ZANDER LIEM: All right thank you everybody for coming this evening we know it's a very busy evening with the last week of classes and there is a lot going on so we really appreciate this great turn out. My name is Zander Liem. I'm the current president of Cornell Mortar Board. And so, every semester we like to host a last lecture because there are so many great minds on this campus doing incredible things that it's easy to get caught up in the daily hustle and bustle of this university.
So it's nice to be able to take the time back and really hear about what some of the great minds on our campus are doing these days. So I'm looking forward to tonight's lecture by Vice President for Student and Academic Services, Susan Murphy. Susan graduated from the Cornell College of Arts and Sciences in 1978 and then earned Master's degrees from Montclair State College and Stanford University. She returned to Cornell and spent 16 years working in admissions and financial aid, including nine years as Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid.
While serving as dean, she completed her PhD in educational administration at Cornell, and subsequently was appointed to her current position as Vice President. She has had an immeasurable impact on this campus and its many communities, and we are all incredibly thankful for her service. So this event will be recorded. Susan is going to speak for about 25 minutes and then open up the floor to any questions you guys might have. So then, you guys can come up and answer-- or ask those questions at the mics in front of you. Thank you.
SUSAN MURPHY: Well thank you all indeed for being here tonight. I was incredibly honored when the Mortar Board invited me to give a last lecture. I have to say that title is a little ominous, but I guess for me it has some special meaning because, as you know, come June 30, 2015 I will be stepping down as vice president, concluding my tenure. So the last lecture has perhaps a special meaning.
It also gives me license tonight to focus on topics quite different from what I might have chosen to speak about if I were invited to give a speech today. The tragedies on our campus last weekend, with the death of Shannon Jones, a student in our College of engineering, the loss of Andres Lozano, a visitor to campus but a brother of a student in IOR, and the awful car accident involving four of our students, all of whom happened to be athletes remind us of the fragility of life and the gift we have every day that we are healthy and alive.
And events such as the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the recent grand jury decision, about which there is a town hall meeting this evening and a vigil that may be happening right outside Hill Plaza when we conclude here, remind us about the work that we have to do as a nation and as a community to create respect for each and every one of the members of our community, and safety for all of us. And also, the horrific story in Rolling Stone about events at the University of Virginia shocked me, even though I am told by students I should not be shocked because such events happen on college campuses across this country, perhaps even here, although I hope not.
But we know that sexual violence and domestic violence are among us. And in fact, a very important conversation on that topic is happening at this very same time, sponsored by the student assembly. Focusing especially on what we might do individually, what we must do individually, and what we must do as a campus community to change our culture so that we can build a positive culture in which sex is not exploited, or used as a means of dominance, but rather truly as an expression of love between two individuals.
So if I were invited to give a speech normally on campus today, those would probably be the topics I would address. But instead, being asked to give my last lecture, and imagining that this might be my last lecture not just as vice president, but imagine it was a last lecture, as I'll mention later, like Randy Pausch gave at Carnegie Mellon. I took that to heart and thought about my parting words. And so, I've decided to focus instead on giving thanks for a lifetime of friendship.
It seems timely as well, as we've just concluded the holiday of Thanksgiving, which for me is my favorite holiday of the year, and as we approach the end of the year, which I try to use each year is a time for reflection on what has transpired in the last 12 months-- to be intentional about expressing gratitude. I want to do that publicly and to focus on what I am so grateful for, my loves and especially my friends. When I think about my days at Cornell as a student, and I shudder to even say this, more than 40 years ago-- as an alumna since then, and as a member of the staff these past 37 years, I immediately think of the friendships I have made during each of those experiences, and how those individuals have become integral to my life and to my development as a human being.
So why do I want to be intentional about expressing gratitude about my friends, and to do so in such a public way? Well, it's because, as some of you know, I have learned what value comes in that formal expression of gratitude. Way back in 1,000 BCE Cicero told us, "Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others." Now, I'm not enough of a Roman scholar, because I ended my study of Latin after just two years, to know why he believed that gratitude is the parent of all other virtues.
But I find myself agreeing with the paramount character of this basic value. Today, many scholars who study psychology and well-being are looking at the impact of gratitude on one's life. One such scholar Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California Davis. He has written and spoken extensively on the value of gratitude, its impact on our ability to focus on the present, It's incompatibility with negative emotions such as resentment or envy, it's contribution to our ability to create a strong social network, and its ability to help us develop resistance to stress.
His latest book has become one of my favorites, and it's entitled Thanks!-- How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. With his collaborator Michael McCullough at the University of Miami, Emmons has labeled gratitude as the forgotten factor in happiness research. He and McCullough have both done individual and combined research that documents both the psychological and the physiological benefits of being grateful.
