Colgate University just held its bicentennial reunion on campus. My wife and I are both proud graduates (yes, we’re a Colgate couple), and we happily attended the celebration.
Looking back, I think the most influential piece of my college experience was my involvement in the student-run TV station, CUTV. My life-long passion for video storytelling as a profession fully developed during my college years as CUTV’s first station manager.
As you can imagine, after I graduated from Colgate, I took with me more than just a diploma… I schlepped home videotapes containing a library of content documenting years of student life, events and issues at Colgate.
This was still a pre-digital time, and when tapes were finally superseded by DVD technology, I digitized much of my content. I repeated the same exercise years later and moved my media to .MOV files on hard drives.
The big question is why…
What ongoing value was there to carry these old clips forward and protect them against the ravages of time for more than three decades?
The Need to Document a Story
I’ve tried to seriously answer that question only three times. And I must admit, I’ve only spent about a week or two during each of these explorations…
And during each exercise, I cleared my head from the competing noise (and music) from my life and tried to take a serious look at this content with the goal of editing together a worthwhile visual story from those years… and then presenting it to a population of Colgate alumni at an upcoming reunion.
(Yes, it always took a nearing reunion to finally jolt this project into high gear.)
My first attempt was back in 1995, when I edited together video highlights for my class’s 10th reunion dinner. As everyone in the room recognized all of the faces in my video, it was easy to see that the footage still had some worth, much like an old family photo.
But was that it? Is the archival value of this footage limited to the Colgate alumni of my generation?
I didn’t try to answer that question again until fifteen years later…
I presented a new video at Colgate’s 2010 Reunion during a CUTV panel presentation representing the previous 25 years. Several generations showed off their own content, and my video documented the the origins of CUTV. This was essentially my story…
And to be honest, I wasn’t really sure how interesting that would be for a general population of alumni not connected to my generation.
Ultimately, it felt like my CUTV origins video served its purpose for the audience in that moment. But the larger questions still remained…
Fast forward nine more years…
It’s now Colgate’s Bicentennial, and as my wife and I were going to be in attendance, I decided to take another look at my old footage. Now that the decades were piling up, I would try to view the content through a different lens. Could I actually find and extract content that would have some true historical value to a general alumni population?
I found my answer, and it was hard to face…
Because as much as I wanted the answer to be yes… the truth was most of my old footage displayed students doing and talking about things that any generation of students might address. You could just change the faces, and bingo… you’d be watching almost the exact same thing.
But I did come across a consolation prize of sorts… I decided this old footage actually serves more as a cultural look back in time as opposed to carrying the weight of historic significance…
Plus, there were indeed a few moments worthy of archival preservation. Most notably the 1985 student protests and sit-in against Apartheid. And a 1982 lecture by political and social activist Abbie Hoffman.
The rest was simply background… a digital memory of sorts.
So, fully acknowledging the limitations of the content, I edited together attempt #3, and I presented my little opus to a small but interested group of alums.
And the impact…?
Capturing the Voice of a Generation
It seemed that everyone had some level of interest in watching these Colgate moments from another century… much like I might enjoy watching old Colgate films from the 40’s and 50’s.
But people laughed when they were supposed to, and audibly responded to other moments as well.
(There was no booing.)
Beyond that, my series of old video clips prompted a unexpected conversation about the challenge of maintaining a student-run media production operation across the years as a socially and culturally-accepted content generator.
We talked about the reality of a community accommodating and absorbing the ‘voice’ of a student run TV station. It was not unlike experiencing social media for the first time in a pre-digital era….before social media ever existed.
(I think this is a conversation that warrants more analysis at another time…)
The Value of a Common Experience
So after three attempts over the past 24 years, I feel I’ve collected enough qualitative data (not really) to suggest this old student-produced content from the ‘80s can successfully tap into the common experience of anyone who’s been a part of the Colgate community.
There is a collective understanding… and inherent familiarity with it.
So perhaps there is some enduring value for this video footage after all.
I see you’ve read this far… so I’m guessing you must be connected to Colgate. Interested in seeing the first segment from this new edit? Here you go…
The Beginning of a Digital Memory?
Perhaps, all of this can contribute to some yet-to-be created larger digital memory representing Colgate’s history (and culture) throughout the 21st century.
For now, I’ll simply say that beyond simply showing up to Colgate’s big reunion event, this is my contribution to the bicentennial celebration.
That’s where I’m at with the past and the present.
We’ll see what the future brings…