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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Our Song is All of Thee

Charles T. Bates, Class of 1953

Delivered: June 7, 2003

Exactly 100 years ago, Melancthon Woolsey Stryker wrote, as a refrain to the old song, "Bright Hamilton," these words, which aptly describe the Class of 1953's sentiments toward our alma mater as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of our graduation:

Thy Boys, Grown Men,
Crowd Close Again,
Our Song is?All of Thee.


My story this morning concerns this Class of 1953 and tells something of our college years on this Hill. We entered Hamilton in September 1949, four years after the end of World War II, eagerly anticipating a "normal" and productive college experience. However, certain events during that very entry month marked in dramatic ways the onset of the Cold War. In that September, the United States learned that it no longer held a nuclear monopoly, for the Soviet Union had developed an atomic bomb; in China, Mao Tse-tung proclaimed the Communist Peoples' Republic; and the division of Germany into separate eastern and western republics was formalized.

In June 1950, following our freshman year, the Cold War turned into actual combat when the army of communist North Korea invaded South Korea, and U.S. and U.N. forces moved to repel this advance. As battle lines seesawed up and down the Korean peninsula, the armies engaged in eight months of bitter and bloody fighting, reaching a stalemate early in 1951. In November of 1951, the parties agreed upon a truce, with territorial lines drawn roughly at the 38th parallel. The truce held, and resulted eventually in an armistice, not signed until July 27, 1953, six weeks after our graduation. Coincidence, perhaps, but maybe the Reds understood that the Class of 1953 was coming after them.

We anxiously followed these developments, for we were alert to their consequences, especially the nation's need for a large and rapid military buildup. Because of the low U.S. birthrates in the early 1930s, colleges recognized the vulnerability of their students to the demands of conscription. In early 1951, the criterion for student deferment from the draft was rank in the upper half of one's class; this provision was soon revised so that deferment was routinely granted to a student in good standing and making progress toward a degree. Hamilton offered a 12-week summer session in 1951, and some 70 students, including a number from our class, took advantage of this opportunity to accelerate their studies, particularly those planning graduate work. Others joined reserve and National Guard units, membership in which sometimes resulted in an early and unanticipated call-up to active duty. Many enrolled in summer officer training programs, notably the Navy's program at Newport and the Marines' one at Quantico. Our classmates who voluntarily or perhaps "involuntarily" dropped out of college were almost certain to be swiftly caught up in the draft. Many of this group later returned to Hamilton to finish up their studies, and received their degrees with a later class. A large proportion of us who graduated on schedule in June 1953 volunteered to be called up in a summer draft call, served our two years, and, if undertaking graduate work, did so with the very generous assistance of the G.I. Bill.

Notwithstanding this backdrop of the Korean conflict and of the other global tensions which made us aware of the likelihood that we would be at some time become obligated for military service, we enjoyed our situation as — for the most part — carefree youth, determined to enjoy and to gain the most from our college years.

Our college experience began on Sept. 15, 1949, with the entry of this new Hamilton class of 162 men. Among us were a handful of service veterans, and also several 16-year-olds, and many other barely 17. Mirroring the College's student body as a whole, more than two-thirds of us resided in New York State. Rumor had it that more than 50 of our class were pre-meds, an exaggeration or excessive optimism, perhaps, for at graduation there were only 12 of our number with specific plans to go to med school, with another six headed to dental school.

Nearly all of us spent freshman year lodged in South Dorm. Demonstrating our scientific talents and curiosities, we transformed South's capacious stairwells into grand science laboratories. There we engaged in ingenious explorations into the various governing principles of gravity, hydraulics and pyrotechnics — sometimes with dramatic results. All this drama and noise! Could the College administration ever have expected that our class in time would be deemed part of the so-called "Silent Generation?"

As freshmen, we participated in the annual fall interclass rivalries. We lost the flag rush, but won the tug-of-war, dragging the sophomore team through the fountain on the middle quad. Monitored by upperclassmen, we wore silly "dinks," stayed off the grass of the quadrangles, refrained from wearing anything red on campus until Thanksgiving and learned to greet everyone we encountered on the campus. Pajama-clad, we formed a parade and took part in a bonfire rally on the Friday night before the Union football game. For the most part, we accepted with good grace, and only occasionally rebelled at, these small and essentially benign hazing rituals. I believe we recognized their purpose: to inject a dose of humility into the cocky new boys on the Hill, and simultaneously to foster, in this new class of Hamilton men, attachments to each other and to the College.

