JOSEPH SPIVAK: Good morning new Cornellians, family, friends, distinguished guests, and orientation volunteers. My name is Joseph Spivak. And it is my honor to be among the first to welcome you to Cornell.
I am chair of the 2015 Orientation Steering Committee, a group of 13 students that have worked since this past September planning for your arrival. We've scheduled and organized over 100 events, recruited, interviewed, and selected over 500 orientation volunteers, and together with all of our volunteers successfully moved over 2,000 cases of water, 5,000 suitcases. 15,000 boxes, and 20,000 pairs of shoes yesterday.
I would like to ask you to join us in recognizing the university officials who are here with us this morning. Please hold your applause until the end. Judith Appleton, Vice Provost; Kathryn Boor, Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Laura Brown, senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education; Joseph Burke, Associate Dean of Students; Joseph Burns, Dean of Faculty; Lance Collins, Dean, College of Engineering; Elizabeth Garrett, President; Kent Hubbell, Dean of Students; Kevin Halleck, Dean, Industrial and Labor Relations; Michael Johnson, Dean, School of Hotel Administration; Sarah Jones, Associate Director, Residential and New Student Programs; Kent Kleinman, Dean, Art, Architecture, and Planning; Michael Kotlikoff, Provost; Joel Molina, Vice President for University Relations; Alan Mathios, Dean, Human Ecology; Gregory Morissette, Dean, Computing and Information Science; Ryan Lombardi, Vice President for Student and Campus Life; Mary Opperman, Vice President for Human Resources; Gretchen Ritter, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences; Laura Spitz, Interim Vice Provost for International Relations, and also joining us, our university trustees, Robert Abrams, Emeritus Trustee; Carolyn Newman, Emeritus Trustee, and Stephen Ashley, Trustee; and Graduate Student Elected Trustee Annie O'Toole and Undergraduate Student Elected Trustee Yamini Bandhari. Also here with us is the President of the Student Assembly, Juliana Batista.
In addition, I would like to acknowledge the members of the 2015 Orientation Steering Committee. They're also sitting on stage. They have been volunteering for over a year to make much of this coming orientation week a reality-- Tiffany Bruno, Lauren Dennis, Roberta [? Docherty, ?] Manuel Fernandez, Sarah Forcier, Casey Gallagher, Colton Haney, Tracy Kong, Alek Korzeniowski, Ethan Kramer, Kyle Rudge, and Sandeep Vanka. Thank you.
Here you are at the beginning of your transition to life at Cornell. You come from around the country and around the world. Some of you are thousands of miles away from home, while some of you, like me, may be from right here in upstate New York.
I imagine many of you are going through a whirlwind of emotions-- a lot of excitement, confidence, and eagerness, but also possibly some nervousness, anxiety, or vulnerability. I know I experienced all these emotions and more during my first couple of days on campus. And because of that, I'd like to talk a little about being vulnerable.
I think that one of the reasons many people forge so many long lasting and meaningful relationships while at college is due to the major transition that we all face and vulnerability associated with that transition. You're leaving behind much of what you know-- friends and family and the security and familiarity of your hometowns and previous colleges. But almost everyone feels at least some of this sense of anxiety. Everyone goes through it at the same time, together.
And it can have some pretty amazing results. It is this sense of vulnerability that makes it OK to leave your dorm room door open and greet all who walk by, the same sense of nervous excitement that makes it OK to sit next to a complete stranger in the dining hall and strike up a conversation, or walk up to any random person you see on North Campus and introduce yourself.
Even if you end up mistaking your roommate's younger sibling for your roommate and have a half hour conversation with them before you realize who your roommate actually is, as I did, or if you ask for directions from other new students just as lost as you and end up on the Engineering quad instead of the Arts quad, as I also did. Just put yourself out there and go with it. You see, too often we see vulnerability is something negative. It is a weakness, or something to hide or do away with. But I disagree.
A healthy dose of vulnerability does away with pretense and allows you to just be yourself. It makes you more open to new things, meeting new people, and having new experiences. And so I encourage you to be vulnerable in this way. Orientation is truly a once in a lifetime experience, one of the few experiences that every single Cornellian, regardless of college, goes through.
And part of what makes it so special is the fact that everyone is at least somewhat vulnerable. A great way to start is by going to some fabulous orientation events-- events like Big Red Blowout, which is tonight, Transfer Trivia Night, Silent Disco, Class Photo, and climbing to the top of the clock tower for the first time. Trust me, these are experiences that you will fondly remember in years to come.
