishment was that of providing an office for each member of the faculty. Slowly the students began to take for granted that they could arrange to see their instructors about their work.
Whatever his accomplishments, Cowley managed to alienate many members of the faculty, largely, I gather, because though he thought of dealing with the faculty as a political problem, he was not a good politician. He alienated me and a number of other students by asking seniors to fill out questionnaires about the faculty. We suspected him of wishing to get rid of his opponents, no matter how good or bad they were as teachers. (By the way, contemporary students fill out evaluations on their instructors. From reading these I believe students to be remarkably generous in their assessments.)
Perhaps the mocking sound of the following parody sums up what a fairly large number of students thought of him by the time we were seniors. With my thanks to Tony Pomilio, here it is:
Cowley loves us,
This we know,
Cause the Handbook tells us so.
Little ones to him belong,
We are weak, But he is strong.
Yes, Cowley loves us,
Yes, Cowley loves us.
Though Cowley loomed large at times, appearing to be a big man and certainly with a commanding voice, he affected us much less, I believe, than many of our instructors, who taught us even when we were reluctant to learn. Thomas Johnston and Frank Ristine I have already mentioned. Here are the others, in an alphabetical Honor Roll. (You supply the nicknames.)
John Blyth, for helping us to think.
Horace Seely Brown, for gentle treatment of weak students.
Earl Butcher, for absolute clarity in lecturing.
Harvey Cameron, for stimulating interest in photography.
William Massey Carruth, for conveying math clearly to the mathematically underprivileged.
Donald Durham, for enthusiastic and perceptive teaching of Greek.
Wentworth Fling, for showing how French phonetics work.
Jean Marius Gélas, for patience with bumbling fencers.
Edgar Graves, for teaching history, especially in making his students envisage Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals.
Edward Hauch, for introducing Germanic philology to a small band of students.
Walter Hess, for combining enthusiasm for both plants and animals.
Thomas LeDuc, for making American history come to life. (It lingered close to death under his predecessor.)
Otto Liedke, for talking students into taking German.
Willard Marsh, for rescuing students who "broke" during Chapel "Deck" so that they finished their speeches.
John Mattingly, for amusing students as he taught.
George Nesbitt, for being both stimulating and precise.
Boyd Patterson, for revealing the beauties of mathematics.
Albert Ira Prettyman, for excellent coaching of hockey.
Philip Rogers, for helping freshmen and sophomores through the labs of Biology 1-2.
Robert Rudd, for reading poems into the hearts of the unpoetic.
William Pierce Shepherd, for civilized decency in treating befuddled students.
Berrian Shute, for his enthusiasm for music, and his volcanic indignation when the Eva Jessye Choir, whose members were black, was denied rooms at the Hotel Utica.
Mox Weber, for excellent coaching of basketball, even in the old gym.
Also in the catalogue as a member of the faculty was Wallace Bradley Johnson, '15. Wally was the registrar and later secretary of the College and clerk of the faculty. For many years he bound the Hamilton community together, working tirelessly in all kinds of administrative posts and knowing all of us both as students and alumni. For all those years of service he helped to forge the ties that bind. (I haven't been able to calculate how many men and women now perform the duties he carried out alone.) He represented what was and is kindest about the College.
The ties that bind we also hold through our memories of classmates who have died since May 1942. They all will be commemorated tomorrow during the Service of Remembrance. Still, let me speak a bit about two: Sunny Dale and Tony Schepsis. Sunny reminds us of others who died in World War II: Dit Beardslee, Jim Bonner, Orlando Del Vecchio and Chuck Rowland. Either in combat or in training, those four died immediately. Sunny, however, lived for a little over two years, fighting for life after he was injured as he led his company of the Sixth Marine Division on Okinawa. What we all must remember: the wonderfully smiling face, the pleasant, easygoing manner, the hard-playing football and hockey player. He was elected to all four of the class honor societies. No wonder he was awarded the James Merrill prize at graduation. Each year it is given to the senior, "who, in character and influence, best typifies the highest ideals of the College." And no wonder, also, that when Bob Collins, and the late Frank Bate visited him at a naval hospital on Saipan, Sunny was optimistically talking about plans for the future.
Tony Schepsis died April 18, 1987, medically from a heart attack, but in reality from having given his energies and talents to a multitude of activities. As a senior he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. At graduation he earned honors in romance languages and German. (I can recall his formidable presence in class; he knew languages in ways to make undergraduates feel woefully inadequate.) He also sang, took dramatic roles for the Charlatans and played in the Glen Lane Orchestra. During World War II he served with distinction in military intelligence, including parachuting into enemy lines. In his career as a teacher and later principal of Utica Free Academy, from which he had graduated, he demanded excellence and received respect and love. He also volunteered his energies for many worthwhile causes, including the Boy Scouts, the YMCA, Travelers Aid, the Players of Utica, the Utica Chorale and the Alumni Council. He was a point of light. Both Tony and Sunny remind us of our best selves: what we could be even when we are not.
