February 26, 2001

CNN Reporter Fills in At Tradition Program

Print More

Itai Dinour ’01 woke up Friday morning expecting shortly to greet Joe Clark, the New Jersey school principal who inspired the 1989 movie Lean On Me and the keynote speaker for that evening’s Cornell Tradition Convocation. Once Dinour arrived at the Cornell Tradition office, however, he discovered that Clark was snowed in back in his hometown of Patterson, N.J. and probably would not be able to attend the ceremony.

Nine hours to go until the David L. Call Auditorium in Kennedy Hall would be filled for the convocation, and nobody to address the crowd.

“I was amazed at the poise and professionalism, especially of the office staff, as they stuck to the task at hand,” said Dinour, a Cornell Tradition Student Advisory Council member who planned to stop briefly at the office and then pick up Clark from the airport.

“As soon as I came in, they said, ‘Don’t get ready yet,'” Dinour recalled. “The rest of the day we were trying to make things happen either with Joe Clark or with a Plan B.”

Shortly after 1 p.m. in Washington, D.C., Jonathan Karl, a CNN congressional correspondent who recently trailed President George W. Bush, former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on the presidential campaign trail, received a call from the speaker’s bureau that represents him, asking whether he had plans for the evening.

“I was up in the Capitol in Washington,” Karl said. “The choice was to do another story on the Clinton scandals or come to Ithaca in February,” he remembered thinking, before catching the first plane from National Airport to Syracuse.

Karl had sat next to John McCain aboard Straight Talk Express, the bus that McCain used to travel during the primary elections. Most recently, he has been covering the investigations into former President Bill Clinton’s pardons before leaving office.

“I was already at the airport when I got the final nod,” Karl said.

Then, to remind the audience in case that they missed the brief introduction before his speech, Karl announced, “This is very short notice — I am not Joe Clark.”

For his keynote address, Karl drew upon a message once spoken to him as a student at Vassar College, calling for young people to “rock the vote [and] rock the system.” Citing the anemic level of voter turnout among people 18 to 24-years-old and the growing problems facing government programs, Karl presented his case for government change, to the very people who he looked upon as natural leaders for such reform.

“I think that your duty is to lead, and not only that, but to inspire others to lead [as well],” Karl said to the crowd.

He congratulated the Tradition fellows for going beyond the call of the ordinary college student, volunteering hundreds of hours to the local community. Karl then urged the students to convert their efforts in entrepreneurship into political action.

“People may not be involved politically, but I realize from looking at people in this room that there are people out there who are reasons to be optimistic,” Karl said.

The sixth annual Cornell Tradition Convocation was open to the public and honored the Cornell Presidential Research Scholars and the Meinig Family Cornell National Scholars, in addition to the Tradition fellows themselves.

“It was an opportunity for us to highlight the values that we adhere to and our commitment to both the University and the community,” Dinour said.

Before Karl was introduced as the keynote speaker of the evening, Susan W. Hitchcock, director of the Cornell Tradition, announced that beginning next year, the three Cornell Commitment programs would increase their yearly award for undergraduate participants from $3,500 to $4,000. The programs are comprised of undergraduates University-wide who receive financial aid for their commitment to discovery and leadership, values set out by Ezra Cornell in his mission statement upon founding the University 136 years ago.

Archived article by Matthew Hirsch