One thing you will quickly begin to understand about Cornell is the plethora of opportunities that are available to you-- academic, social, and volunteer organizations, clubs and teams to join, research to do, and immense potential for physical, mental, and spiritual growth. Orientation itself is an opportunity, because it is the beginning of it all, a foundational part of the Cornell experience.
It is the time to begin exploring everything Cornell has to offer-- building new friendships and familiarizing yourself with the campus resources at your disposal. But it is what you make of it, and you only get out what you put into it. So go to the fantastic events we have planned for you. Branch out and try new things. Meet new people. And don't forget to be vulnerable. Thank you.
Please join me in welcoming student assembly president and a senior in the School of industrial and Labor Relations, Juliana Batista.
JULIANA BATISTA: Bleary-eyed, you rush out of Olin Library at 2:00 AM for a much-needed study break. The Arts quad is dusted in a fresh blanket of snow that you scoop up and whirl into your friend's hooded jacket, only to start a snowball fight. You catch yourself laughing, partly relieved that despite procrastination, you managed to make that deadline for your paper.
This scene is not a rarity. Cornell students, even in the lonely winter, find a way to enjoy something simple, like snowstorms. Oftentimes, there are Cornell experiences that span across the years. And also, let me interject and extend a welcome and congratulations to the class of 2019 and new transfer students, all of whom--
--all of whom have Slope Days, Dragon Days, Cornell-Harvard hockey games, and homecomings ahead of them, and countless lazy mornings lingering in the Ithaca farmer's market, sleepless nights ordering [? Louie's ?] Lunch Truck, and afternoon meetups at CTB, I mean, College Town Bagels. We like abbreviations here. I can tell you that.
These are lasting and uniting experiences that are not always perfect, in that everyone experiences them in a different way. I'd frequently be frustrated by the expression, "there is perfection in imperfection." There is imperfection in imperfection and that's the way it is.
In this crowd in front of me, we have varsity athletes, slam poets, published researchers, startup CEOs, and valedictorians. You are here for a reason, no doubt. You're incredibly talented and accomplished and come from a host of backgrounds in 50 countries-- 50 states, 79 countries outside the US, which is actually the most diverse in our 150 year history.
But if you think you're going to be the best at everything because that's the way it was for the past four, 10, or 18 years, you're deluding yourself in a way that inhibits your growth. Saying that perfection lies in imperfection implies that perfection is the ultimate goal. And quite frankly, if at this very moment you say that that's not the ultimate goal, your next four years will be greatly enhanced.
Within that imperfection, you'll find a space to discern new challenges and gain an appreciation for what you do not know. It's OK to say, I don't know and then explore the unknown. I'm imperfect. I am learning and I'm still exploring. Also, make yourself deliberately uncomfortable.
Spend time with people that expand your thoughts and test your limits. What do I mean by this? Be in the company of a challenging mind. Why surround yourself with others of the same state, country, major, even food preferences, when you're voluntarily entering a community of those largely unlike you?
Yes, even Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks fans ought to hang out. These are people that are going to push you to do what catches your imagination. Now is the time if there's something that you really want to do, something you really want to pursue, make sure you do it. And don't let anything get in your way.
That being said, Cornell is what you make of it. Far too often, much is untapped. Don't expect things to be handed to you-- another cliche that does not ring true. These are the best four years of your life. The person who wrote that forgot something important. These are the four years that start your life.
You can feel on top of the world and utterly defeated sometimes even in the same day. Being challenged doesn't mean you're doing it wrong. But you must know when you're slacking and when you need to seek help. This volatility can't be avoided and comes from change-- change in roommates, best friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, major, location, and lots of variables that never stay constant.
Also remember that the first people you become friends with during O Week may not be the friends that you have for life. That's why building deep and thoughtful relationships is a long and conscious process. Befriend seniors as a first-year. I would not have been here in front of you today as president without the guidance and support [? for ?] my first year from upperclassman student assembly mentors.
Find people who do things that matter and do something that matters. And trust me, guest meal swipes can be your best friend. Utilize this to your advantage. Lure seniors in with free RPCC Mongolian Grill, also known as Mongo, again with the abbreviations thing. And then have them tell you about how they aced Intro to Wines and finagled a President Garrett selfie. Professors are also a relationship that you have to seek out.
