Keynote address by Gloria Borger ’74, P’10 at Colgate’s 193rd commencement

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(Note: These are prepared remarks delivered by Gloria Borger ’74, P ’10, keynote speaker for Colgate’s 193rd commencement. Watch the speech here. )

President Herbst, members of the Board of Trustees, esteemed faculty and, of course, members of the Class of 2014 and your families…

How wonderful it is for me to be back here in Hamilton to share this momentous day with you.

But I must admit, however, that I stand before you a completely conflicted alum.

Of course, getting an advanced degree from Colgate – and a chance to speak on the 40th anniversary of the graduation of the first class of women here – is an honor to be cherished – and I do. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

But…I am also genuinely perplexed.

After all, wasn’t it just yesterday – not four decades ago – that I sat where you are today, listening to some senior citizen ramble on and on about: The challenges and opportunities of the future; finding your passions; following your dreams; and all the other assorted clichés found in that bestseller Commencement Speeches for Dummies.

Surely, it was yesterday, not 40 years ago, that I sat out there eagerly waiting for this speech to finish. The only difference: I wasn’t texting with my best friend or taking a selfie….

I must also admit I’m not entirely comfortable standing before you as possibly Colgate’s oldest living female graduate.

Still, with age comes wisdom, and so here’s mine:

Number one, after today, every weekday starts with an 8 a.m. class.
Number two, everything costs more when you are the one who has to pay for it.
And number three, in life, it’s not who you know; it’s whom you know.

I’m sorry if you were expecting something more profound, but I am a devotee of that renowned scholar – and country music star – Faith Hill, who has written that “the secret of life is there ain’t no secret, and you don’t get your money back.” Sorry, parents.

Given the other milestone we are celebrating today – women at Colgate – I’d be remiss if I didn’t spend a few minutes ruminating about just how much Colgate has changed, and how far it has come since I sat out there.

Some members of your great class have suggested that I might want to share some stories about my most memorable experiences as a student here.

Since this is an audience that includes parents, faculty and trustees – not to mention my own children – I’d be happy to share some of these very personal stories … some other time.

What I will talk about is what a different place The Gate was when I arrived. As one of 132 new freshmen “co-eds,” as they called us back in the day: Colgate had been the ultimate boys club for 151 years. Then, after three years of debate, the board finally decided to let us in.


The student paper, then just called the Maroon, proclaimed “Girls credentials boost overall academic quality….” (Well, some things never change.)

Colgate had made an immense effort to welcome us girls, as my fellow former Trustees Diane Ciccone and Lori Slutsky might remember.

The signs were everywhere in East Andrews. That’s the dorm where most of us were quarantined.

We were all given ironing boards … and full-length mirrors … and (my favorite touch) plastic flowers had been carefully placed in the bathroom urinals.

How thoughtful the school was back then – although to this day, as my family can attest, I still have no idea what the ironing boards were for.

And as the Maroon said, we were expected to add significant value to the intellectual life of the college.

For instance, I can recall being called on for “the girl’s point of view” on everything from Tolstoy’s War and Peace (a very long book) to the War of 1812 (a very long war).

We had cheerleaders for the men’s sports teams, but none for the women’s teams. That’s because there were no women’s teams.

Fraternities? You bet. Sororities? Not one.

But over my four years here, something important happened: we women at Colgate managed to weave ourselves into the fabric of the school – in extracurricular activities, academically, athletically, and socially.

It wasn’t always an easy transition. It never is. And sometimes we got some outside help – as did other colleges – from Title IX, which gradually opened a larger path to equity.

But there is no disputing how far we have come. In 1973, there were 15 women on the faculty. Now there are 125.

Colgate has been led by a women president. The athletic director and the dean of the college are women, so are one-third of the trustees. And there are no quotas for women. In fact, your class has almost 100 more women than men.

Coeducation may have started out as an arranged marriage, but it blossomed into so much more. And we’re all the all the better off for it.Together, Colgate is now home to a group of increasingly gifted and incredibly diverse students. As an alum, I am proud that we have become such a welcoming community and that we continue to strive to produce a safe and intellectually challenging environment for all students.

The inevitable lesson of this history, for institutions and individuals, is that holding onto tradition can be a good thing. But so is adapting and disrupting that tradition when the world changes…

Understand what came before … but know when it’s time for something different, and embrace it. Just as Colgate did when I first arrived… and continues to do today.

But on this day– like it or not; ready or not – your student days at Colgate are coming to an end. But you are not really leaving. You won’t forget that inspirational professor who took some extra time with you to open your mind … or … Spring Party Weekend. (Even I can remember some of those weekends.)

You won’t forget that “ah-ha moment” freshman year when Plato actually started to make sense. And you won’t forget your first snowstorm. …  Or your second snowstorm. … Or your last snowstorm.

