“Let us take time out so that we are able to better the lives of others.” This was the final piece of advice that Dr. Maya Angelou, world-renown poet and author, gave to Cornell’s graduating Class of 2008 during her Convocation address on May 24 in Schoellkopf Stadium.
Cornell’s 140th Commencement took place this weekend as graduating seniors received their diplomas and left the home they have come to know during the past four years.
Senior Class President Vince Hartman ’08 instructed his fellow classmates to keep strong ties with Cornell. Hartman reflected on his time spent at Cornell and the knowledge he gained from his experiences.
“We are Cornellians and have acquired a strong sense of family,” Hartman said. “Cornell has truly become a home away from home. Attending Cornell University has been a character building experience, challenging us and making us stronger. At the end of the day, our time spent at Cornell will make us better suited for after graduation … And you can always call Cornell your home.”
Not only do Cornell’s graduating seniors have a strong sense of family, but they also apparently have a strong sense of philanthropy, as seen through the presentation of their class gift. Manuel Nattal ’08 and Sarah Snider ’08, co-presidents of the Senior Class Council, presented the University with a gift of just over $66,000. Under the motto “Celebrate, Participate, Graduate,” Snider described that generosity of the senior class as “inspirational.”
In his enthusiasm of the senior class’s participation, Nattal, like Hartman, looked to the future of the senior class and its relationship with Cornell.
“With 53.29 percent participation of the entire class, we have broken records across many categories,” Nattal said. “I urge you to stay connected to Cornell and remain an active member of the community.”
Following Nattal and Snider, Angelou gave the Convocation address that focused on human relationships and one’s personal obligation to help others. During her speech, Angelou asked the graduating seniors to reflect on past history and its relation to their future goals as Cornell graduates.
Angelou told the students to “Take a moment to reflect on your ancestors whether from Europe, Asia, Africa or elsewhere, and the persecution and hardship they faced, and how they had wanted better for their children and grandchildren.”
After reflecting, Angelou turned her attention to the future, going on to explain that Cornell graduates have a great deal of opportunity. With this opportunity, Angelou explained that graduates must try to improve their world and the lives of others. In their efforts to help humanity, Angelou explained the perspective that one must take when dealing with their fellow men.
“Terentius, a Roman playwright once said, ‘I am human. Therefore, nothing human is foreign to me,’” Angelou said.
This, however, is not to say that Angelou condones everything human. On the contrary, Angelou explained that we need courage to fight the ignorance of others and to show them the light of truth. Angelou challenged her audience to try for a week to not use any racial pejoratives, which she described as impediments of enlightenment used to dehumanize people.
In her final sentiment, Angelou read the lyrics of a song she wrote. The song, which repeated the phrase, “Take time out,” was meant to highlight the importance of using one’s time in order to understand social problems and attempt to alleviate the pain and suffering of others in the world.
While the Convocation ceremony was held on Saturday, the Commencement ceremony took place on Sunday morning. While each school handed out their diplomas separately, the University held a graduation ceremony with the entire senior class, in which President David Skorton gave his address. Before delving into his speech, Skorton first held a moment of silence in respect of the passing of Steve Weiss ’57, a former chairman of Cornell’s Board of Trustees.
Similar to that of Maya Angelou, Skorton’s speech focused on the graduating students’ sense of social responsibility. While congratulating the seniors on a successful four years, Skorton went on to highlight the importance of social entrepreneurship and affecting positive change in one’s community.
Skorton first stated, “This is a day to celebrate the achievements of our graduates.”
He then went on to explain this idea of social responsibility saying, “As our society moves to solve problems, we must understand the importance of a broad undergraduate education,” Skorton said. “Direct action continues to follow the University’s core functions of education, discovery and creativity. You are graduating at a pivotal point on our nation’s history. I offer you this charge … to lighten the burdens of the world.”