As we grew and changed, we were gradually learning some of the peculiarities of life at Hamilton: the snapping of fingers as the ultimate form of approbation of a speaker's remarks; Winter Carnival, and the chilly work of creating a snow sculpture; treading the red shale pathways of the campus, which gradually were giving way to asphalt topping; the way faculty and student drivers cheerfully offered rides up or down the Hill; coming to realize that it was entirely possible to know — or at least to recognize — every other Hamilton student.

Among the events that punctuated our college years was a turnaround in Hamilton's football fortunes under a new head coach, Don Jones. In the fall of 1952, his team, bolstered by a strong contingent of our class, attained a record of four wins, two losses and a tie, Hamilton's first winning season in football since 1941. Perhaps even more satisfying to alumni, the Buff & Blue defeated Union both in our junior year, by a 32-20 score, and again in our senior year, in a 31-7 rout.

The 1952 presidential campaign brought whistle-stop appearances at the Utica train yards of candidates Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson, as well as of the feisty incumbent Harry S. Truman. A poll of students ran in Ike's favor, as did a faculty poll determined by one late vote. Despite election excitement, which included a spirited debate in this chapel, only some of us could cast a ballot. At that time, you had to be 21 to be able to vote, although, curiously, age 18 was the legal drinking age in New York State.

We followed, among other matters, the peregrinations of Tony duBourg's red canoe: once retrieved in the nick of time from a newly prepared grave in the College Cemetery; once hoisted high on the College flagpole. We welcomed the installation of ice-making machinery in the Sage Building in December of our senior year and shared the disappointment of the hockey team's dismal 0-12 season.

We observed the strong and energetic leadership of Hamilton's new president, Robert Ward McEwen. Evidencing the respect that he had earned and gained, Pentagon '53 tapped him as an honorary member in March of our senior year.

The main excitement of our senior year was the appearance on campus in March of a writer/photographer team from Life magazine. They seemed to appear everywhere on the Hill, observing all sorts of events and taking more than 3,000 photos during their week-long visit. The posturing and posing and jostling among various groups and individuals to gain inclusion in their coverage was remarkable to observe. The resulting article — captioned "Pure Liberal Arts" — appeared in Life's issue of April 27, 1953. It depicted, largely in a favorable light, much of the special character of the College and of a large number of our classmates.

At last, on June 14, 1953, came our commencement, the College's 143rd. We numbered 128 graduates, at the time second in number only to the 140 of the veteran-swollen class of 1950. We gratefully accepted our diplomas in the Sage Building, honored by a commencement address given by Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., then the U.S. representative to the United Nations. Charlie Levy was our valedictorian, graduating with a four-year academic average of 95.4, the highest since 1906.

Leaving the Hill that day, headed variously to military service or graduate study, each of us was delighted to hold a Hamilton degree. In retrospect, what we had achieved had been gained as a great bargain. Tuition in our last year was $300 per semester; room was $87.50 and board $250 per semester in College facilities; only a few small additional fees and deposits were required. Quick calculation reveals that the cost of a year at Hamilton, even adding on travel and clothing and entertainment expenses, was almost certainly less than $2,000.

Perhaps the best part of the "bargain" is what we now hold and value beyond measure: memories that still enfold us closely, the whispering still of mystic joys. What made Hamilton so distinctive then and so precious to us now? The location, the size and the setting of the College of our time surely account for many of our warm memories. Hamilton was small — fewer than 600 students — and was an intimate and friendly community. We enjoyed our life and our companions in what one of our class describes as the "splendid isolation" of College Hill. We appreciated the beauty of our campus and of its surroundings, particularly in mid-autumn and in late spring. Even the rigors of deep Clintonian winter, harsh enough then, surely magnified in our minds by the passage of time, contributed to the special closeness of our campus lives.

