Saturday morning saw one of the rare events that filled Barton Hall. But President David J. Skorton was a bit more family friendly than Ludacris and (slightly) less funny than Jon Stewart when he delivered his first official public address as head of the University to thousands of incoming freshman and their families.
Skorton started off by introducing his wife and noting that, at Cornell, they too were freshman who will, at least for a week, be living on North Campus with the rest of the class.
“We won’t be watching you; we won’t be keeping an eye on you; we won’t be reporting back to your parents,” he assured the audience.
Skorton will not only be living among the freshman, but swimming with them, too, at the swim test today.
“If you happen to be [at Teagle Hall] at 1 o’clock,” he said. “I’m counting on you to make sure I make it through ok.”
After rousing a crowd drained by last-minute Target runs and a muggy move-in, Skorton turned to the more serious work of encouraging students to “find a way to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation.”
“Nothing will broaden your horizons more than going to hear a political speaker whose opinion you hate, to hang out with a dormmate who comes from a different background than you.”
Skorton highlighted the program Tapestry of Possibilites: Diversity at Cornell as one way for students to engage differences.
Thematically, Skorton’s address echoed the first speech given by former President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77, at the same event in 2003. Lehman stressed relishing the chance for debate with others while working towards mutual understanding. However, Skorton’s talk largely avoided the word “engagement,” which became a hallmark, along with “transnationalism,” of Lehman’s short presidency.
Also speaking were Kwame Thomison ’07, Student Assembly president; Doug Mitarotonda grad, student-elected trustee; and Scott Reich ’07 co-chair of the orientation steering committee.
Reich said that the key to surviving Cornell was asking a lot of questions.
He urged freshmen to seek out upperclassmen’s advice on everything from Facebook to where to nap on campus. He said his father had asked the most important question when he first arrived on campus: “What does it take to be happy here?”
Reich said that an Orientation Leader answered finding opportunity through ambition and curiosity was important.
“All you have to do is ask,” Reich said. “And you’ll be amazed at the doors that will be opened for you.”