MARLA LOVE: Welcome to Cornell University. My name is Marla Love, and I'm your dean of students.
Thank you. I want to first begin with a land acknowledgment that respects Indigenous peoples as original inhabitants of the land we occupy, as well as recognizing their long history in and in their enduring connections to this traditional homeland. Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogohono, the Cayuga Nation. The Gayogohono are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York State, and United States of America. We acknowledge the painful history of Gayogohono dispossession and honor the ongoing connection of the Gayogohono people, past and present, to these lands and waters.
Today, I serve as the emcee for the new student convocation, but every day it is my goal to make your college experience fulfilling, enriching, and transformative. I'm thrilled you are here to celebrate the start of your Cornell journey. New student convocation is a lovely tradition to not only welcome you to Cornell, but to serve as your invitation to engage and contribute to our community. As you finish up your orientation week, please take this moment to relax and let us celebrate and welcome all of you to the Cornell community.
Cornell is home to a world-renowned faculty, dedicated staff, and passionate students like yourselves. I, along with my colleagues on the stage today, are here to provide you the opportunities that inspire your educational journey at Cornell while creating an inclusive campus community that supports your personal, social, and intellectual growth. You are joining the Cornell community that is full of endless opportunities. Whether you are a first year or transfer student, I hope you take the words of our upcoming speakers as motivation to pursue your academic community and personal goals with Big Red spirit.
I would like to recognize those university leaders who are here with us today. If you could, please, hold your applause until the end, and for those of you on the stage as I read your name if you could just stand. Mike Kotlikoff, provost; Ryan Lombardi, vice president of student and campus life; Donica Thomas Varner, vice president and general counsel; Andrew Karolyi, the Charles Field Knight dean of Cornell's SC Johnson College of Business; Jinhua Zhao, the David J. Nolan dean of the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management; Rachel Dunifon, Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan dean of the College of Human Ecology; Kavita Bala, dean of the Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Sciences; Colleen Barry, dean of the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy; Lisa Nishii, vice provost for undergraduate education; Alex Colvin, the Kenneth F. Kahn dean of the School of Industrial Labor Relations; Sahara Byrne, senior associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Ray Jayawardhana, Harold Tanner dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Beth Ahner, senior associate dean and professor in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Kate Walsh, dean of the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration; Lyndon Archer, the Joseph Silbert dean of engineering; Mike Cruvellier, the senior associate dean for academic affairs of the College of Art, Architecture, and Planning; Carolyn Newman, trustee emeritus; Robert Abrams, trustee emeritus; Selam Woldai, trustee. Thank you.
One of the great traits of being the dean of students is the privilege of working with student leaders who embrace the breadth of Cornell, some of whom you will hear from today. They include, and please stand as I read your names, Sofia Prieto, the Orientation Steering Committee cochair; Janna Zilkha, Orientation Steering Committee cochair; Valeria Valencia, Undergraduate Student Assembly president; Josh Gitman, the Orientation Steering Committee; Emma Seibert, the Orientation Steering Committee; Paloma Galdo, Orientation Steering Committee; Mira Harris, Orientation Steering Committee; Jerome Dovan, Orientation Steering Committee; Joel Peter, Orientation Steering Committee; and Davis Postell, Orientation Steering Committee.
I would like to thank the members of the 2022 Orientation Steering Committee, including this year's cochairs, Sofia and Janna. They have been volunteering their time for a year to help make this orientation week a reality. Now, please welcome Sofia and Janna to the stage.
SOFIA PRIETO: Good morning, everyone. My name is Sofia Prieto, and I'm one of the cochairs of the orientation steering committee. I am excited and honored to welcome all our new transfer students and the class of 2026 to Cornell University. You must be tired after a busy week of moving in and taking part in countless college and orientation activities. We are so excited to welcome you and ease your transition to college, and hope you're taking advantage of the opportunities to get familiar with the university and meet your classmates.
As you prepare for the first day of classes tomorrow, I can imagine you're excited, anxious, and maybe a little worried. Three years ago, I felt exactly the same, and I suspect that all the Nobel Prize winners, inventors, scientists, and famous artists who attended Cornell experienced the same emotions at the beginning of their first year here. They found their way to succeed, and so will you.