Through controlled experiments in a lab, they are demonstrating that those who are intentional in their gratitude feel better about their lives overall, are more optimistic as human beings, are more likely to make progress on the goals they set for themselves, and are also more likely to help someone else with a personal problem or providing emotional support. Seems to me that if something like gratitude can do all those things for our lives, it's something we should take seriously. Now what is gratitude?
According to McCullough and Emmons, it's an emotion. It's also an attitude, a virtue, a habit, a personality trait, or maybe even or just a coping response. It is derived from the Latin [INAUDIBLE] gracia-- gracia meaning grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. And the object of gratitude is other-directed, either to a person, or to an event, or a non-human subject. Perhaps you're grateful for nature. You're grateful for the existence of God. You're grateful for whatever you believe to be the supernatural.
What's critical about thinking about gratitude, it's not self-focused. So why do I think this is such an important value? Well frankly, it's because I've experienced the benefit of it in my own life. I think I understood that subconsciously for a long time. But it was not until I read another very compelling book, to which I commend your reading, called Flourish, written by Martin Seligman.
I was reading that book after my husband, Jerry Thomas, died in 2011, after a nine year journey with Alzheimer's that I came to my explicit awareness of gratitude. Jerry's ability to be thankful-- for sunsets, for puppies, for little children, for life-- defined his persona. After he retired, he used to greet me every night as I would come into the house by saying, "Hi sweetie. What was the highlight of your day today?"
That question, forcing me to focus on a positive aspect of my day, and the activities for which I was grateful, allowed me to put my job here at Cornell in perspective and then turn my focus to him. Little did I understand that his focus on the positive, and his attention to giving thanks helped define what people would often tell me was his gentle nature, his caring spirit, and his focus on others. And in fact, after he died, that's what the hundreds of people who were kind enough to write me shared in their letters of condolence.
So it was during that time of personal grief that I picked up the book Flourish, written by, as I mentioned, Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology. Because I figured if I ever needed some tips about flourishing in life, it was at that point in my life. It was also a time where I was literally writing hundreds of thank you notes in response to the outpouring of support about losing Jerry. In fact, for six months I spent each morning before I came to work writing five or six thank you notes to those who had been kind enough to remember me, or to remember my husband.
And one day I had a friend ask me, wasn't that activity sad or stressful? And I remember responding instantly, absolutely not. In fact, it was very affirming. To be able to focus on the person I loved and start my day from that perspective was a wonderful way to begin each day before work. So imagine my surprise while I was reading the book Flourish to discover I was doing exactly what the psychologist said you should do, recording one's gratitude.
Unknowingly, I was doing that in writing my letters of thanks. And in expressing my thank you for their taking the time to remember me, I was developing my resilience, reducing my stress, and building a path to flourish. There are many, many benefits that come from being intentional and saying thank you. As I mentioned earlier Randy Pausch-- the Carnegie Mellon professor who became famous for his last lecture, which he delivered after his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and after which I dare say this series is perhaps entitled-- talks about the lost art of a thank you note in the book he compiled after his lecture but before his death.
He wrote, and here I quote, "Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things human beings can do for each other." And he expressed a personal and distinct bias for the old fashioned thank you note, written with a pen and on paper, something that you guys may not understand. But those of us who are older do. And he shared an example of just this.
While reading applications for his competitive graduate program, he came across one from a young woman who wanted desperately to become a Disney Imagineer and wanted to do her graduate work with Pausch and his entertainment technology center. Her credentials were solid, even competitive, but not superb. And in the very selective admissions process for his program, she was about to be denied.
Pausch was reading her entire file one last time before issuing the refusal and came across a handwritten thank you note in the file. Not to him, not to another family member in the entertainment technology center, but rather to a support staff member who had helped organize this young woman's visit to campus. That note caught his attention because it was just a simple note of human kindness to someone who had made a difference in this young woman's life.
The staff member happened to toss the note in the file instead of into the garbage can. And Pausch was so taken by this expression of gratitude that he re-read the whole file and decided to take a chance on the student. She enrolled, graduated with her Masters degree, and lived her childhood dream of becoming a Disney Imagineer-- all because of a handwritten note of thanks.
Pausch also talks about a thank you trip that he created for his research team of 15 after he was granted tenure. He took the entire team to Disney World, which was an area that he was doing research. What struck me about this action was that he created an experience, a life long memory, rather than giving them something material, as a way of saying thanks. Little did he know at the time that his life would end before he turned 50 years old.
How treasured that trip must have been for the people closest to him after he passed on. Because it was a very special way to say thank you and gave them lifelong memories. So gratitude is something that is fundamental to us. It helps us create better lives, gives us sounder asleep. It helps us have less anxiety and depression. It forces us, or perhaps allows us, to behave more kindly toward others and have long-term satisfaction with life.
An author who writes an article after Thanksgiving talks about gratitude as a stress buster. Grateful people are less likely to experience anger, envy, resentment, regret, and other unpleasant emotions. Why is that? That's what they're trying to figure out by looking at the brain when you express gratitude. Perhaps it's the part of the brain where you express gratitude can't also at the same time express anger. That's part of what the research is trying to understand.
