December 23, 2008

Skorton Advises January Graduates to Stay True to Their Alma Mater

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Though the snow piled high on Saturday afternoon, blanketing the campus in white, 859 students inside Barton Hall bled Carnelian red as they walked across the stage during the Recognition Ceremony for January Graduates. Friends and family cheered them on as the students — many of whom finished their degrees early, late or from graduate school — received recognition for their milestones.

Of the graduates, 40 percent were earning graduate degrees and 19 percent of students came from outside the United States. All undergraduate and graduate schools were represented at the ceremony, with each school’s graduates wearing different colored tassels.

Following a processional, President David Skorton gave a welcome address. He warned that this graduating class faces a tougher job market than ever before, but that the value and prestige of a Cornell education extend well beyond Cayuga’s waters.

“Trying times require creative thinking,” he said, adding that the faculty has done a tremendous job preparing students for any economic climate.

Skorton noted that wherever these students go, they will bring a piece of Cornell with them, and for this reason, they should remain connected to the University. Utilizing a metaphor from the historian Daniel J. Boorstin, he urged the graduates in the course of their journeys after Cornell to be travelers, rather than tourists. Tourists observe their surroundings passively, he said, while travelers become involved in the world around them.

“Generate positive experiences for yourself as well as for others,” Skorton said. “The world needs you, no matter what the headlines say.” [img_assist|nid=34068|title=Moving on|desc=Courtesy of Cornell University|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]

Caroline Newton ’09, senior class president, spoke to the crowd, recounting her Cornell experience starting with first day jitters at the beginning of orientation week. She traced the senior class’ collective experience, remembering the shocking news of Hurricane Katrina and how it brought the school together, as well as the unbridled happiness students felt following the 2008 presidential elections.

Learning to use Facebook, having fun during snow days, going to the bars after turning 21, and hanging out outside Collegetown Bagels were all experiences she said she would miss. As her four years passed, she said, her devotion to Cornell only grew stronger.

“Today and for the rest of your lives, you are a Cornellian,” she concluded.

All 859 students’ names were called as their friends and family cheered them on.

Evan Wade ’08, an engineering student and Navy ROTC member who died in a car accident in October, was due to graduate in January. As Wade’s name was called, U.S. Navy Captain Larry B. Olsen accepted his degree on his behalf amidst a standing ovation from the audience.

Alex Bennett grad, who finished his undergraduate degree at Cornell last year, walked across the stage in honor of the completion of his masters of engineering on Saturday.

“Obviously the culmination of years of hard work has a significant personal meaning. You realize that all the late nights and endless problem sets paid off. Cornell has a reputation as being impossibly tough and that just adds to the sense of accomplishment,” he said. “The fact that so many faculty, friends and family members will gather in recognition of your achievement is an incredibly rewarding experience.”

Bennett noted that his girlfriend, who graduated from Cornell last year, felt the weight and significance of Skorton’s words more than ever before. As an alumnus, she came to realize the extent to which Cornell is a part of her life.

“The ceremony itself highlighted everything graduates should be proud of and gave insightful advice and motivation as we head to the next phase of our lives,” Bennett said.

Following the ceremony, a reception was held in honor of the graduates. All January graduates are invited to participate in the formal commencement exercises in May.