Find the good professors, either by polling students, asking your advisor, or searching the internet. Because they're the ones that will create a lasting impact. Good is not synonymous with easy. Good should be those that have full lectures, that have students amped for the next one, and are also ready to go on the academic journey that the professor is taking them on.
There is so much greatness confined within the zip code of Cornell's campus. It's not always easy to find, and sometimes you may doubt that statement. But with four years ahead of you, don't waste your time doing something that you've always done or what you think you should be doing. Find your imperfection and quite honestly, just embrace it. Thank you.
ANNIE O'TOOLE: Education is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. It is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, and preparing him for later professional training. It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed if he is denied the opportunity of an education.
The Supreme Court cited these reasons in Brown vs. Board of Education, to hold that such an opportunity where the state has undertaken to provide it is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms, and that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. While Brown vs. Board in 1955 desegregated only public schools, there was already a part private, part public university founded 90 years earlier in 1865, where any person could find instruction in any study-- Cornell University.
My name is Annie O'Toole. I'm a third year law student and one of your two student elected trustees on Cornell's board. And I'm very excited to welcome you to Cornell. I feel particularly proud to study the law here at Cornell, which has this history grounded in equality and egalitarianism.
When I study the difficult issues lawyers and courts have grappled with over the history of our country, balancing what is right with what the Constitution requires, I find comfort in the fact that Cornell was founded in the forward-looking, anti-establishment vision of Ezra Cornell-- a vision which provided an exceptional education to any qualified student before the law required it.
In your next four years, you will receive a remarkable education. You will have the freedom to shape that education. You'll either choose to sample a wide variety of courses, or you will choose to explore the depth of a particular field of study. You will make friends who are completely different from you, but with whom you still have so much in common.
You will attend lectures from professors who are pushing academic scholarship forward and changing the world. You will be led by Cornell's 13th president, Beth Garrett, who has, incredibly, worked with the man who argued and won Brown vs. Board, Justice Thurgood Marshall. You will work hard, you will sharpen your mind, you'll develop your creativity, you will create memories, and you will have so much fun.
Cherish this Cornell education, which embodied the spirit of Brown almost a century before the case was decided. It will provide the foundation for good citizenship. It will awaken you to cultural values. It will prepare you for later professional training, and it will become the basis for your future success.
Regardless of who you are and where you come from, you benefit from this tradition of equality and egalitarianism that came before you. And this tradition will provide a common thread throughout your time here in Ithaca. I ask that while you are here, you push our community to maintain this commitment so that it continues long after you leave. Thank you.
[MUSIC - CORNELL UNIVERSITY CHORUS AND GLEE CLUB]
JOSEPH SPIVAK: It is my honor to introduce our next speaker. Elizabeth Garrett became the 13th president of Cornell University on July 1, 2015, and holds faculty appointments in the law school, the Department of Government in the College of Arts and Sciences, and in the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. A distinguished legal scholar with a record of public service, she comes to Cornell from the University of Southern California, where she was provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs. She is the first woman to serve as president of Cornell.
President Garrett earned her bachelor's degree in history at the University of Oklahoma and her JD at the University of Virginia School of Law. She clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall on the US Supreme Court. In addition to her leadership at USC, she has been a faculty member at the University of Chicago Law School, and a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, the University of Virginia Law School, the Central European University in Budapest, and the Interdisciplinary Center Law School in Israel.
A life fellow of the American Bar Foundation, Garrett was also elected a Harold Lasswell Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science and a member of the Council of the American Law Institute. Please join me in welcoming Cornell's 13th president, president Elizabeth Garrett.
ELIZABETH GARRETT: Thank you. Thank you so much, Joe, and welcome, everyone, to Cornell University. Cornell is first and foremost an academic community dedicated to advancing knowledge and making a difference in the world. We welcome you, first year students and transfer students alike, as partners in that endeavor.
All of you coming from across the country and around the world bring to Cornell skills, experiences, and perspectives that will enrich our academic community. Like your parents, families, and friends who join you here today, we look forward to all that you will accomplish during your time here and all that we will learn together.
During orientation and over the next several weeks, you'll be asked to assimilate a great deal of information about the student experience at Cornell and how to make the most of it. You'll sort out the multiple buildings with the same names, realizing, for example, that your sociology class is actually not meeting in the library and that Johnson can refer to both an art museum and a graduate school of management.