Let me tell you a story my father shared with me when I first started at Cornell. During his college studies, they had a guest speaker, a successful entrepreneur and an accomplished poet. She was a native Spanish speaker, and when she first came to the US many years ago her English was limited. Nevertheless, she thought to herself, how can I not be successful in a place where so many signs point towards success?
She explained, everywhere she went she saw doors with exit signs. In Spanish, the word for success is exito, exit with an O. Every time she saw a door with that sign, in her mind she saw the word success. Thus, every door for her came to symbolize the opportunity for success.
Cornell is an amazing place that offers boundless opportunities with many doors to be opened. I encourage you to open those doors and seize those opportunities. Nurture your curiosity and challenge yourself intellectually.
Choose a class that exposes you to unconventional ways of thinking and innovative ideas. Take a class in a subject you know nothing about. Challenges lead to growth, and you might discover a new passion that can provide new possibilities for you.
Don't be afraid to ask for advice or help. Talk to faculty, staff, and fellow students, as you never know where it will lead you. Talking to my student advisor sparked my interest in research. After an interview with a professor, I was accepted into her research lab the second week of my first semester, which has become one of my favorite activities at Cornell.
The transition to college can sometimes be overwhelming, and the journey can have some rough patches along the way. I encourage you to make friends and build your support network. Strong support systems will have your back if things don't go smoothly. And you will be there for your friends when things arise, like lending them clothes when they lock themselves out of their room in the morning and they can't wait for the RA to unlock their door and make them late for class.
Embrace Cornell's vibrant and diverse community, where everyone is unique and has something different to offer. Doing so presents a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other. Try new things, pursue your hobbies, join a club, volunteer in the community, and support athletic events. Go Big Red, am I right? Yeah.
I also recommend you explore Ithaca's beautiful surroundings with its secret spots overlooking waterfalls and rim trails at the state parks with breathtaking views. I discovered one of my favorite and most adventurous hiking trails during an orientation meeting I had with a group of new students I was leading last year. One of the first year students, who is local to Ithaca, suggested a lesser known trail. It was a strenuous hike, but it ended up being a great bonding trip and one of my favorite hikes I've done so far.
Your time at Cornell will go by surprisingly fast, so make it as worthwhile, interesting, and enjoyable as you can, and create memories that you will cherish for a lifetime. Take in the sunshine, which we thankfully now have, watch the sunset from the slope, maybe climb the clock tower. But most importantly, don't forget to set your alarm for tomorrow so you don't miss your very first class at Cornell, like I did. In my defense, it was an early class. Remember to appreciate everyone that has been a part of your journey in getting here. Congratulations, and good luck Cornellians.
JANNA ZILKHA: Good morning and welcome. My name is Janna Zilkha, and I am one of the cochairs of the orientation steering committee. Today, I want to tell you all a story about icebreakers. Now, I know that you have already been through a week of orientation and have definitely experienced your fair share of them, and maybe you're thinking how impactful can these silly little icebreakers be? How will what your favorite kitchen utensil is be important as you embark on this amazing experience that lies ahead of you?
Well, before I officially get into my story, I'd first like to share a little bit more about myself. I am a senior environment sustainability major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and I was born and raised in a Jewish household on Long Island with both of my parents and my older sister. My mother is a fourth generation American with an Eastern European background, and she grew up only a few minutes away from where I lived.
My father, on the other hand, is half Japanese and half Iraqi. He grew up in Japan and immigrated to the United States when he was 18 years old, which basically means I have been surrounded by many cultures and ethnicities for my entire life. As you may be able to tell from my general appearance though, I am what some people may call "White passing." So while I may identify as multiple races, I'm often perceived as only White.
But growing up, I never really felt like this was a problem. I never felt the need to embrace my diverse heritage, and it was honestly something I didn't really feel comfortable sharing with others, because no one around me could really resonate with it. Now, if people were to ask me what my favorite part about being at Cornell is it would be that it's a place where you can meet people from all over the world, people of different races, ethnicities, cultures, and identities. But even when I was an incoming first year student, I had no idea how much that would change my life forever.