So I have become very intentional about expressing gratitude. I write in a journal almost every night about three things that day for which I'm grateful. And ever since that, I too have discovered I go to sleep much more quickly. And I sleep better. I am intentional about sending thank you notes, in part because I love receiving them, but also because it forces me to focus, even for a second, on that other person and the kindness that person has shown me.
And I try to be consistent about remembering birthdays, acknowledging significant events in my family and friends lives as a way of taking time to be grateful for their presence in my life. So when I actually reflect on my time at Cornell, what has dominated it for me, and the part for which I am most grateful, are the friends I have made and retained over the years. As students, we all enroll at Cornell so that we might grow intellectually and stretch our capabilities to levels we never thought even possible.
However, what stays with us even more than our ability to learn are the friends we make, and the changes we experience because of our association with such special people. How would you define a true friend? Webster's dictionary says a friend is a person who one knows well and is fond of, an intimate associate or a close acquaintance. Emerson tells us that a friend is a person with whom we may be sincere. Before him, or I might say her, we may think aloud.
I think of a friend as someone with whom we create a voluntary relationship, unlike our family whom we seem to inherit, and whose well-being is a concern for us. They are the chosen few who become basic to our survival, for they provide the support to us throughout our lives, allow us to learn more about ourselves, and share themselves with us without question. Friends are the people to whom we turn in our darkest moments.
Because they know us so well, they can sustain us without our asking or having to explain. They support us with words and deeds, but sometimes even more importantly, they support us with silence, with their companionship. The ability of our friends to truly listen to us, either because of what we say, or sometimes what we don't say, is a gift that is rare. Yet, we all know that friends aren't there just in the bad times.
They're also there for the good as well. In fact, we often find ourselves exploring the world in new and invigorating ways beyond what we thought possible because of our friends. Because we enjoy them, we want to share time with them, and with each other in expanding our horizons-- because of their interests, not just our own. And because we trust them, we. Strike out together in new directions, even those we might have found frightful alone.
And because we respect our friends, we share ourselves honestly and openly. Yet, we do not put demands on them that intrude on our special relationship. It has been said that no distance of place or a lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other's worth. And while it may be true that the idealized notion of friendship-- that that is an idealized notion of friendship-- I would suggest to you that without nourishment and constant cultivation, friends, like any other living organism, can wither away and die.
Certainly friendships can die. How many of us have had a friend from long ago who just seemed to fade away from our lives. Given the incredible time demands we all have-- our studies, our employment, our family commitments, even sleep-- as little as we seem to get of that these days-- it can be hard to make time to share with our friends. And yet, if we believe, as Emerson writes, that a friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature, we have an obligation not to let that masterpiece fade away.
It may not take a great deal. All those acts that I mentioned earlier-- thank you notes, a remembered birthday, a holiday greeting, or in your world a text, a tweet, an Instagram-- all remind our friends that they are a part of our lives. But better yet is being intentional and making time to get together. We mark those important events in life with public celebrations.
Think of a baptism or bar or bat mitzvah, a graduation, a wedding, even a memorial service. Each of these events allow us to acknowledge the significance of the person or the event in our lives, and to say to others, join me in this occasion. And acknowledge with me the significance of this event in my life so that this can be part of your life too. Mark this moment forever in your memory so that we can share this remembrance together as we grow old.
So that's what I've done with my dearest friends from Cornell, on an annual basis. For the past 33 years, we have gathered our families, now which cover three generations, for a week each summer simply to be together. One might say that this time is part of the cultivation of that friendship we cemented as sorority sisters in the early 1970s. And indeed it is. But it's actually become much more than that.
Our relationships have deepened and broadened so that now our own children are like cousins to one another. And our original friendships have become life sustaining, especially since we've had to support each other through the loss of one of the original six of us, and the loss of two of our spouses. The time together with those friends is so important in my life that I've chosen it over being present in my job when my new boss started. Twice I've done that.
The first time I asked permission, whether it was OK not to be around when my new boss-- that would be a president of Cornell-- started. The second time, I simply declared to the new president, now a different president, that I wasn't going to be there the week that he started. Because frankly, being with those friends and our families was more important to me than being at work. And I thought to myself, if this new president doesn't understand that, then we're going to have a lot more fundamental issues than my not being here for a week.
So when you think about your friends in life, is it any surprise that most of them have emerged from your time in school, either in high school or college? Now, for many of you in the audience that's because that's what you've spent most of your life doing, being in school. But I would dare say that even after you leave Cornell and venture into that world beyond, even though some of us came right back into it, I will predict that some of your closest friends in your life will come from your time here.
