With even his wife participating in the conspiracy against President Hunter R. Rawlings III, everything was set for yesterday morning. At 8 a.m., unidentified individuals ambushed the Rawlings’ Cayuga Heights property.
Rawlings opened his door to discover members from the Cornell pep band and wrestling team along with other administrators gathered to surprise him with music to kick off a daylong celebration honoring his presidency.
Consisting of events throughout the day, the program was planned by the administration and other staff members over the course of several months, said Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services.
“The vice presidents, provosts and I started to think about what to do about the events,” said Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin in an earlier interview with The Sun.
Martin said that the events were organized to reflect what was important to Rawlings with regard to his devotion for undergraduate students and staff. For example, the pep band and wrestling team represented Rawlings’ affection for University sports, especially college wrestling.
“It [was] a perfect thing for [Rawlings],” Martin said.
The main event, “Hats Off to Hunter,” was held in the afternoon. Hundreds of Cornell students and staff members were invited to eat free ice cream supplied by Cornell Dairy on the Arts Quad and were also treated to entertainment from various groups and individuals, including the Cornell Juggling Club and a capella groups such as Last Call and Nothing But Treble.
In addition, attendees were given the opportunity to put their farewell and good-luck comments for Rawlings into a Grecian urn in the middle of the tented area.
“You can tell how to get Cornell students here,” Murphy said, implying that the free ice cream had contributed to the high attendance.
Rawlings, his wife Elizabeth and one of his four children, Liz, were also present at the ceremony. Rawlings did not know about his daughter’s visit until she arrived on his front doorstep Sunday night.
“I did mastermind [the plan] that our daughter would be coming out for this,” Elizabeth said. “I’ve been on the verge of telling him. He was just speechless [when Liz came.] It was worth all of the wait and effort.”
A poetry reading was also performed by Kenneth McClane, the W.E.B. DuBois Professor of Literature. McClane read two poems: one by former Cornell professor A.R. (Archie) Ammons entitled “Identity” and one of his own poems entitled “Meditation at Jones River.”
According to McClane, Rawlings is a big fan of Ammons and gives the author’s poems as gifts to others. McClane also highlighted a line in his own poem, “Will not let the slightest voice suffer silent,” to signify that Rawlings made sure “Ithaca was celebrated.”
“This was a man [who] has done many things for us and we all have to remember that,” McClane said.
In a more humorous presentation, Gary Stewart, assistant director of community relations, recited a piece of satire about Rawlings. Stewart explained that it was a combination of a private diary for Rawlings along with other comments.
Each a capella group sang two numbers for Rawlings, and Last Call later sang the Cornell alma mater toward the end of the performance. Eric Lippert ’02 of Last Call said that “it’s just a blast” to perform for the school.
“It’s the least we can do after all [Rawlings has] done for this school,” said Nicole Naples ’06, a singer in Nothing But Treble.
At the end of the presentation, Murphy, who hosted the event, announced the start of the hat competition, during which many staff members and students presented their hats to three judges. Prizes such as vouchers and Cornell books were given to those who submitted some of the most creative headgear.
In the “most hilarious” hat contest, a female staff member won for having a hat that resembled a cow’s buttocks and excrement to “symbolize what the world is.”
The hat worn by Jennifer Moulton ’03, which won the “most creative” award, was round and had a picture of Rawlings and McGraw Tower next to each other. Surrounding the top were small objects symbolizing “the opportunities I had [at Cornell].”
Even Martin won an award for her own fireman’s hat because she “destroys a lot of fires.”
“I feel honored. I tried so hard, I wanted to win so badly and my dream came true,” Martin quipped.
During the event, Rawlings talked to a number of staff members and students, many of whom wanted photos with or autographs from the departing president. In most cases, Rawlings’ looming height helped him easily sign the hats that admirers were wearing.
Later on in the day, Rawlings moved to West Campus, where he participated in the ground-breaking of the first new dormitory, which will be named after deceased Prof. Alice Cook, industrial and labor relations.
Before Rawlings gave comments about the West Campus Residential Initiative (WCRI), speeches were given by Isaac Kramnick, vice provost for undergraduate affairs and co-chair of the West Campus council; Kate Forester ’03, a member of the council; and Barbara Friedman ’59, vice-chair of the Board of Trustees.
Kramnick, who was one of the main organizers of Rawlings’ commemoration, said that it was good to set aside time for “the University community to express their appreciation for his achievements.”
To recognize Rawlings’ interest in former president James Madison, Kramnick and the committee were able to bring in Prof. Jack Rakove, history and American studies, Stanford University, the “foremost expert on Madison,” to give a late-afternoon lecture in Call Auditorium.
The one-hour speech, entitled “Freedom of Conscience: James Madison’s First Right,” was presented to approximately 100 students and staff. Rakove examined Madison’s evolution throughout his career and the relevance of his support for freedom of religion and conscience in the American nation.
A private dinner at the Straight for administrators, students in Rawlings’ CLASS 258: Periclean Athens course, local dignitaries such as Ithaca Mayor Alan Cohen ’81 and other staff members culminated the day’s events. Members of the administration gave Rawlings the first edition of The Papers of James Madison and a 19th-century version of Thucydides, a book he wrote about over 20 years ago.
Rawlings said he was very surprised when the band, administrators and wrestling team showed up at his door. He was also pleased with the turnout on the Arts Quad as well as the ground-breaking, where “we’re now embarking on the [WCRI].”
Rawlings also called Rakove’s speech topic “very near and dear to my interests.”
“It’s just enjoyable to have people come up and say they’ve appreciated what I’ve done,” Rawlings said.
Archived article by Brian Tsao