You'll begin to know some of Cornell's outstanding professors and staff members and build circles of friends, some of whom you'll treasure for a lifetime. This morning's ceremony marks the formal beginning of your time at Cornell. In just a few years, we will gather again with your family and friends in Schoellkopf Stadium to celebrate your transformation from Cornell students to Cornell's newest alumni.
These ceremonies, convocation and commencement, bookend your time at Cornell. And they speak to the seriousness of what you are about to undertake as members of this community of scholars and creative artists. As others today have noticed, Cornell will challenge you, inspire you, perhaps frustrate you at times, but will also offer you infinite possibilities and opportunities to discover, to create, and to contribute.
Each of you will chart your own path. But let me suggest some directions for that journey, not only so that you reach a destination that will propel you toward further adventures, but also so that the travel itself changes you. First, realize that this is a place of academic rigor, dedicated to discovering new knowledge, applying what we learn to improve the world, and preparing students, preparing you, to undertake your own challenges.
You will be learning from a faculty that includes world-renowned intellectual leaders and rising stars across an incredible array of fields. Several of our professors are offering workshops tomorrow based on courses that they teach this year, with topics ranging from psychoanalysis to plagues and people, from GMO foods to the history of American capitalism. They will provide you with an engaging and thoughtful introduction to academic life at Cornell.
The faculty sets the tone of a university. Your professors will demand from you your best effort. They will expect you always to adhere to the high standards of academic integrity that characterize every aspect of our shared search for truth. Faculty are likely to challenge you, perhaps unsettle you. And along with their deep knowledge, they will offer new approaches to learning, open pathways to discovery and creativity, and help you to expand your capacity for analysis, synthesis, and critical thinking, which will continue to serve you well long after you have left Cornell.
Now it may be tempting to seek out the easy A, but the path of least resistance rarely leads where you want to go. You may be inclined to stay in your comfort zone, avoiding situations that draw into to question what you think you know. But that is not the essence of a great liberal arts education. Instead, embrace the culture of inquiry that is the hallmark of Cornell.
Actively encounter new ideas and challenging experiences, and re-examine what you have concluded in light of new ideas you will find here and develop with others. Second, remember that the college years are the time to take intellectual risks. Perhaps never again will the opportunities for exploration and discovery be greater or the consequences of failure more manageable than your time as an undergraduate.
Of course, it's essential to chart your progress along the way, but don't let fear of falling short of your ambitions keep you from exploring all the university has to offer. The late John W. Gardner, who was the founder of Common Cause, the national political reform group, once said, we pay a heavy price for our fear of failure. It is a powerful obstacle to growth. It assures the progressive narrowing of the personality and prevents the exploration and experimentation.
There is no learning without some difficulty and fumbling. If you want to keep on learning, you must keep on risking failure all your life. Some new students-- but in reality, very few-- arrive on campus with their aspirations fully formed and with a path in mind for achieving their goals. Others, the majority of you, I think, have some general thoughts about future directions which will become more focused in the next several years.
No matter which group you are in, I hope you'll experiment with new classes and interests. Explore how you might fit into your academic plans a semester in Washington DC or New York City or study abroad. Use extracurricular activities to deepen your capacity for collaboration and engagement.
And reach out to faculty associated with your residence halls, whose experiences and interests may offer perspectives you've not considered before. And for those few students who are absolutely confident you know the direction you're going, I ask you to allow for the possibility that you will discover something new here that compels you to rethink your certainty.
Now let me add a note to the parents out there. Do not worry if your son or daughter changes his or her major maybe even more than once. This is natural. And we've devised our course of study at Cornell to facilitate moving across colleges and through disciplines. This is a sign your student is taking full advantage of this experience.
And while you are part of the safety net that allows our students to take intellectual risks, secure in the knowledge that together we will support them, do allow the space necessary for your student during this time of transformation to find their own paths. I realize that Cornell can sometimes seem overwhelming. But you should know this is a caring community, where people look out for each other.
Faculty, staff, and other students, including those involved in orientation, are here to help you find your way. You do not have to feel alone. So be curious, be brave, and savor all that Cornell has to offer. In the process, you'll not only develop a fuller appreciation in education, but you'll develop a resilience in the face of uncertainty and temporary setbacks-- a resilience that will last you your lifetime.