And if you continue to cultivate them, they will remain those close friends forever. Why are our friends in college so very special to us? Part of it, I think, is because we experience those connections at such a critical time in our own lives. I can still remember the women who lived across the hall from me in Risley when I was a freshman, or the fellow with whom I had a two-hour conversation standing in line to register. And yes, we used to have to stand in line to go through registration.
He became the fellow I dated the entire fall semester. Or the first person I met at my very first freshman class at 8 o'clock on a Monday morning, who now also lives in Ithaca and has become a lifelong friend. The ease of meeting these new people because of common or shared experiences and the frequency of our contact allowed us to begin to explore one another's thoughts and ideas, dreams and values, to see if we had enough in common to become true friends.
But my truly close friends, as I've mentioned, are the women with whom I lived together for two or three years Pi Phi sorority sisters. I was with them that I stayed up all night debating the existence of God when I was trying to write a paper about Pascal. Or arguing over the appropriate group rules that would balance our individual freedoms with our responsibilities to function as a group, or wondering if the war in Vietnam would ever come to an end, and praying that it would before our male classmates lost their lives.
Or trying to figure out how the killings at Kent State could possibly have happened, and wondering if Cornell would face the same threat. These kinds of conversations are so fundamental to our own development, and our thinking, and our beliefs that any of us who share them are going to be bonded together forever. Rarely do we have such time after college for extended exploration and constant reinforcement, unless we are intentional about creating that time, as I do each year with my Pi Phi friends.
I don't think there's a similar time where we grow and develop so much as we do with our college friends. But as the writer Anais Nin tells us, each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive. And it is only by this meeting that a new world is born. So despite an extended lack of time together, we must remain open to making new connections so that we do not lose the chance for a new world to open.
In my position as Vice President these last 20-plus years, I have been so fortunate to get to know so many talented and very special students. Because I've been here so long, I've been able to maintain a number of those connections through the years. And some now have grown into personal dear friends. We connected in a very special way, perhaps because of a significant experience that we shared at Cornell together, such as experiencing 9/11, or other tragedies, or the loss of a student, or because we were at the Sweet 16 together for the happy occasions as well.
Or it may have been a mentoring relationship that has now grown into a friendship. I consider myself so fortunate that I've been able to work in a place filled with such special individuals. And from that, my life has been enriched by these dear friends. The same has happened with many colleagues. Originally, we were simply work partners. But again, extensive time together, meaningful experiences opened to one another-- created a framework to allow that colleague-ship move into a friendship.
Another place we can find our friends is actually with our family. While I said earlier we choose our friends and inherit our family, indeed, over time family become friends. As adolescents, that was a very foreign thought to me that I would ever be a friend with my brother, or sister, or my mom, or my dad. But eventually, with time away and individual growth, and when we don't have to argue about access to the family car, or compete for time at the dinner table, or argue over whatever topic you want to argue about as a family member-- we discover that indeed our family is a very special part of a friendship.
And indeed, I've had that experience. When Jerry and I married, I was fortunate to inherit two incredible stepdaughters. Early in our family time together, we had a cordial relationship but not necessarily a really close one, because I'm the step mom-- and because they were in their late teens and early 20s at the time we were married and building their own lives. But when my younger stepdaughter returned to Cornell from her leave of absence, and surprised us by choosing to live at home for the first year, we had a treasured time together that allowed us to get to know one another beyond just being step mom and step daughter, and emerge as lifelong friends, as well as family.
And my older stepdaughter began to join the very special vacation with my Cornell friends and family that I talked to you about. Because, after all, she was a member of the family. She was my kid. And again, that extended time together and shared experience created a foundation for friendship, as well as love. And since Jerry died, our relationship as step mom, step stepdaughters has grown stronger and deeper, as is our commitment to be lifelong friends.
Friendship also happens with extended family-- aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins. In my own case, I was fortunate to have two children of my first cousin-- I think we called them first cousin once removed-- attend Cornell. And that allowed me to develop a very special connection with them, not just family but a deep personal friendship. In fact, one of them so honored me by inviting me to officiate at his wedding, not just because I was a family, but because I was a friend who'd come to understand what he valued in life.
And he wanted me to be the person to connect him with his life partner. With our extended family, we have a special and unique opportunity that maybe provides the best of both worlds. That special link that comes with kinship, but the necessary distance that allows us to see and appreciate the special qualities of friendship. But if we don't share with our family the same honesty and sense of self that we give our friends, they never will move beyond those inherited connections.
Obviously, another place we find our friends is with our partners in life. When Jerry and I were married, the minister officiating chose two readings, neither of which Jerry and I knew he had chosen. The first was the very famous passage from 1 Corinthians that many of us learned, perhaps as a child, that tells us that love is patient and kind, not jealous nor boastful, not arrogant nor rude. That love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. And how true that is and was.
The second one chosen was from The Prophet, a very popular book as I was growing up, in which the youth said, speak to us of friendship. And the prophet answered, your friend is your needs answered. He is your field you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving. And he is your board and your fireside, for you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.
