October 15, 2017

GUEST ROOM | Finding a Home in a House

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The ability to discover a campus community is a unique thing for a freshman, a chance to try something new or develop known passions. In either case, this sense of freedom, to draw on historian Carl Becker’s notable address, The Cornell Tradition, is an extension of “the attitude of Cornell,” something “easier to appreciate than to define.” It is this sense of freedom, enabling discovery and synergy, that allows students to find their place amongst Cornell’s thousands of students and hundreds of thousands of alumni worldwide.

With countless extracurricular opportunities at Cornell, students are certain to find groups they “click” with. Likely, it will be more than one such organization. Outside the classroom, students spend many of their waking hours with the friends they make in these settings. When I reflect on my college days (2011-15), I realize that these were not separate endeavors — in many ways each commitment supported another, pushing me to do better or get more involved.

Roughly 1 in 3 students will find this fit in a fraternity or sorority. As I speak to brothers past and present, I’ve recognized the traditional way was not to regard one’s fraternity as an extracurricular activity, but rather as the platform on which to build a Cornell life. With their Greek organization as a base, one could excel in academics and the extracurricular activities of their choice, whether participating on an athletic team, an ROTC battalion, professional, social or cultural club. A Cornell day then, as is the Cornell day now, was divided carefully between these efforts, the lion’s share of time going to one’s studies. In all endeavors, the expectation stood that the Cornell fraternity members should uplift themselves as they uplift Cornell, in the rational and humane manner advocated for by Professor Becker.

My Greek experience exposed me to many more areas of campus, many more ideas, many more people who shaped me, inspired me and taught me. And I wouldn’t have it any other way; especially as someone who came to campus swearing he’d never rush a fraternity.

My fraternity was an integral experience in my collegiate life, a sentiment that I know many others share. When one club was hosting an event, I knew I could count on my brothers to attend. I remember cool autumn nights at Schoellkopf watching my brothers on the sprint football field, and helping others in our chapter with community service projects, business ideas and more.

This is because my fraternity brothers were, in many ways, the method through which I came to know Cornell. These gentlemen, leaders and scholars brought me into their lives as I brought them into mine. My brothers reflected diversity of every type, from their heritage to their economics to their academics. Our microcosm of the University, in one house near North Campus, proved to be a community defined by support, pride and camaraderie. They came to my activities, and I went to theirs — my first time setting foot in an architecture studio, a biology lab, an orchestra performance — all were through my support for my brothers. When I was stuck in the snow, they picked me up. When I was struggling in financial accounting, they stayed up all night helping me study. In many cases, I found the non-Greek communities in which I became most embedded on campus — fencing, entrepreneurship and the ILR School, alongside my brothers.

No one made them do any of that. To borrow Professor Becker’s phrasing again, they “had to decide what was right and worthwhile…to do,” and they chose to support me. And not just me, but dozens more brothers as well. This was a value judgment prompted by joining a fraternity. Collaborative spirit is a hallmark of fraternity. I trusted in these men, and they trusted in me. I know many of my peers had similar experiences in Greek life, finding their home away from home in their chapter house. Like our social interactions, our self-governance is the result of leadership from within. This deliberate association, the result of our own aims, was aligned by the values of our fraternity. I found the Men of Principle around me to be committed not just to each other, but, most importantly, to our core values of mutual assistance, intellectual growth, trust, responsible conduct and integrity.

We found each other from a simple choice, just as one chooses to join a club, play a sport or otherwise affiliate. Our cohesion enhanced not only my Greek experience, but my other extracurricular activities and my academics as well. Now, far from Ithaca and busier than ever, the buffer of time and space leave me appreciative of that camaraderie and all that comes with it, a bond I recognize will only be matched rarely. Being a Cornell Greek has prepared me to craft and create that team ethos as I move forward, with consideration for the many perspectives and experiences of those around me. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Adam Kirsch ’15, MBA ’16 is a graduate of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the Johnson Graduate School of Management. He is a member of Beta Theta Pi Fraternity and has previously served as a chapter advisor. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.