So getting back to my icebreaker story. It was the second week of my first semester here and I agreed to go to a Shabbat dinner on Friday night with two people that I met during orientation, who to this day are still two of my best friends. We sat down at a table and we sat with a few other people we didn't know, and since we didn't know them, you guessed it, we played an icebreaker.
We decided to go around the table and share where our parents were from. And as we were going around, someone introduced herself, said what school she was in, and then said that her dad is an Eastern European American and that her mom is Iraqi. After she shared, I couldn't wait until it was my turn to speak up and share that my dad is Iraqi, too.
From that point on, she instantly became one of my best friends. We've shared our family's histories, showed each other pictures of our grandparents, and I even learned more about my family than I ever thought I could. Because of this, I started learning how to speak about my heritage, so much so that I'm here talking to all about it today.
Cornell is a place where you never really know how close you can get to a person until you're in the middle of an icebreaker, a simple introductory conversation in class, or even in a professor's office hours. It's the kind of place where even if you come here thinking you know everything there is to know about yourself, you will learn how to become the best possible version of yourself and explore parts about you that you never even knew existed. Cornell opens doors for you in ways that may seem unimaginable to you at this very moment, but once you experience it, it is ultimately life changing.
So if I could leave you with all one piece of advice, it would be this, take icebreakers seriously. Don't be afraid to open up to a random person, because you never know who that person may end up being to you. Don't be afraid to take chances with things, whether academic, social, or even emotional, because you never know where one little step out of your comfort zone may take you. Express who you truly are, do what makes you happy, and find people who make you feel comfortable and seen.
I promise you, even if it takes a little time, Cornell will begin to feel like home. Congratulations again, and good luck starting this brand new journey of your life. Thank you.
MARLA LOVE: Thank you so much, Sofia and Janna. The Student Assembly represents all Cornell undergraduates with an elected body of 20 members. Please, join me in welcoming your Student Assembly president, Valeria Valencia.
VALERIA VALENCIA: Hello, everyone. Welcome to Cornell University. I am Valeria Valencia, and I am a senior now, majoring in industrial and labor relations. And as Dean Love just said, I serve as your Student Assembly president. And I could not be more excited to be here with you and to welcome you to our new student convocation.
It seems like it was only yesterday when I was sitting in those very same bleachers that you're sitting in today. As a nervous and wide eyed freshman, I really had no idea what was in store for me over the next four years. I started my Cornell journey back in the summer of 2019, as a precollegiate summer scholar, and so that meant that I got to spend the summer in between my senior year of high school and my first year of college right here in hot and humid Ithaca. And although at first I wasn't exactly fascinated with the idea of taking summer classes, I very quickly fell in love with Ithaca and all of the cool opportunities that Cornell had to offer.
Now, as a senior looking back to my first year self, I really wish I could tell her three things. Number one, don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Number two, don't be afraid to ask for help, and number three, everyone is feeling just as nervous as you are right now. You see, when I was the first year I was super shy and super quiet. If you had told first year me that I was going to have to give a speech in front of hundreds of people like I am right now, I would have actually panicked.
But you see, Cornell gives you so many opportunities to really grow and to change and to really step out of your comfort zone, and I really implore you to try them all. So try out for that a cappella group, join the taekwondo club, run for student government, join the Big Red marching band. Because what is college if you're not trying out all of these new cool things that you've never thought about before?
Now, I am the eldest daughter of three, which means that often times growing up I often took on the role of a third parent to my siblings. So I wasn't exactly used to the idea of asking for help, but that quickly changed once I got here. I remember I was sitting in my intro to microeconomics lecture and I was really struggling to understand what was going on in the class. And instead of asking for help, I kind of just sat there, looking at the slides, hoping that it would magically click in my head somehow.
But it wasn't until I gathered enough courage to raise my hand and ask a question that I was able to finally understand what was going on in the class. And I know asking for questions is a lot easier said than done, but you're also brand new to Cornell, so no one expects you to know anything. And yes, that means asking for help on how to find Bailey Hall or asking for directions and how to get to college town, or something as simple as getting help finding your professors' office hours.