I remember thinking, even in the joy of the wedding ceremony, that at the conclusion of that reading, what a wonderful choice. Because not only was I marrying the man I loved, I was joining my life with my best friend. And I knew that that friendship was the foundation upon which our lifetime of love and connection would be built.
When Reverend Taylor concluded our wedding service, he said that he hoped we might know great love and enduring friendship in our lives together. And how right he was in identifying the two ingredients for a life partnership to last. The passion and devotion of love, I believe, are insufficient without the patience, and trust, and mutual respect, and enjoyment of friendship. And for 25 years I was blessed to have both of those.
And finally, let me just suggest to you about being a friend with yourself. Eleanor Roosevelt, I think, was the person who said if one cannot be a friend with oneself, one cannot find friends elsewhere. We must have the comfort of our own values and belief, a trust in our own self-worth, and a respect for who we are and what we can accomplish if we seek those attributes in others. If we seek the understanding and attention of others, we must first be able to care for and comprehend ourselves.
If we look to sustain others, we all must also be able to sustain ourselves. And without being hedonistic, we must develop a sense of one's self so we can serve and be served. So as I conclude this last lecture, let me ask all of us to be intentional in expressing our thanks for all the blessings we have in our lives. And especially, for the friends who make it so rich. Let us mark today as a special one of our friends.
For with friends, Aristotle tells us, no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods. Let us be intentional about finding ways to continue to nourish and cultivate our special relationships, and to think creatively about how to celebrate them. Look to your family, and to your partners, to your classmates, and to your colleagues-- and to yourself to find that special treasure. And discover ways to put the particular feeling of friendship into words and deeds of thanksgiving.
And finally, remember these closing words from The Prophet. And here I quote, "And let the best be for your friend. If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know it's flood also. For what is your friend that you should seek with him hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live? For it is his to fill your need but not your emptiness. And in the sweetness of friendship, let there be laughter and the sharing of pleasures, for in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed."
So thank you for letting me have the opportunity to share with you what I would say in my last lecture. Thank you.
So I think we do have a time for any questions, or comments, or stories that you want to say. And as we mentioned, they are videotaping this. So if you don't want to be videotaped, we'll talk afterward. But would love to hear your own thoughts, or reflections, or answer any questions about this or anything else. Garrison?
AUDIENCE: So in the spirit of your lecture that, thank you so much for decades of service and touching lives of thousands of Cornellians, myself included. My question, I guess, is for your successor, what kind of qualities, priorities, and initiatives would you like to see them pursue in their time serving Cornell?
SUSAN MURPHY: It's a very important question to ask. I have my personal feelings about it, which I'll be happy to share. And I think some of those will be reflected in the search. I think fundamental to whoever takes the position, what will be called the next year Vice President for Student and Campus Life-- so a slight change of the title-- is someone who loves interacting with students. This position is the chief student affairs officer for the university. So that, in my mind, is absolutely fundamental.
So you will want to find someone who has demonstrated experience in working with students, a broad range of students, undergrad, grad, and from all kinds of backgrounds. I would hope that it's someone who has had experience in dealing with a similar range of topics that I have in this position. So not all chief student affairs officers have athletics as part of their portfolio, typically If they come from a big time school. But that's fundamental to the ivy model.
Not all of them oversee housing, dining, and the campus store. But I think those have been wonderful venues. So I hope it's someone who has a fairly broad exposure to the kinds of issues, someone who is comfortable to advocate on behalf of students. Because when you're sitting at the President's table that's part of what your role is. But also someone who is willing to roll up their sleeves and get into debates with students.
As you guys all know, I don't always agree with the positions or the experiences. But that's OK. I think we've always had a respect and a willingness to be straightforward with one another. And I think those qualities of being straightforward so that there are no hidden agendas is part of what makes this position-- people in this position succeed. And I hope, if they don't already have, they will develop a love for Cornell because it's a very special place.
AUDIENCE: Hello. Thank you again for what you spoke upon. Topics of reflecting and expressing gratitude is something that, as me, I work in the disability community, and we encourage very much as well. The last point you brought about is being a friend to others and being a friend to yourself. But another discussion that's kind of often swept under the rug is when people need to recognize when they're unable to be there for others.
So could you describe some times that you recognized that in your work here at Cornell, and some resources for students when they're overwhelmed and realize they cannot support their friends as they wish they want to be able to do?
SUSAN MURPHY: So it's a very important question to ask because one could assume from what I've said is that, as you say, everybody can go ahead and do that, or even that I was able to go ahead and do that at all times in my life. And that's not always the case. So I think it is true that students initially will turn to their friends. And often, that is a good start but many times not sufficient.