And while we’re at it, there is one thing I can almost guarantee all of you will miss — the luxury of concentrating on your own development without feeling guilty about it; without feeling as if there were something else you ought to be doing or someplace else you needed to be.

You were here at Colgate on a personal mission: to learn, to live independently, and to grow as a human being. And you have done that.

That won’t stop just because you are leaving this place.

So, here’s the challenge for life beyond the Willow Path.

Take Colgate with you….

Take Colgate with you as you leave the idyllic town of Hamilton….

There’s a lot of noise out there. A lot of everything on all of your devices. A lot of people – some even on TV – offering advice on everything from what to eat, what to wear, and what to think.

If you learned anything here – and I know you did – it’s the ability to figure things out on your own.

Know for a fact that the people who claim to have all the answers aren’t asking enough questions. Listen to the ruckus, sure. Become a part of it if you want.

But as Steve Jobs said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

Take Colgate with you as your figure out your life’s work.

Some of you already know what’s next, whether it’s graduate school or a job or maybe a year bumming around a part of the world … hopefully where it never snows or drops below 60 degrees. The options now are so exciting and broad: The world is literally at your fingertips.

The challenge is to combine the easy world of a Google search engine with your own hard work, initiative, energy, and thinking.

Some of you may not have a clue about what’s next. That’s not a calamity. And if you don’t like the people or the environment or the work at your first job, that’s useful, too.

Finding out what you don’t want to do can be just as instructive as finding out what you do want to do.

And if it all seems to be taking longer than you want, here’s another piece of advice: Delay your retirement by a few months.

Forty years from now, I promise you that today’s job search will be tomorrow’s anecdote.

And take Colgate with you, by making sure the job is just one part of a full life. As we all learned here, hard work is rewarding and important… but so is balance – with friendship, community, charity, and a loving family.

And – as if I have to tell my very soon-to-be fellow alums – play is important, too.

I used to offer this advice to young women, but more and more I find that it suits both men and women equally: You can have it all. Just not at the same time.

I put off the pain of entering the real world after my graduation by taking a fellowship to study journalism, and then returned to Washington to work at the Washington Star…. Back in the day when there were actual newspapers. For me, the choice was always pretty clear-cut: I am endlessly nosy, I liked to write – I edited the Maroon here – so journalism seemed the thing to do.

But along the way, the decisions got tougher because my life grew larger. There was marriage and children to raise.

My choices reflected priorities that could not possibly have been clear to me sitting out there on graduation day – but are obvious now. I am a wife, I am a mother, and I am a professional.

A while back, at a different commencement, former First Lady Barbara Bush gave some advice about living a full life that stuck with  me. At the end of your life, she said, you will never regret having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, or closing one more deal. Or, as the saying goes, no one ever died wishing he had spent more time at the office.

Colgate has prepared you for whatever life you choose. But it’s also prepared you to deal with the unexpected… So take Colgate with you as you encounter all the serendipity the world will inevitably send your way.

Colgate has been the chance encounter with a new professor … or course … or book … or music … or roommate … or teammate … or activity … that no doubt has taken all of you in a surprising direction.

Here’s my story: The summer before I came to Colgate, I saw a car with a Colgate sticker parked in a Bloomingdale’s parking lot. I left a note on the windshield, saying something profound like, “I’m so excited to be going to Colgate. Can’t wait to meet you… Gloria.” I didn’t want to get to familiar, so no last name was signed, and I never gave it another thought.

When school started I  went over to the Maroon to sign up. There were two editors there greeting the incoming class. The guy who found my note on his car, and his best friend, who I married four months after I graduated. I wanted a byline, not a husband. I got both, so go figure.

Lance Morgan and our two sons – one of whom is a proud member of the Class of 2010 – are sitting here today. And they’re actually listening to me, so who could have predicted that?

Graduates, today is about your stories and also about the people who made this day possible, your folks and your families. I know we’ve applauded them before with President Herbst, but lets give them another round of applause. They deserve it.

Just yesterday, your parents dropped you off at Whitnall Field, unpacked you, and said hello to your roommates and new friends. They wondered how they would do without you. More important, they worried how you were going to survive without them.

But you not only coped, you succeeded. And here we are, on a day you could see coming for years and still cannot believe is here.

You will quickly forget this speech, I am sure. But you will never forget this moment or this feeling of accomplishment and pride. You did it, and we salute you.

In a matter of hours, you will pack up the car and say your goodbyes, no doubt with some tears – although remember, everyone is only a Snapchat away these days.

Your student days at Colgate are indeed over. That’s the bittersweet news.

The good news is that you’re not really leaving – you can, and you should, take Colgate with you.

Congratulations, good luck, and thank you.