Torchlight Ceremony

Help Preserve the Torch & Bring the Colgate Community Together

The intent of the Torch is to bring the Colgate community together through 200 years of history, tradition, and alumni connection.  This tradition must continue.

Alumni have an opportunity to reclaim the Torchlight Ceremony by shining our collective torch on the ritual’s history, meaning, and solemnity to reaffirm, strengthen, and continue our shared tradition.

We need your help.

Please send an email to the Alumni Council Torchlight Working Group to   Keep the Torch in the Torchlight Ceremony.

Please find additional resources and information below.

Barnaby Evan’s history of the Torchlight Ceremony:

Konosioni’s statement to remove torches from the Torchlight Ceremony:

Barnaby Evan’s bio and Q&A on the Torchlight Ceremony:

Following is the January 26, 2018 e-mail communication to alumni from Melissa Coley, President of Colgate’s Alumni Council:

To the Colgate alumni community:

In response to recent campus conversations about Colgate’s Torchlight Ceremony, and given the opportunities presented by Colgate’s 200th anniversary in 2019, President Brian Casey invited Barnaby Evans, an artist who has done extensive work with public community-based celebrations around the world (including Water Fire in Providence), to become an artist-in-residence at the university. He asked Barnaby to lead a community wide conversation on Colgate’s ceremonies and rituals. As part of this work, the Alumni Council formed a Torchlight Working Group to serve as a resource to Barnaby throughout the process and to contribute alumni perspectives.

Since the initiative began last fall, Barnaby has conducted extensive research on the topic of fire and torches — both on campus and around the world. Barnaby met with the working group and also briefed members of the Alumni Council during our meeting this past weekend. He presented a summary of his research to-date, and we previewed a web page that includes interesting historical information along with a list of questions and answers about his work.

We are forwarding the link to an informational website and the Q&A along with a copy of a message Barnaby is sending to the campus community today. These materials come with an invitation to send your thoughts, recollections, and feelings on the Torchlight Ceremony to the Alumni Council Torchlight Working Group They will be very useful as Barnaby, the working group, and the university continue the process in preparation for commencement, reunion, and the bicentennial.


Melissa J. Coley ’79, Alumni Council President

Alumni Council Torchlight Working Group
Richard Burke ’92
Sean Fitzmichael Devlin ’05
Carmine DiSibio ’85
Shevorne O. Martin ’08
Patti Binder Spindel ’79
Brian K. Suiter ’00
Gregory A. Threatte ’69

Below is the January 26, 2018 e-mail communication from Barnaby Evans to the Colgate Campus Community:


At the start of this new semester, I am writing to share with you some of the things I have learned from my research into the history of the Torchlight Ceremony and my visits to campus last fall.

I started by looking at Colgate’s history, how the Torchlight Ceremony began, and what it meant to both its creators and its first participants. I also looked into the Colgate seal’s design and evolution.

The intellectual, social, historical, and symbolic elements surrounding an institution’s traditions and rituals are always complex — and changing. Founding intentions are forgotten and context changes over time, as do the intentions and perspectives of the many participants.

There has been much concern about Torchlight and possible connections to the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis. This question demanded and deserved to be asked and answered. I have not found any evidence of any such historical connections.

Torchlight is clearly a pageant based on the 1846 Colgate seal. There is ample evidence of many other sources of meaning, inspiration, and connection, as well as evidence about the original intent of the seal’s and Torchlight’s designers. I have also reviewed documents that reflect the reactions of the students, alumni, and local community. Further, there are several reasons to doubt that there could have been any hidden historic connections to these hate groups.

Even finding no evidence of this connection, we want to be respectful and compassionate toward those who may still be angered or offended by the sight of a torch procession. We want to acknowledge that, unconnected to Colgate — and despite long traditions of torches symbolizing freedom, liberty, and knowledge — historical and recent events have added an alternative idea of torches as representing hatred and intimidation.

Please find a Q&A that covers more general issues and then a website detailing my research, supported by many photographs and quotes. Watch for a video summary of these resources in the weeks ahead. Consider this an invitation to participate in the larger discussion. Please share with me your thoughts, recollections, and feelings about Colgate’s Torchlight Ceremony as we continue this process of exploring the university’s traditions and commencement weekend rituals.

Thank you,

Barnaby Evans


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