Now, my third piece of advice has less to do with specific knowledge and experiences you'll gain at Cornell than with developing a foundation to enable you to live your lives fully, joyfully, and purposefully. I said earlier that Cornell is first and foremost an academic community, dedicated to advancing knowledge and making a difference in the world. Both of those goals are important, but it's the second one that can seem sometimes more difficult to achieve. As one of the protagonists in Walter Percy's book The Second Coming notes, "you can get all A's and still flunk life."
So what can you do as the newest members of this academic community to both advance your knowledge and increase your chances of making a difference in the world? No matter what your academic interests, whatever college, whatever your anticipated major, I encourage you to pursue a broad liberal education, an education that includes a grounding in the arts and humanities, the social sciences, and scientific and quantitative studies.
Knowledge in each of these is valuable in its own right, and for the approaches it will suggest as you engage in the difficult issues that face us all, from climate change to global inequality to intolerance in all of its manifestations. The arts and humanities in particular can help you develop creativity, empathy, facility of expression, and the deep understanding that these hard issues demand.
I also encourage you to study abroad. Travel not just as a tourist, but as a learner, experiencing firsthand different cultures and people, developing fluency in a foreign language, and applying what you are learning to a problem with global reach. You can also learn a great deal from people with whom you share your time at Cornell, including other students.
There is tremendous diversity of background, perspectives, and experience here. You'll find people from every state and many nations, people who trace their Cornell connections back several generations, and people who are the first in their families to pursue a college degree, people who think and look like you, and people who will challenge your assumptions about how the world works. Seek a wide circle of colleagues in which to debate issues and ideas, to probe each other's positions for shortcomings and strengths.
It is through the give and take of such conversations carried out respectfully but assertively that we develop an awareness of how others see the world, learn to articulate our positions and modulate our emotional reactions and develop an understanding of how our aspirations intersect with the world's needs. We structure our academic community so you will have many opportunities for such engagements. But it is up to you to take the next step, to reach out and explore ideas and enjoy experiences with a diverse set of colleagues.
Now, if that sounds like an ambitious agenda to accomplish between now and commencement, realize that making incremental progress can lead to the development of a sense of purpose over time. Anthony Burrow, an assistant professor in our College of Human Ecology, studies the psychosocial consequences of identifying and committing to a purpose in life.
Because, as he says, knowing who one is and where one is going is important for development across the lifespan. Professor Burrow has found that if you set short-term goals and keep meeting them, over time they merge in a positive direction that's set up a long-term mission for your life. Keep that in mind as you plan every day and know that your years here are vital to knowing yourself better and determining where you intend to go in life.
Many years ago, on December 6, 1926 to be precise, five bewildered freshmen, writing in the Cornell Daily Sun, complained that they had been engaged in the intellectual life of Cornell for a few months and they still had no idea what it was all about. A memorable response to their dilemma came from Carl Becker, one of Cornell's legendary professors of that era, who admitted professors are in the same boat.
And he said most of them, if they are wise, don't ever expect to find out-- not really. But most of them, if they are wise, will keep on trying. That is indeed what intellectual life is-- a continuous adventure of the mind in which something is being discovered, possessing whatever meaning the adventurer can find in it. Today, you embark on an adventure of the mind.
You've come to one of the world's great research universities, an Ivy League institution that is also the land grant university of the state of New York, with a strong tradition of public engagement locally, nationally, and globally. Embrace its rigor. Take some risks. Study broadly. Engage deeply and globally. Set goals that will coalesce over time into a sense of purpose that extends beyond yourself. And above all, keep on asking what it's all about. Welcome to Cornell.
[MUSIC - CORNELL UNIVERSITY COLLEGE AND GLEE CLUB, "FAR ABOVE CAYUGA'S WATERS"] Far above Cayuga's waters, with its waves of blue, stands our noble Alma Mater, glorious to view. Lift the chorus, speed it onward, loud her praises tell. Hail to thee, our Alma Mater, hail, all hail, Cornell! Far above the busy humming of the bustling town, reared against the arch of heaven, looks she proudly down. Life the chorus, speed it onward, loud her praises tell. Hail to thee our Alma Mater, hail, oh hail, Cornell.
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President Elizabeth Garrett delivered her first Convocation for New Students and Families Aug. 22 at Schoellkopf Stadium, along with students Joseph Spivak '16, Juliana Batista '16, and Annie O'Toole '16. Between talks, the Cornell University Chorus and the Cornell Glee Club performed Cornell songs and the alma mater.