MAAME BRITWUM: Welcome, friends and families to the 17th annual December graduate recognition ceremony. I am Maame Britwum, the Senior Class Commencement Chair and a member of the senior class council. The academic procession is about to begin. Please take your seats and kindly clear all aisles. Also, please take a moment to make sure that the ringers on your cell phones are turned off.
This event is being live streamed for the web, so please remain in your seats during the ceremony so as to not block the cameras by the video staff and professional photographers. The video can be viewed at CornellCast next week. There will be opportunities to take photos with your students after the ceremony.
Please take a moment to locate the closest exit to you, as it may be behind you. In case of an emergency, listen carefully to instructions over the PA system and proceed in a calm manner. Thank you.
At this time, it is my pleasure to introduce the readers from each college who will be announcing the degree candidates' names today. From the graduate school, Associate Dean Sarah Xayarath Hernandez, College of Engineering, Associate Dean Michael Thompson, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Assistant Dean Kara Lombardi.
College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, Assistant Professor Timur Dogan, College of Human Ecology, Associate Dean Margaret Frey, College of Arts and Sciences, Assistant Dean Bonnie Comella, Johnson Graduate School of Management, Assistant Dean Amanda Shaw.
School of Hotel Administration, Associate Dean Alex Susskind, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Director of Undergraduate Studies David Lennox, College of Art, Agriculture, and Life Sciences, Associate Dean Donald Viands.
Please join us at the reception afterward. Thank you for being here for this special day.
POPPY MCLEOD: Good morning. Will you all please be seated? I am Professor Poppy McLeod, the University Marshal. The assembly is hereby called to order. At this time, it is my pleasure to introduce to you the Provost of Cornell University, Michael I. Kotlikoff.
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Good morning. Students, colleagues, families and friends, welcome to this joyful and well-deserved celebration of your accomplishments. On behalf of the faculty of Cornell, I am proud to join with all of you in honoring our mid-year graduates.
Degree candidates, whether you are now completing your bachelors, masters, or PhD, we congratulate you on all you have achieved. It is our hope that your time at Cornell has not only increased your knowledge and skills, but helped you refine your goals and better understand yourself and your aspirations.
We hope that you leave empowered to think critically and to act constructively. And we wish for all of you the deep satisfaction of a life filled with intellectual exploration and intellectual adventure. I speak for all of Cornell's faculty in offering congratulations and best wishes for all of your future endeavors. Now, please join me in welcoming Cornell's President, Martha E. Pollack.
MARTHA POLLACK: Thank you, Provost Kotlikoff. Good morning, everyone. How is everyone? I'm really delighted to welcome the families, the friends, and all of you graduates. Congratulations, graduates.
Before I go on, I want to ask all the graduates to stand up. Everybody stand up. Turn around. Find your family or your friends or whoever is here to support you and wave at them and thank them.
OK, you can sit down. You can sit down. I gotta tell you it's one more reason to love December graduation because the graduates can actually see the family and friends that they're waving at. Really, December graduation is one of my favorite events of the year. And there are a few reasons for that. First, as Cornell graduations go, it's relatively small. We only have about 500 graduates, as opposed to the 5,500 or so that we have in May.
Second, it's indoors. We don't have to worry about umbrellas or sunscreen or shades. The Commencement Office doesn't have to have a severe weather plan. And I don't have to wonder if my speech is going to get soaked and unable for me to read it. Best of all though, when it's time to confer degrees, I can shake hands with each and every one of you.
Now, if we did that at May commencement with 5,500 graduates, if you calculate about six seconds per handshake, we'd be conferring degrees for a little over nine hours. And imagine what would happen if we actually handed out diplomas. And we got just one of them in the wrong order. It would be a mess.
I've been the president at Cornell for 2 and 1/2 years now. And this is my sixth commencement. And that means my sixth commencement speech. Before I gave the first one, I did a totally unscientific poll of my colleagues. And I discovered a truth that probably should not have been too surprising. Almost no one remembered anything about their own commencement speech.
This was reassuring at first, but then I started to see it as a challenge. After all, the entire point of ending a university education that involved roughly 1680 lectures with lecture number 1681 is that there should be some new piece of knowledge shared. And if nobody remembers it, what's the point? So like any good academic, I did my research into what makes a speech resonate with its listeners.
A few years ago, Admiral William H. McRaven of the University of Texas system set the bar impossibly high for the rest of us for a speech in which he asserted that if you want to change the world, start by making your bed. That speech is closing in on 10 million YouTube views and I can only wonder how many neatly made beds although, if I had to guess, probably fewer beds than YouTube views.
24 years ago, the late New York Times columnist Russell Baker got up in front of a class of Connecticut College graduates and gave them one word of advice about going out into the world-- don't.