When I was a first year student I remember reading an article on the Cornell Daily Sun that was essentially a love letter to North Campus. And although at first I couldn't really understand why the author was so enamored with the idea of North, now as a senior I fully understand. Because you see, as a first year you live alongside other first year students, many of which you've never met before with different backgrounds and ideas and beliefs and interests and so on.
So you really have the unique opportunity to get to meet new people that you probably wouldn't have crossed paths with otherwise. So take advantage of that, strike up conversations with random people in your new dorm, or talk to different people in the dining hall, or go into the lounge of your new home and really make new friends. Now, look to your left and look to your right. You are the class of 2026, and while you're--
And while you're surrounded by some of the best and the brightest, you're also surrounded by people that feel just as nervous as you are right now, even if you're trying to hide it. So you will find that this will be a common theme as you navigate this labyrinth that is college life. So whether you're about to take your first prelim or go on audition for a dance group or give a class presentation, truth is, everyone is feeling just as nervous as you are, too. So remember, take a deep breath. The person next to you is probably just as scared as you are, too, because you're all in the same boat, trying to navigate the waves of academic and social life here at Cornell.
I am an immigrant from Mexico, and I'm also a first generation, and a Student of Color. And younger me would have never believed that I would one day be attending college, let alone Cornell. But I have truly been able to find my people here and my community and my support system, and I'm confident that you, too, will find your community and your people here at Cornell very soon.
So go on, start your first day of classes confidently. Make the most out of your time here, because believe me, it will fly by. Take advantage of every single opportunity that comes your way, and show the world why you are the best and the brightest. Thank you.
MARLA LOVE: Thank you, Valeria. It's now my privilege to introduce my boss, Dr. Ryan Lombardi, who serves as the vice president for student and campus life. He oversees programs and services, such as housing, dining, the health center, student organizations, residents, resource centers, athletics, and recreational services. Ryan's leadership and the work of this division impacts virtually every student at Cornell.
During Ryan's tenure as vice president, student and campus life has focused on growing staff and resources to support the increasingly diverse student community. His belief in the transformative nature of higher education is the impetus for SCL's purpose, to inspire transformation. This purpose sets the foundation for our work in SCL, which strives to create a campus environment that enables student transformation. It is now my pleasure to introduce your vice president of student and campus life, Dr. Ryan Lombardi.
RYAN LOMBARDI: Good morning. Are we awake yet? Not really. I heard you, not really. We'll get you there, we'll get you there. Who would have thought you'd need these umbrellas to block the sun instead of the rain that we had earlier?
Well, I'm really delighted to be with you this morning and share just a couple of thoughts. I want to thank Valeria and others who have spoken before me for all the good advice, but most importantly, and we just heard it a little bit when Valeria was speaking to you, welcome class of 2026 and new students. Let's hear it, come on.
You are sitting here on the eve of the start of this academic year. I hope this past week has been enjoyable and that it helped you begin to find community, to learn your way around campus, maybe a few of the late stragglers didn't know where Schoellkopf was this morning, and learn about the many resources we have to support your time here. But before I give you a couple of pieces of advice, I do want to just take one more moment to show some appreciation to the orientation steering committee, our orientation leaders-- I know some of them are in the audience here-- the team in the Tatkon Center for new students, and everyone that has been helping you this past week get settled into campus. Let's give it up for all those folks.
Have any of you noticed when that wind comes the water that comes off there? I'm thinking it's going to come right in here, so just bear with me if that happens, OK. All right, students, I encourage you to take advantage of everything that's happened so far, but continue to do that as the weeks go along. Continue to take advantage of the many programming opportunities and other opportunities to engage in the life of the campus. It will make a difference in your transition here and your sense of belonging on this campus.
Now, your time at Cornell, it should be marked with discovery, growth, and with transformation. There are thousands of faculty and staff on this campus who are dedicated to helping you along this journey. And as you get ready to start this year I want to speak briefly with you about two themes, your well-being and your community.
