Lifting People Up: A Conversation with Cynthia Perry ’74

Back to Advancement Updates
Cynthia Perry and son

Cynthia Perry ’74 has been forging new paths since arriving at Colgate in 1970. As a member of the first class of female students at Colgate, Cynthia was among the very first women to participate in the University’s renowned Washington Study Group. 

But she never did go into politics – instead she built a successful career in advertising and began giving back to Colgate by volunteering her brand-building skills to help guide messaging during Passion for the Climb, the University’s most successful capital campaign to date. More recently, she is engaged at Colgate through her contributions in the Presidents’ Club, Women’s Leadership Group, SophoMORE Connections, career panels, reunion committee, and more. 

Below, we discuss Cynthia’s Colgate experience, what inspires her to give back, and her proposition for fellow Colgate supporters.

Q:  How did you end up at Colgate?

A: My mother didn’t go to college, and my father was only able because of the G.I. Bill. He took the ferry across the Hudson River daily to attend NYU, which was a commuter school at the time. As a first-generation student, he would have loved the opportunity to go to Colgate – it was his dream for me to choose a residential college, where students are surrounded by opportunities to learn and grow. Then, in the summer before my senior year in high school, he came home with The New York Times article about how Colgate had gone co-ed. It all fell into place. 

Q: What was it like to be part of the inaugural first-year class of women at Colgate?

A: It was hard, and it was wonderful. We knew we were pioneers and that women just two and three years older than us didn’t have the same opportunities we would. I knew I was preparing for a future that would open doors and break glass ceilings like never before. It felt like a major step toward equality. 

Q:  How did Colgate prepare you for that future?

A:  In so many ways. There were challenges, but over time as I grew older I saw the impact the Colgate experience had on my life and better understood its value. I had demanding but engaging professors, who instilled in me a joy of learning, the skills to defend my point of view, and a willingness to take risks. I graduated believing that I could do just about anything I set my mind to achieving.

Q:  Do you recall anyone who was particularly inspiring to you at Colgate?

A:  One standout professor was David Stern, the head of the political science department. I was a poli sci major, and he invited our class to his house for dinner. It felt like such a privilege to visit the home of someone I respected so much. I still talk about him. During my time as an alum, Rebecca Chopp and RuthAnn Loveless both inspired me to be a part of the progress at Colgate. They are amazing women. And I am over-the-top impressed by President Casey. He is the right president for this time, and Colgate is lucky to have him.

Q:  What are your thoughts on President Casey’s plans for Colgate’s future? 

A:  I am very supportive of The Third-Century Plan, as is my son Michael ’19. We are a Colgate family now, so we are speaking across generations. We especially support programs that improve sustainability, enhance the arts, and provide greater access for first-generation students and middle-income families — like the No-Loan Initiative.

Q:  What inspires you to give to Colgate?

A:  The opportunity for higher education is one of my family’s most cherished values – education lifts people up. The G.I. Bill lifted my father up, and the opportunity for a Colgate education lifted me. The school has given me so much, and I want to give back. But, for me, supporting Colgate is not just about giving to the University — it’s also about honoring my father’s life and legacy.

Q:  Why have you decided to increase your giving by 13% this year?

A:  Challenging times call for extraordinary efforts. I have been so inspired by the way Colgate has faced the adversities of COVID-19. So much has been done by all, and I have marveled at the results. I want to support the University through these trials and have an idea. I did the math and realized that if everyone who gave to Colgate last year increased their support by just 13% in this one extraordinary year, we could pay down the total investment that made on-campus learning possible during the pandemic.

I want to encourage my fellow Presidents’ Club members and all alumni, families, and friends of the University to consider a special gift to Colgate this year. I believe that it is warranted and that we should all think about stepping up so Colgate can continue to innovate and excel in these extremely challenging times.