Now, like you, the graduates all laughed. But I'm sure the Connecticut College president cringed. We presidents like our graduates to actually graduate. The most memorable speeches, I quickly realized, chose the simplest messages. Make your bed. Wear sunscreen. Never give in. It's a useful tool for building a speech. You can use one imperative for so many things.
A few months ago at our new student convocation, I told our entering class to make it a point to talk with one another and work to build new friendships. I told them to embrace difference and to be open to new experiences. I don't actually know if they remember any of that, but I know they remember how I told them to do it-- by taking off their headphones.
And if you're wondering how I know, it's because at least once a week this past semester, I'd pass someone on campus who would wave frantically at me, point to their ears, and say, see, no headphones.
But the uncomfortable truth of this world is that there isn't much pithy advice that really is applicable to everyone in every situation. Make your bed? Plenty of people have changed the world without doing it once. Wear sunscreen? The research on that isn't as clear as it used to be. Never give in? With all due respect to Mr. Churchill, sometimes the best thing we can do in life is admit that we were wrong, learn from our mistake, and move on.
Personally, I stand by my take off your headphones as good advice, but there is a time and a place for most things. And sometimes, you've got a pre 1 in the morning. You need everyone to leave you alone. And headphones are the way forward, although none of you have exactly that excuse anymore.
Whatever each of you studied at Cornell, I hope you came away with the understanding that the world we live in is complex. Our experiences are unique. Our paths will diverge. One person's answer is another person's question. So it's not easy to pick one piece of advice that will apply to all of you that will carry forward what you learned at Cornell and that you might even remember once you walk out of this building.
But if there is one word, one single imperative for all of you as you leave Cornell for whatever lies ahead, it's the same word that your first grade teacher probably used and that you probably saw on a poster on the wall of the first library you ever visited. One word-- read. Read books. Read fiction. Read history. Read long-form journalism. Read poetry and biographies. Don't just read the news. Don't just read academic journals or law briefs or research papers. Definitely don't just read your Twitter and Instagram feeds.
Read what you can lose yourself in. Read what you love. Read what makes you happy. And read what makes you feel. Read to continue to learn about your world. And read to enter a world that belongs to someone else.
Books, as Stephen King once put it, are a uniquely portable magic-- an act of telepathy across distance and across time. They are a way to connect me and here and now to anyone and anywhere and anytime. They are a way to look right inside the mind and the soul of people you could never meet, sometimes people who never even existed. And they are a way, maybe the only way, to look out at the world from behind someone else's eyes, to see it as it's seen by someone who's not you.
I hope that all of you in your time at Cornell have learned to do just that, to see things from a different point of view. Whether you were here for two years or four or more than that, you didn't just acquire knowledge. You learned how to learn. You didn't just make friends. You became one. You didn't just meet people who were different. You learned what difference meant. You've lived in a community of diversity and curiosity, of experiment and exploration.
You've learned to value not just knowledge, but the many winding paths we take to find it. And I hope all of you have developed in your time at Cornell the one skill that is more essential in this world than it has ever been before-- to learn with and from any person and any study.
So what I'm asking you to do when I ask you to read is to carry out with you the Cornell ethos of seeking truth and valuing knowledge, of embracing diversity and bridging difference. Carry it out with you tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. So read. Read to understand what's in the world that you can't see, can't touch, can't experience on your own. If you do that, the Cornell education you began here will truly never end.
And when you return your gown, and you pack up your apartment, and you eat your last Cornell ice cream, and you move on to whatever lies ahead, wherever you go, remember what you learned in Ithaca. And remember to bring a book. Congratulations to all of you. Cornell will always be a part of you, just as you will always be a part of Cornell.
POPPY MCLEOD: Thank you, President Pollack. At this time, please welcome Senior Class Council President Jesus Ruiz to the platform.
JESUS RUIZ: Thank you, Professor McLeod. Good morning, everyone. And congratulations, graduates.
Even though I am not graduating until May, when I picked up my cap and gown for today's ceremony, the finish line suddenly started seeming much closer. And I thought ahead the end of my own time at Cornell. I didn't think about all the things I will be soon doing for the last time.
I started thinking about the first times and the many times-- the first time I sat down with my friends on the slope watching the sun go down over Cayuga Lake on the chilly fall evening, watching the sun turn different shades of pink, orange, and purple, the many times I waited for the TCAT bus in the middle of the winter, stomping my feet to keep them warm, my revelation that Cornell apple cider is nothing like apple juice.
I thought about what says Cornell to me-- the smell of old books that hits you when you walk into the stacks, the song of the chimes every quarter and during the daily concert, the feeling of satisfaction when you recognize which Disney movie that chime song is from, and the slight feeling of guilt when you hear the alma mater and try to sing along but don't know any of the lines between far above Cayuga's waters and hail, all hail, Cornell.