Now, maybe you're thinking, those are your first comments? Those are the first two things you're going to talk about? Why aren't you going to talk about our course of study, our academic success, how to achieve the best outcomes with internships and careers? Now, of course those are important, and those are fundamental, but I want to suggest what's even more important in some ways is that you learn how to focus on your own well-being and you find a way to be a part of this community at Cornell. Because without those two foundational elements, achieving academic success and fulfilling all your goals will even be more difficult to do.
Now, before you came to Cornell, you were acutely aware of how you stacked up against your peers and how your success would contribute to your being here today. But now you're here, and while you might be tempted to enter Cornell with that exact same mindset, comparing to the person next to you, I'm going to encourage you to think about this chapter differently. Focus less on the pressure of how you measure against everyone else, and more on how your interests and your pursuits complement your passions and your whole authentic self.
Seek to not only learn from our amazing faculty, but from your peers as well. Appreciate their strengths and understand that everyone here is trying to find and define the path that is right for them. As Valeria said, don't make the mistake of thinking that everyone else has it already figured out, and then trying to emulate them. Because, hint, everyone's in the same boat.
Take this time to understand your own health and what helps you to thrive. This is different for each one of us. We have diverse identities and have had distinct journeys to get to this point, and we all have strategies that help us to become the best version of ourselves. Maybe it's taking a walk outside, spending time with friends, or playing a game of basketball, soccer, your sport of choice A couple of things I promise do work, have fun, smile and laugh a lot, and don't take yourself too seriously.
That brings me to my second point, community. As a part of the Cornell community, you have the privilege to be among the most interesting and diverse populations in the world. As I mentioned, we all have unique stories and backgrounds, but while we are here we are bound together by the common thread of being Cornellians at this same exact moment in time, and that will be with you forever.
Your engagement with each other and how you act now matters. And to that point, it can make a difference in someone's life when they least expect it. Let me challenge you to some simple but potentially meaningful habits as you get ready to start classes tomorrow.
As you walk across campus tomorrow morning on your way to class, say hello to the person you pass, make eye contact with them. Don't stare at your phone, don't look through them. When you're in line at a dining hall, strike up a conversation with the person in front of you or the person behind you, even if you don't know them. Focus on spreading goodwill, and be patient with and kind to each other. You never know the impact it might have.
Now, many of you may have seen this recent news about Bryce Demopoulos, a senior in CALS, who saved a man's life in New York City subway a couple of weeks ago, truly astonishing. I want to be clear, this was a heroic act and deserved special recognition. But imagine, if you will, just for a moment if Bryce had had his earbuds in and was staring at his phone that day. He would have missed what was going on around him, and therefore, missed saving someone's life.
Now, I don't expect most of us will be faced with such an intense situation as Bryce. Even something far less serious can still make a difference in someone's day on this campus. So think about that as you're engaging with the community.
Lean into this community and lean on each other. Allow yourselves to be vulnerable and learn new things. Navigating this space in the coming years takes a lot of effort, but it'll be that much easier that we're all in it together.
New students and the class of 2026, we are so glad that you are here. Make your time here special. And most importantly, cherish the memories and the milestones you'll make together. I hope you have an amazing journey, and I look forward to being with you every step of the way. Thank you.
CHOIR: (SINGING) Spirit of wisdom, like an altar burning high o'er this darkling world, vexed with little learning. Let thine enkindling ray 'round about these towers dwell. Lighting thy hills, Cornell.
Thou art not stone, so much as one that's dreaming. Let then thy lamp be bright and thy doors be gleaming. And let us now go forth, doubt and darkness to dispel. Shine from thy hills, Cornell.
MARLA LOVE: Give it up one more time for the Cornell Chorus and Glee Club. Normally, at this point President Pollack comes up to the stage, but she couldn't join us in person. But she did not want to miss the opportunity to welcome you to Cornell, so she recorded a special video message of Welcome. Before we begin the video, let me tell you a bit more about our 14th president, Martha E. Pollack.