Tony Schepsis sang, in fact became well-known for his rendition of "Figaro." Except for me, and a few other tuneless wonders, the whole class sang. Under Army Hoch we won three of four class sings, missing only our freshman year. Among the voices raised was that of Tom O'Donnell, whose sweet tenor thrilled us when he was the soloist. Tom won, you may recall, $50 for writing the new Hamilton song, "Samuel Kirkland." I can remember standing near Buttrick on one of those soft-lighted June evenings and watching and listening as the class sang against the backdrop of Benedict Hall.
Parties, of course, we had parties. Those we held would look very strange to contemporary students. Often there were formal dances; at Winter Carnival, 1939, Glenn Miller played, and 1950, Jack Teagarden. The women — our dates — dressed elegantly in formal gowns, and we appeared in black tie and white apparel.
The students nowadays do not hold such formal affairs; I suppose they would look upon them with the same youthful condescension as we looked upon the entertainments of our mothers and fathers. On the other hand, when I told an undergraduate woman about the 1939 Winter Carnival, she let go with an admiring "WOW!"
All the houseparties were led up to by stories in Hamilton Life, including what strikes me now as an odd custom. Ahead of each party Hamilton Life listed the names of the dates for the fraternities and Squires Club. The names on the lists are sometimes hauntingly familiar: they conjure up the faces not only of my past dates but those of my friends as well.
And we participated in other activities. There is an engaging photograph of Ed Gelsthorpe and Bob Wilkerson on the November '41 cover of The Continental. They are painting assiduously in the newly opened Root Art Studio, high above Root Hall. Jim Knight was one of three Hamilton debaters on this topic: the usefulness of county government. The article in Hamilton Life quotes one of the Hamilton debaters as saying that such government is good only "for repelling attacks of Mohawk Indians." Surely Jim said that. (Still true today.)
In the performing arts Melzar Richards played Falstaff in Henry IV, part 1, and Al Hartig was an extra in the December 31, 1941, Metropolitan Opera production of Aida. For his work in Act II he was paid $3. Phil Jones took a carload of Lambda Chi's to Utica to see Ann Corio do her artistic disrobing. But leaving his passengers at the theater, Phil went to the Oneida County Library to read up on the Bontok Igorots, a tribe native to the island of Luzon.
We also played games — soccer, hockey, football, basketball — and we participated in track. We also fenced. Under Coach Gélas Hamilton was a fencing power, placing ahead of Navy, Harvard, M.I.T. and Cornell in the Eastern Intercollegiate Championships in March 1942. The captain of the team, which included Bill McGee, Al Williford, Herb Wieder, Bruce Bennett, Tom Colby and Bill Doremus, was George Gillmore. He placed fourth in épee. The 1940 football team included Beardslee, Richards, Hoch, Dae, Naylor, McLean and Leavenworth. Bill Leavenworth, whom we called Ralph, ran 42 yards for a touchdown against Union in the '41 game, which we won 34-13.
Such were the memories I have rummaged around in and brought to the surface. These memories must, finally, speak to our private selves for us to cherish. We have to remember what moved us and became, therefore, essential to us.
Lest we leave this building with a kind of double vision, remembering the yellow from our days, and looking about us at the white of the present, let us think a moment about the current generation of students: what will they remember?
Just as the Chapel of our time looked, especially in the interior, much different from the one of today, so their lives and their College appear very different from the ones we remember.
But maybe not different in essence: George Orwell, in his essay "England Your England" about the England under attack in World War II, said: "A seed may grow or not grow, but at any rate a turnip seed never grows into a parsnip." So with Hamilton. It will grow and change, but not to become strangely different. Maybe some current students will remember Hamilton in the way Dick Bertine does: "The College gave me far more than I gave it." Some students now here will undoubtedly remember incidents and experiences similar to the ones we lived through. In gratitude some will remember the instruction they received and the instructors who gave it.
What I believe will remain for all will be the different seasons from different lights on them and from them. Each season brings its own beauties here; students then and students now may not be much aware of these. No matter, the beauties worked on us and will on them. They become absorbed into us. And despite the tensions and disagreements, the members of the Hamilton community work at being civil to one another. The atmosphere here is of civility. Like us, the students of today will carry with them the feeling of having been at a fine college during a good time in their lives. Time here will become a candle in their hearts.