Moreover, when a student came to Hamilton, he was here. There were Saturday morning classes, and no junior year semester or full-year programs away from the Hill. The New York State Thruway had not yet been completed, no more than 50 or so students had cars, and travels away from the campus, except for "movie runs" into Utica and occasional weekend forays to Skidmore or Vassar or Wells, were not a regular feature of our life. TV viewing was not a common pastime. Network television was in its infancy, and probably there were no more than 20 TV receivers on the Hill.

Our four years here were essentially a continuous period of living together in a small community and learning, along with other lessons, how to get along with other people. We also came to understand that making our college years pleasant and productive would in great measure depend on our own efforts. Undergirding our efforts were three factors that greatly enhanced our college experience: our close and warm relationships to our professors; the support of a number of women who encouraged our efforts; and the pervasiveness of music of all kinds and qualities, helping to lift our spirits and to bind us together.

Our faculty, all men, fewer than 60 in number, were simultaneously our mentors, counselors and friends. They challenged us, and demanded our best efforts as we learned to think and to analyze, and to make judgments for ourselves. These men were fair and honest with us in our dealings: erudite and enthusiastic in the classroom; caring, concerned and accessible outside of class. We respected them, and came to realize that they respected us, even as they provided us perspective and balance on our studies and in our lives. Many are the enduring friendships, which first began on this Hill with that special group of teachers. The expectations and responsibilities they implanted in us surely helped us to mature in ways other than strictly scholarly ones.

Notwithstanding our all-male faculty and our all-male student body, life at Hamilton was far from monastic. During our days on the Hill, we were supported and encouraged by a host of female friends who raised our morale and, without doubt, our incipient civility. We recall the warm hospitality of many faculty wives who helped us to relax and to feel at home in their homes. We came to know many faculty daughters as friends, especially Barbara Graves, Lisa Rogers, Trix Tolles, Katherine Johnston and the Cameron twins, Janet and Julia; how much we appreciated their coming to sports contests to cheer us on.

During our senior year, Mrs. Thomas Brown Rudd regularly invited clusters of our class on Sunday mornings to the Rudd home on Bristol Road. There we enjoyed a hearty breakfast, the Sunday newspapers and easy conversation with Mrs. Rudd and with her husband who served Hamilton as its 13th president and in many other ways over many years.

We became aware of the elegant parties and receptions given by the Hill's grand hostesses, including Mrs. A.P. Saunders, Mrs. Edward Root and Mrs. Berrian Shute. Although their parties were basically presented for the benefit of visiting dignitaries or performers, occasionally we were privileged to be included in one of these special events.

We recall with gratitude the women who staffed the important College facilities and services: Ethel Cameron in the bookstore; many helpful women on the library staff; the nurses of the College infirmary; and the cheerful and efficient ladies (some of them wives of student-veterans) who staffed various business and academic offices. All, by their thoughtfulness and efficiency, helped smooth our way through our college years. We appreciated, too, the women of the Hill who took part in the Charlatans' productions, thus providing authentic portrayals of the female characters in the casts.

Finally, we are grateful to the multitude of women who kept us well-fed and reasonably hygienic. We recall the squad of cleaning ladies — for some reason known as the "P" ladies — who made our beds and generally cleaned our dormitory rooms. Wouldn't it have been interesting to eavesdrop on an after-work conversation of this group of heroines? Keeping us nourished, and on generally good behavior in the College's kitchens and dining halls, were such impressive personalities as Sophie in Commons and the formidable Frau Schmidt at Alpha Delt.

Here's to the ladies of our Hamilton days. Our belated thanks for all that they did to make our remote community cheerful and complete.

Music — as created, performed or simply experienced and enjoyed — was important in our student days, and its appeal and influence were pervasive.

In our era, Hamilton was blessed with two extraordinary music personalities. One was Berrian R. Shute, professor of music and a gentleman-scholar of music in the classical tradition. His special skill was in organizing and conducting performances of grand choral works. During our years, the Hill was graced by Dr. Shute's elegant direction of performances, in the Alumni Gym, of such masterpieces as Handel's Messiah, Bach's Mass in B Minor and Mendelssohn's Elijah. Memorable as well were the Christmas carol sings in Commons, before a roaring fire, led by a jovial Dr. Shute.