President Pollock took office on April 17, 2017, with a deep commitment to building upon Cornell's academic distinction and unique strengths, investing in the creativity and experience of our exceptional faculty, while also enhancing our culture of educational verve through new evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning. She sees Cornell's foundational commitment to diversity and equity as central to our identity and success, and has engaged the entire university in the work of building an open, inclusive community where members communicate effectively across difference. President Pollack earned a bachelor's degree in linguistics at Dartmouth College, and an MS and PhD in computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania. And now, if you want to look at your screens, a message from President Pollack.
MARTHA POLLACK: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to Cornell. Whether you're a new first year student, or a transfer, wherever you're from, whatever your goals or background, from today all of you are Cornellians. Before I say more, you're probably wondering why I'm not there in person with you. After all, we all thought we were finally done with things like Zoom convocations.
It's a pretty boring explanation. I had knee replacement surgery a few weeks ago, and it's still a little challenging to do things like walk across the stadium field or sit in a chair for an hour. But don't worry, I'll be back on campus in just a couple of more weeks, and I hope you'll say hi to me when our paths cross.
For now, in between physical therapy and getting ready for the new semester, I've been thinking about what I could say today that would help you make the most of your time here. And the most important thing I want you to know is that every one of you beginning your Cornell education belongs here, and I do mean everyone. Our admissions office is the best in the business. And if you're here, it's because they saw in you the potential to make a real contribution to our community and the world.
You're also here because you're ambitious and inquisitive and able to take advantage of what Cornell has to offer, a world class education that will enable you to go just about anywhere from here. I can't say it strongly enough, you're a Cornellian, and you deserve to be one. The class of 2026 is one of the most extraordinary and diverse classes ever to come to Cornell, with more than 4,000 students representing every US State and 85 countries.
Now, most years I have to say every state except, but this year we got all 50. Your artists and scientists, musicians and athletes, writers and activists, and many of you are still figuring out your identity, and that's just fine. Today, each of you is also a part of this university, with its tradition now 157 years old, of being an institution for any person and any study, creating, sharing knowledge with a public purpose.
Some of you have specific goals, goals that may well evolve and change in the years ahead. Some of you don't yet know what you want to do, and that's OK, too, because college is a time for exploring. But whether you're interested in art or astrophysics, labor or literature, economics or engineering, you're also here for the experience of a university education. An experience that will equip you with the knowledge, the skills, and the habits of mind for successful and meaningful lives.
So what I'd like to do today is give you the best advice I can as concisely as I can about how to make the most of your time here. Three very specific practices that I want each of you to cultivate in the years ahead to ensure that when you leave here you won't just leave with a Cornell degree, you'll also leave with a Cornell education.
The first thing I want you to do is engage across difference. What does that mean? Part of Cornell's mission is educating new generations of global citizens, people who are at home in the world, who have the capacity to approach new people, new situations, and new experiences with confidence. And Cornell is full of opportunities for each of you, whatever your own background, to live and learn with and influence people who in whatever ways are not like you.
By taking advantage of those opportunities, you'll become more at home in a diverse world. When you encounter someone with whom you disagree, you'll be better able to understand where they're coming from and why they think the way they do. And you'll be better able to communicate and collaborate effectively in all kinds of situations throughout your lives.
Learning to communicate across differences is absolutely essential for all of us, especially in a world that is more complex and more volatile than ever before. If you can't talk to people who are unlike you, if you aren't aware that other people perceive the world differently, if you're not able to see things from someone else's point of view, then you can't work together and you can't move forward. Solutions that only work for you and for people who are almost just like you are almost never going to be solutions to the big messy problems that our world faces.
Now, the second is to develop an appreciation of the importance of free speech. You're going to encounter a lot of new ideas here. Some of them will fascinate and inspire you. Some, you're going to disagree with, and some you might really hate. But what I want you to do, and it isn't always going to be easy, is to listen to as many of them as you can.
Don't avoid people whose viewpoints you think are wrong. Don't try to shout them down. Hear them out. Ask them questions. Put in the effort to understand their point of view.