It's why we have a staff as we do at Counseling and Psychological Services who are professionally trained from social work, to psychology, to psychiatry. Because for those who are struggling with mental illness, which is a biological illness, they need doctor's care in the same way as those who have cancer, and diabetes, and other illnesses. And back to Garrison's question, one attribute I hope my successor has is a passion for continuing the work of trying to de-stigmatize access to mental health care.
Because after all, our brain is, frankly, another organ in the body. And if it's not working well, we need to give it the support as everything else. So our professionally trained staff is critical. There are also others, folks in the Dean of Students Office, those in the residential programs who are not trained as therapists, like me. I'm not trained as a therapist, but I'm trained in counseling. Again, my career as a high school guidance counselor.
And so, there are many what I'll call caring and concerned adults on the campus, to whom I hope people who are seeking help would turn. Sometimes that also can be sufficient. Other times, we do the same thing. We refer them to professional care. And then, I think some students may find themselves at a point where they do need to take time away. It may be because what they're dealing with medically needs time to be the primary focus of their attention and get that settled, and then come back and engage intellectually.
It may be that they just are not able to function at the level they know they are capable of. And so, they've got to get life sort of sorted out. That was the case with my younger stepdaughter. Not that she was dealing with mental illness, but she was just not ready to be in college. And the best thing she did was to step away. And I am grateful, to her dad especially, for encouraging that. And she came back two and a half years later after a path with the Grateful Dead, which was not exactly what I would have predicted.
But it was the best thing for her-- or chosen for that matter-- but it was the best thing for her to not be afraid to do something different and step away. So I think our professional support, our peers who are officially trained are another enormous resource. So obviously, friends are one area. But so too our EARS counselors, our Cayuga Watchers, or other students who are professional-- that we actually provide some additional training-- would be places that I would hope students who are trying to figure out how to be a friend to themselves, or be able to support one another.
People who are concerned about their own friends can call Gannett. And we have staff who don't see clients on an hourly basis like everybody else, but who serve in the role of what we call community consultation and intervention. And they are there especially to be a sounding board for faculty, for an advisor, for a friend about how can I help my friend who I see is in need?
AUDIENCE: As a person living with multiple mental illnesses, I thank you for that wonderful response.
SUSAN MURPHY: Thank you Teresa. Really appreciate the question and your commentary. Any other questions or-- questions about being a vice president, or questions about Cornell, or anything else?
AUDIENCE: So this isn't specifically related to Cornell, but you were talking about gratitude and being grateful. And I'm kind of curious, as a lot of us are preparing to graduate, are there things out there that we should not be taking for granted that you've experienced are kind of the most like influential that you deal with on a regular basis, but sometimes don't realize how important they are?
SUSAN MURPHY: Yes is the answer. And one of those is tied into the other part of my talk, which is friendship. I don't think we know understand when we're in school how easy it is to have time with our friends. In part, because you define a 24-hour day in a way that I don't understand how you define a 24-hour day. And that becomes more difficult when you have to show up at a job at 9 o'clock in the morning, and you have an hour commute, and you were there until 9:00 at night with an hour commute.
So I would say at least I didn't appreciate how easy it was for me to have those connections with the people who were dearest in my life. Because I lived in the sorority house with them. We ate dinner together every night, and they were just a part of my life. When you graduate and you disperse, even though a whole bunch of you will end up in New York City no doubt and will try to live that same lifestyle, which will get much more difficult as you have to be at work. But it is then becoming, being mindful about scheduling time to be together.
And I sort of made a joke of it, but it's absolutely true. The week I spend with my friends-- I start my year by planning around that week because it's so central to my life. I do the same thing about being with family. For me, I'm blessed to have a very functional family, not a gift that everybody is blessed with. And particularly when I was going through the grieving process, having lost my husband, and seeking some professional help to try to sort things out-- it was after one Thanksgiving when I was talking about how wonderful it had been.
I'd been with my cousin and we'd had a three generation Thanksgiving family. And I remembered being the youngest of the six grandchildren, and now I'm in the eldest generation. So I'm having this identity crisis because I still think of myself at the kids table. But I'm the old great aunt. And so, we were chatting about it, and my colleague said to me, I want to put you on my calendar every week after Thanksgiving.
I kind of looked at him, and I said, why is that? He said, because I, frankly, in my practice have spent most of my week putting people back together again because they had to go home to be at Thanksgiving, and they've not-- they don't have a functional family. For you, being with your family is where you get your energy, he said. So what I want you to do is be intentional every month of doing something with your family.
Could be you're going to spend all afternoon on the phone with your daughter in Colorado. It could be you're going to drive to Washington, DC. It could be planning your summer vacation. But you need to make that an intentional part of your life. So that was another good reminder for me about being intentional about things that I know are good for me. And then, I hope what you'll do also is make time to exercise. I hope you're doing that now.
But you know, when a dear friend of mine, Margie Blanchard, gave a speech some 30 years ago and talked about all the stress points we accumulate in life. Death of a spouse, moving-- they showed people who accumulate many stress point often get sick. She was doing research about who stayed healthy when they had accumulated all those stress points. And there were four qualities that she was able to discern.