As I sat on my computer trying to focus my thoughts and distracted by my memories, I did what most procrastinating students do. I put on headphones and I checked Instagram. And there was a post from Cornell admissions congratulating and welcoming the new members of the class of 2024. For a minute, instead of seeing class of 2024, I saw class of 2020 and thought back to before my time at Cornell to the moment I found out I was coming here.
I asked myself, what will I tell myself then? The answer came quicker than I expected. I will tell myself enjoy the journey. In my first semester here, Professor Peter Katzenstein, during our last class, instead of teaching us about American imperium, which he still put on the final by the way, taught me one of the most important lessons I learned. In tears, Professor Katzenstein told us to follow our passions, enjoy the journey, and to not trade our dreams for a bigger paycheck.
While doing that, he read to us Ithaka spelled with a K by CP Cavafy. The following excerpt seems fitting for today. "Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you're destined for. But don't hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years so you're old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you gain on the way, not expecting Ithaka to make you rich. Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. Without her, you wouldn't have set out. She has nothing left to give you now."
Cornell has given us that journey. It taught us that it is OK to make mistakes and even sometimes to fail. Because at the end of the day, it's not just about getting there but how you got there. The memories I have of Cornell are not only of the successes, but the paths we took to them, the countless nights spent studying at Olin, having to say no to your friends when they asked you to go out, and watching the sun come up as we pack up to go home after studying all night.
It is through the process that we learn that it is OK not to succeed every time. It is OK to ask for help. There are times that it's important to take a day off to rest, to reflect on how we resolve problems and who we truly are.
The path to success is not a straight, uphill slope. Instead, the path to success is very much like the paths across this campus-- a bumpy road with dips and peaks. At times, the path might become flat. And you might think you're no longer racing. A path might take you down different turns and twists and back to maybe the point you started.
At times, you might end up in a path you never expected or wanted to be in. But that's the beauty of life-- not being sure what the path ahead of us holds for us. Our Cornell journey is far from over. It's only beginning. Congratulations, graduates.
POPPY MCLEOD: Thank you, Jesus. We will now recognize the December degree candidates individually. I will call each dean forward and the candidates will rise and approach the platform. Will the Dean of the Graduate School Barbara Knuth please step forward, the reader of the graduate school approach the stage, and the doctoral candidates approach the platform.
The doctoral candidates will each be officially hooded by Dean Knuth, signifying their success in completing a doctoral degree program.
Will master candidates from the graduate school please approach the platform?
Thank you, Dean Knuth. Will the Dean of the College of Engineering Lance Collins please step forward and the candidates approach the platform?
We now recognize the Bachelors of Engineering students.
Thank you, Dean Collins. Will Senior Associate Dean of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations George Boyer please step forward and the candidates approach the platform?
Thank you, Dean Boyer. Will Senior Associate Dean of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning Mark Cruvellier please step forward and the candidates approach the platform?
Thank you, Dean Cruvellier. Will Interim Dean of the College of Human Ecology Rachel Dunifon please step forward and the candidates approach the platform?
Thank you, Dean Dunifon. Will the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Ray Jayawardhana please step forward and the candidates approach the platform?
Thank you, Dean Jayawardhana. We will now recognize graduates from three schools that are part of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business-- the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, the School of Hotel Administration, and the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.
Will the Dean of the SC Johnson College of Business Kevin Hallock please step forward and the candidates from the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management approach the platform?
Thank you, Dean Hallock. Will the Dean of the School of Hotel Administration Kate Walsh please step forward and the candidates approach the platform?
Thank you, Dean Walsh. Will the Dean of the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management Lynn Wooten please step forward and the candidates approach the platform? These candidates have also successfully met the degree requirements for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Thank you, Dean Wooten. Will Executive Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Max Pfeffer please step forward and the candidates approach the platform?
Thank you, Dean Pfeffer, and let's continue. Congratulations, graduates, to all of your achievements. Will you all please rise and join me in another round of applause for these graduates?
Please remain standing while we all sing the Cornell University alma mater.
(SINGING) High 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. Lift the chorus. Speed it onward. Loud her praises tell. Hail to thee, our alma mater. Hail, all hail, Cornell.
POPPY MCLEOD: This concludes our recognition ceremony. Please remain standing while the platform party, faculty, administrators, trustees, and candidates recess to the reception area. Everyone is welcome to enjoy the reception. Thank you for attending and safe travels home.
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President Martha E. Pollack delivered her address during the Recognition Ceremony for December 2019 Graduates, Dec. 21 in Barton Hall. A record 540 graduates were recognized.