A View from College Hill
By President Joan HINDE Stewart
In a film commissioned for “Excelsior,” Hamilton’s last capital campaign, Professor Sidney Wertimer declares: “It’s a small world, but Clinton is right in the center.”
It has certainly felt that way over the last year as alumni near and far marked the 200th anniversary of Hamilton’s chartering by the Regents of the University of the State of New York. The year-long observance that began during homecoming weekend in the fall and included numerous Alexander Hamilton birthday parties in January began to wind down with Commencement. In the two weeks leading up to May 26, the date on which the charter was granted, Hamilton received congratulations and tributes from the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, New York Senate and Town of Kirkland, and a few of its representatives were invited to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange on May 24 — a positive day for the stock market and the College.
The largest gathering of alumni in the College’s history — more than 2,000 graduates and their guests — participated in an all-class reunion the first weekend in June. The bicentennial meeting of the Alumni Association was moved for that occasion from the Chapel, where it has traditionally been held, to Wellin Hall in order to accommodate the large audience that came to hear remarks by Chairman of the Board A.G. Lafley ’69, Alumni Council President Julie Ross and Josie Jones ’12, great-great-great-great granddaughter of George Albion Calhoun, Hamilton’s first graduate. The event also included a moving posthumous presentation of the Bell Ringer Award to Patricia “Trix” Tolles Smalley, whose father Winton Tolles ’28 was the first to receive the same award in 1970; the always memorable Half-Century Annalist Letter, delivered this year by Ralph Oman ’62; beautiful selections by the Alumni Choir, under the direction of Rob Kolb; and the posthumous presentation of an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree to Alexander Hamilton.
In making the case for the honorary degree, Chairman Lafley quoted from a profile written by the late David Ellis ’38, which commended our namesake for being “equally skilled with the sword and the pen,” and for using his “eloquence and logic [to persuade] an unwilling Assembly in Poughkeepsie to ratify the Constitution.”
The bicentennial year afforded me other fine opportunities to speak of the most illustrious of our original trustees, although I hardly needed such an anniversary to do so. My admiration for Dr. Hamilton is great, and it was fitting that the College to which he lent his name should honor him thus on this grand occasion.
As I have noted in talks throughout this bicentennial year, institutions such as ours are the moral and intellectual backbone of a country founded on the principles of equality, merit and initiative, qualities personified by Alexander Hamilton. These colleges have remained strong in the face of change and uncertainty. Liberal education, after all, cannot be the same today as it was in the 1800s. New fields of study have been made possible by technical and conceptual developments, new knowledge has been created at the points where existing disciplines overlap, and our opening to the world has vastly expanded the theatre of our offerings. But the important things endure.
Hamilton is as strong a college today as at any time in the past two centuries, and its graduates will continue to make meaningful contributions to a world in need of their skills and understanding. While we are all privileged to be part of this College at such a point in its history, there are even greater days ahead.