And you see that now in writing. One is perspective, and kind of put what's happening in life in a broader perspective. One is autonomy-- you have a sense of control over some part of your life. A third is connectedness. And a fourth is tone. You call it making a pact with yourself-- perspective, autonomy, connectedness, and tone. And when all else is falling apart, she said, start with tone.
Because it's the easiest thing that you can do. Call a friend and go for a walk. Now, all of a sudden you're taking-- you're doing something by yourself, autonomy. You're making connection, and you're taking good care of your health. So that would be the other thing I would say. Make time for that because you guys, you don't realize how much you walk on this campus to stay in good shape. You curse the hills, as do I. But surprisingly, you are getting a lot of exercise, never mind what you're doing in the fitness centers and other things.
And when you're sitting in an office for 10 hours a day, weeks will go by and then you'll start to feel crummy. So those are just a few thoughts.
AUDIENCE: Thanks so much.
AUDIENCE: Hi. So as you are preparing to leave after all the time you've devoted to the university, I was just wondering what are some of the initiatives or areas that you really hope to see continue to develop, or start to develop here on campus?
SUSAN MURPHY: Well, I certainly hope that the work we did to move all of our first year students together to create a sense of community on North Campus remains. I think there will be pressure because we now have 43,000 applicants to our freshman class. There will be pressure to grow the freshman class. Some of that I understand, but I hope we don't grow it so big as we lose what I think for Cornell is an important way of building community.
I hope the guarantee of housing for freshmen, sophomores, and transfers who want to stay on campus is able to remain-- especially, the guaranteed housing for transfers. Because I think they are also new members of our community. But I think that's going to have some pressure. We've been doing a lot of work in the Greek community, and there's more to be done. I would love to see progress made on returning to the basic values that created the Greek system, and get rid of what I call the softballs about why everybody is a critique. Because we give them very good reasons to be.
I think you know there is very important work going on under the broad rubric of Toward New Destinations. I would just call it how do we take best advantage of the diversity that we assemble on the campus-- internationally, ethnically, sexual orientation, intellectually-- and make this diverse community really work as a community. Cornell is very different than when I was here as a student. There were three and a half men to every woman when I was here as an undergrad. Now we're 50-50.
The African American population was under 200, and we didn't even count Hispanic, and Asian American, and Native American. And we didn't keep it all track of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender. So this is a much richer community. It's a much better reflection of the world at large that you're all going to be living and working in. And so, we have a great opportunity to help those of us who don't live in as diverse communities as we're growing up to learn how to do that.
And sometimes that's hard. But it's important work. And I hope that continues.
AUDIENCE: I've got one question. So during your time here, are there any times, points in your career, where you considered doing something completely different?
SUSAN MURPHY: As in not working at Cornell?
AUDIENCE: Either not at Cornell, or not within your current realm of responsibility, something completely different.
SUSAN MURPHY: There was one time that I was invited to think about leaving Cornell and become head of a private school in New York City. And very flattering to be asked to do that. I hadn't interviewed in about 15 years. So I thought, well, gosh, maybe I should go check this out. And to my surprise, I was invited to be one of two finalists. And I thought to myself, golly, I have to really be serious. Am I really willing to leave Cornell and leave Ithaca to do this? Would be a wonderful opportunity.
And I have a love of dogs, as I think those people who know me, and at that point my Labrador retriever was 12 years old-- who would get me up in the middle of the night. And she did one Saturday, that Saturday night, and I thought to myself, the next morning, what the heck do you do-- and those of you who live in the city can tell-- but what do you do when you're living on the 15th floor in an apartment building and your dog has to go out in the middle of the night?
I don't know how I can do that. So I called him and said thank you very much, but this is not the right time in my life to leave living in a house where I can just open up the door with the electronic fence and send her out to do her thing and go back to bed in five minutes. So that's actually the only time I've come close to leaving here. I was a liberal arts student who had not a clue what I was going to do with my life when I was at Cornell, until the end of my junior year when literally a light bulb went off, and I thought, education is where I want to spend my time.
And I've just been so fortunate to have settings in which, first as a guidance counselor, then in Admissions, now in Student and Academic Services where I've been challenged, I've been rewarded. I've grown, and I've been able to do it in one place for 37 years. I don't think you're going to-- most of you will never have that opportunity. And I think in some ways I'm a dinosaur because that's so unusual today.
But for me, it has been-- it has worked. And I frankly can't imagine doing anything else, nor am I sure of my skill to do much of anything else. So it's been a good match. Hey Joe.
AUDIENCE: Dr. Murphy, thank you so much for your words. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about life balance. It seems like that's sort of like a main message here, individual work and family, friends as well. And also, maybe some sort of experience that profoundly changed you that you were very hesitant to take, maybe something that could encourage us to take a risk as we go forward that could maybe change our lives as well.
