Student Highlights: Perry O'Brien

Photo of Perry O'Brien

Perry O'Brien at Gimme! Coffee in downtown Ithaca.

Major: Government
College: Arts and Sciences
Hometown: Peaks Island, Maine

Why did you choose Cornell?
I applied to Cornell (as a transfer student after two years at the University of Southern Maine before he enlisted) while deployed to Afghanistan and didn't know very much about the school except that it had a solid academic reputation.

Main Cornell extracurricular activity – why is this important to you?
I'm an organizer with Iraq Veterans Against the War and also work with the Cornell chapter of the Campus Antiwar Network. As someone who participated in the military occupation of a sovereign nation, I feel a particular responsibility to work against war and militarism. The greatest cleavage between myself and other students was that so few felt personally affected by the wars. Luckily, I found a community of students who were passionate about understanding the consequences of U.S. foreign policy and translating this knowledge into action.

Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most?
I was most influenced by professors in the political theory subfield, particularly Diane Rubenstein and Susan Buck-Morss, as well as the faculty and visiting scholars attending the Peace Studies seminars.

What Cornell-related scholarships did you receive? Were any of these critical to your ability to come to Cornell?
I received extensive need-based financial aid from Cornell, which was absolutely decisive in my ability to attend school here.

While at Cornell, what other accomplishments/activities are you most proud of?
I was one of the organizers behind Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, which brought veterans from both wars to Washington, D.C., to testify on illegal and immoral military policies. It was one of the largest gatherings of "War on Terror" veterans to date, and I hope it will have a profound impact on the way Americans perceive the wars.

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?
Probably the John Ashcroft protest, when more than 150 student activists donned hoods and turned their backs on the former attorney general. It was great to see so many progressive groups come together to plan and implement that action.

What are your plans for next year and beyond?
To move to Brooklyn to continue work in organizing and other forms of activism, but next year I'll likely be applying to law school to study international justice.