The other musical stalwart was John L. Baldwin, Jr., an organist and choir leader of extraordinary skills and enthusiasms. In 1950, he succeeded to the leadership of the College Choir, which became the Hill's sole regular choral group, performing regularly at Sunday evening chapel services. Many not otherwise obligated to attend came to these services especially to hear the choir's disciplined and robust singing. Its performances of such rousing anthems as Laudate Nomen Domini still resound in this place.

In May 1951, the Choir produced its first-ever recording, filling two sides of a 12-inch, 78-rpm disc, with seven Hamilton songs including, of course, Carissima, as well as the haunting and gentle The Winds Are All Hushed. In our senior year, the choir appeared twice in New York City: at a joint concert with the Hunter College Choir in December, and, during spring vacation, at both St. Thomas's Church and at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Inspired leadership, and hard work by its members, had won for the choir both recognition and wide acclaim by the end of our college years.

Singing might break out spontaneously at or after dinner in the various dining halls and was a standard feature of weekend parties in the basement bars. A sizeable portion of the student body was drawn into the annual interclass song competition as, in the twilight of a May evening, each class performed from the steps of middle quadrangle buildings. With energy and enthusiasm, our Irving Reid valiantly attempted to teach our class the proper notes, words and tempos, and we tried hard to please him with our unskilled but sincere renderings of Carissima and of such songs as Aura Lee and Stars of the Summer Night, but 1953 never did win this competition.

A musical tradition was born, during our Hamilton years, in the formation of the Buffers octet. This group, whose founding members in 1950 included Bob Abrams, Dave Hastings and Irving Reid of our class, soon was in great demand for its skilled performances, both on and away from the Hill. I understand that the Buffers still sing, and no doubt furnish answers to the vexing questions: where is Alice going? and why?

Jazz groups, in a variety of configurations and durations, were prevalent. Derry Hall and Dick Sherman of our class helped establish the Catatonic Five, a Dixieland group whose name reflected our fascination with the nomenclature of the popular abnormal psychology course. This group's best known original number, Sandy Don't 'llow No Jazz on Sunday, stemmed from a presidential edict concerning an outdoor event planned as the windup of a spring houseparty weekend. The group did play jazz that afternoon but, following Dean Winton Tolles' sage advice, indoors.

This group has evolved into the Alumni All-Star Jazz Band, which for more than 40 years has played Dixieland at Hamilton reunions. It did last night and will again tonight. Dick Sherman of our class, drummer extraordinaire, has led this band since 1987.

One final reminiscence relates both to music and to our warm friendships with our faculty. In March of our senior year, as the cornerstone of the president's reception for seniors in the old James Library, the faculty presented for our entertainment a musical drama, written and performed entirely by them. Among the numbers we enjoyed were English Professor Tom Johnston's mock alma mater and Public Speaking Professor Bob Carson's singing, while incongruously clad in hockey player's garb, "I'm Just a Normal Teen Age Boy." The evening's highlight was President McEwen's brave delivery of the "Culture Song." The lyrics, gently spoofing Hamilton's academic earnestness, were by Tom Johnston; the music, the tune of Bye, Bye Blackbird.

The second verse went this way:
When we play the athlete's role
Culture is our only goal
Rah, rah culture
Culture like a sweet perfume
Lingers in our locker room
Rah, rah culture
Without culture you can't be aesthetic
You'll end up being ath-a-letic
After Carnival is through
Culture is the residue
Culture, rah, rah!

So, these are some of the remembrances of our college life of 50 years ago: the friendship and mutual respect developed between us and our faculty; the kindnesses and encouragement shown us by the women of the Hill; our pleasures in creating and enjoying music in many forms.

Those features of our days at this college helped shape and support us then; warm recollections of those experiences underlie our great pleasure in returning here this weekend.

Our coming together again on this Hill provides, once more, the opportunity for us to express our affection and gratitude to our Hamilton.

Gather we close to thee again, for
Our song is all of thee.


Thank you very much for listening to our story.