SUSAN MURPHY: I have a cousin who studies in this area, and she would be unhappy if I didn't say balance is almost impossible to achieve. She writes about work plus life fit. Find what works for you. And her point is that balance, and I don't know necessarily that that's what people mean, but it often implies that you've got everything kind of evenly balanced. And that's not how life goes.
Sometimes work is here and family is here. That was certainly the case when Jerry was so sick. And I was just very lucky to have an employer that gave me a lot of flexibility. I still worked very hard, but I had a lot of flexibility to address the needs of my husband. Other times, it's flipped-- family, kids are out of the house, you need to be focused on your career. You don't yet have a family, so that's why all of those financial institutions hire you 20 somethings and make you work 14 hours a day, because eventually you're not going to be willing to do that.
So I think it's a fit. I think part of what's key to it is finding what works for you. When Callie writes in this area, she says it's often thought about in terms of just parent and kids. But some people could be passionate about being an artist, but they can't make a living being an artist. So they got to go do something else to make a living. But how do they create enough time in their lives so they can at least keep their art going until they either get the break or get the opportunity?
So I think, and what I'll call a work-life fit, is trying to figure out what do you need to sustain yourself. And that's where my conversation with my therapist was so helpful to me to be able to be able to articulate time with my family, time with my friends are things I'm going to put on my schedule. And I actually schedule them like I schedule meetings. And some of my colleagues here in the room know that I block out some days that I'm going to go play golf in Florida in February.
Because by February, I need to get recharged. It's gray here, it's cold, it's miserable. I need a little sunshine, to be with people who know me better than anybody other than my family. So finding for yourself-- and that takes some time. Did I know that in my 20s? I didn't have a clue. I frankly think-- and I don't mean to say this in a negative way. But I think the decade of our 20s are among the most challenging, because most of you in this room, I bet, knew you were going to go to college.
But the angst was which college. But that you were going to go to college was not an issue. Now, all of a sudden you graduate, and you have all kinds of choices. Work, volunteer work, you're starting your career, or you're just getting a job to get some money. Is there a life partner you want to begin to build a life? Are you on your own? And those way more choices than you've had before.
So that can be pretty anxiety provoking. But it's a wonderful, wonderful opportunity. Now, what about a time when I had a huge opportunity and I took it? You'll discover I'm not very risk-- I'm pretty risk averse. If you stay in the same place for 37 years, you're not one who is out there. So I'd probably put into that category-- well, a couple of things. The decision to go, for me, out West-- you guys think about it as the world, but 40 years ago going to the other side of the country to go to school seemed like a big decision.
Now you guys think about where in the world you might go to school. I think the decision to leave what was a fabulous job for me in New Jersey as a guidance counselor, and come to Cornell, and take that position was-- I was giving up something. But I was also going to something. So I wouldn't say it was a huge challenge. But I was giving up the comfort of tenure as a high school guidance counselor, so a guaranteed job, to take something brand new.
The job I took at Cornell had never existed before. So I was going have to create the job and try to make it successful. And another, sort of on the flip side, after being here for only three years the guy who hired me left. And there was some change in administration. And all of a sudden, I was being invited to be the Director of Admissions, which was the silliest thing in the world because I was no more qualified for that than top fly to the moon. But I was even sillier and threw my hat in the ring, and ended up as, again, one of two finalists.
This time I didn't get the job. At the same time I was being offered a job as a Director of Admissions at another institution. And I was faced with, well, professionally I should leave. That's the right thing for me to do. Personally, I had just met Jerry. Took him seven years to figure out we were going to get married, but I knew then that this was a pretty important person in my life. I didn't want to give that relationship up.
So I spent a lot of time thinking and talking with the fellow who was the dean at the time. What would allow me to continue to grow if I stayed here? And that's what set me on a path to get a PhD, as a way of staying put, staying in a job that wasn't going to stretch me as much. It turned out to stretch me a lot later on, but to start my doctorate. So that's why I say things weren't terribly balanced, but things sort of fit together as time went on.
Well I hear the chimes. That tells me it's 6:00 o'clock. Our hour has come and gone very quickly. I want to thank you for being a wonderful audience. Mostly, I want to thank you for being Cornellians. You have made my life richer beyond my wildest dream. And when I was sitting where you were, now 40-plus years ago, I never would have imagined what the path was that was ahead of me. So I just wish for you all the greatest success and friendship. And keep Cornell forever in your hearts. Thanks.
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Formally expressing gratitude is paramount to a happy life, says Susan Murphy '73, Ph.D. '94, vice president for student and academic services, who will step down June 30.
In her "last lecture" at Cornell Dec. 3, Murphy revealed one key to her success: expressing gratitude each day for her friends, family and experiences. "Last Lectures" is a series sponsored by Mortar Board, a national senior honor society.