Importantly, that doesn't mean you should agree with everything the people around you tell you. What it does mean is that in most cases, you should take the time to listen. Expose yourself to different opinions. Try to see things from other perspectives, and ultimately, work to come to your own informed conclusions.
Yes, you may sometimes encounter speech that is so venomous that it's not deserving of your time and attention. But hopefully, those instances will be rare, and I'll say a little bit more about that in a moment.
The third and last thing on my list is responsible participation in civil discourse. This is a hard one that we all need to wrestle with. As I've already noted, the world, and even Cornell, is full of different people and different ideas. Some of those ideas you're going to disagree with and some of them are just flat out offensive or harmful or false.
You can appreciate the importance of free speech and still recognize that some speech causes harm. And even that harm, unfortunately, is worse for some groups than for others. But freedom of expression means that apart from some very narrow exceptions, none of us gets to tell anyone else this is what you're allowed to say, and this is what you're not. It might sometimes seem obvious that some kinds of expressions are beyond the pale, that they'll do harm, that they shouldn't be allowed.
But history has taught us that when you allow decision makers to determine what speech is allowed and what is suppressed, you don't necessarily end up with a fairer and more just society. In fact, what you often see is that the suppression of speech harms the most those who hold the least power. Free speech is under attack in our country from across the political spectrum. But free speech, as difficult and as challenging as it is, is not only the bedrock of higher education, it's also the bedrock of democracy and a free society.
Chipping away at that bedrock, even for what we think are good reasons like protecting others, diminishes our capacity as a learning community to do our work, and it puts our democracy at risk. Because if we ever accept that someone, anyone, has the right to tell us what we're allowed to say, we'll also be giving them the right to control what we're allowed to hear and to know. So what's the answer?
It's exercising our own right to expression responsibly and thoughtfully. It's paying attention to what we say with an eye towards being civil and respectful to others. And equally important, it's speaking out clearly and unambiguously when we encounter speech that is directly at odds with our values, speaking out for democracy, for equity, for truth.
We're living in very challenging times, and that's not something we can or should sugarcoat or look away from. At Cornell, we do the opposite. We explore those challenges and we engage with them. A Cornell education will enable you to be an active player in the world, to have an impact. Instead of relying on others to solve problems or feeling like there's nothing you can do about issues like income inequality or public health or climate change or racial injustice, you will gain the agency to work towards solutions in ways you might not even be able to imagine right now.
Getting there will take hard work. If a Cornell education were easy, it wouldn't be the achievement it is. There will be times when you'll struggle, times when you'll be discouraged, and yes, times when you may fail. When those things happen-- when, not if-- I want you to remember what I said at the beginning, you belong here. In Cornell's classrooms and libraries and labs, by yourself and with your fellow Cornellians, you'll explore disciplines, build skills, and find out what fascinates and delights you. And you'll also figure out what isn't for you.
And over time, through all of your experiences here, you'll develop a deeper understanding of your field of study and of the world around you. You'll acquire the knowledge and the expertise to move confidently in the world, to tackle complex challenges, and to use your voice and your Cornell education to make a difference in ways that matter. I am so glad to have you here as fellow Cornellians. Welcome to you all.
MARLA LOVE: I know that President Pollack looks forward to connecting with transfer students and the class of 2026 in person at events and programs throughout the year. Students, as we come to the end of convocation, just a few reminders. One, we hope you will join us immediately following the event just outside the stadium for a picnic lunch. Two, from all of us, we wish you a great first day and a wonderful journey here at Cornell. And last, one of our special Cornell traditions is the singing of the, "Alma Mater, High Above Cayuga's Waters." To conclude today's convocation, please stand as you are able, and join us in this singing of the Alma Mater.
You don't have a program, so you don't have the words today. So this will be a test in hearing, grooving, joining in. These folks will show you how we do it here at Cornell. And just get into the feel and the spirit, Google the words later. Thank you. The chorus and the glee choir will give us their all with the song, all righty.
CHORUS: (SINGING) 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, oh, 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, oh, hail, Cornell.
MARLA LOVE: Thank you, and welcome to Cornell. Have a great day.
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