Returning my diploma, for all the right reasons.

Every so often, I get this urge to downsize my life.  Which, for some odd reason, is why I drove to my college alma mater, Hamilton College, last night.


In 1985, after four years of study and struggle, of challenges and character, I received my college diploma from Hamilton’s president at the time, J. Martin Carovano.  Eventually the diploma was framed – my Grandma Betty took the diploma to a frame shop in Boston, where the framer enclosed both the diploma and the buff-and-blue binding ribbon in a simple wooden frame.  At one point in time, the diploma hung in my home.

Now, however, it’s time to downsize.  Again, I’m in my car, and I’m heading towards my old campus.

The framed diploma is riding shotgun, it’s in the passenger-side front seat of the Blackbird.

There’s a lot of emotions running through my mind right now.  I fought long and hard to get this diploma.  You’re probably wondering, “Why are you getting rid of it, Chuck?”

Here’s how I feel about the whole situation.  I graduated from Hamilton College, there’s nothing that can ever take that fact away.  I received this diploma, and I’ve proudly held on to it for the past 28 years.  But what will happen to this diploma after that time?  Would my daughter Cassaundra want it as some sort of talisman that her father actually graduated from college?  Besides, I gave her my college ring ten years ago when she graduated from high school.

No.  In all honesty and sincerity, I had a better idea for this old framed sheepskin.

Over the past few days, I’ve been in contact with Katherine Collett, Hamilton College’s archivist.  And the plan is thus.  Thousands upon thousands of men and women have graduated from Hamilton (and, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, its sister college Kirkland).  The college has presented thousands of diplomas.  How many of those diplomas have returned to the campus?  Very few.

Well… now they have one more.

It’s Thursday night.  Hamilton College’s Burke Library is open all night, as apparently students are cramming and studying for finals.  And it’s with that in mind, that I presented my vintage framed diploma BACK to the college that originally gave it to me.

And you can’t just go up to a Ham Tech official, hand them the diploma, and be done with it.  You have to fill out a Deed of Gift, which transfers possession of the physical item from your care to that of the college.  I’ve done this in the past with physical donations – during my 20th reunion in 2005, I donated a vintage restored Edison Diamond Disc player and over 175 proprietary phonograph records to the college for their jazz library and archive.  In 2000, during my 15th reunion, I also provided the jazz library with over 100 rare World War II V-Disc recordings, again for their jazz library.

Oh look.  I can tell I’m near the campus.  There’s the Village Tavern.  And there’s Don’s Rok.  Up College Hill Road I go…  Dear is thy homestead, glade and glen, beat up on Utica College again… And look who’s there.

Statue of Alexander Hamilton.  Nikon Coolpix S30 camera.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Statue of Alexander Hamilton. Nikon Coolpix S30 camera. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Funny thing about this statue.  It looks dignified in this picture, but I know it’s been abused and vandalized and spraypainted and whatnot over the decades.  One time the cane was ripped out and an Easter basket was hung from his hand – the vandals even gave him bunny ears and a cotton tail.  He’s been painted up to look like the Joker, he was even stolen and left in a wheat field for a year.  I tell you, if Alexander Hamilton were alive today, this would kill him.

No time to waste.  I head over to the Burke Library, where I’ve already made arrangements with one of the archivist’s representatives.  After explaining that yes, this was my diploma, and it wasn’t a diploma of some other student that I acquired at an estate sale, I agreed to pose with the diploma one last time… and then I gave the diploma to the college representative.

Diploma handed off, 28 years after I received it.  Nikon Coolpix S30 camera.
Diploma handed off, 28 years after I received it. Nikon Coolpix S30 camera.

You know that urban legend in which today’s college graduate can’t read the diploma that’s given to him?  Okay, don’t blame me that the dag-nab diploma was written in Latin!

I took a few pictures on campus, then it was back on the highway and back home for me.

Please understand.  This isn’t a case of me giving back my diploma because I’m ashamed of my college or my association with it.  Far from that.  For all the good and bad that I went through as a student, for all the misery and joy and education and importance of things in my life…

I want my diploma to be part of the College’s archives and holdings.  They deserve it.  It’s their history as much as it is mine.

Heck, I’d give them my yearbook too, but I kinda want to keep that for a few more years.