September 25, 2011

Parents Criticize Cornell After Death of Rand ’12 in Gorge

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At a memorial service held in honor of Nathaniel Rand ’12 Sunday, family and friends spoke of the the joy that “Nate” brought to life, while his parents refused to let attendees forget the tragic circumstances surrounding his death.In front of a packed Keeton House Dining Room — including President David Skorton, seated in the front row — Dr. Jacob Rand called for the administration to take definitive action to prevent future tragedies in the gorges. “To the administration of Cornell, I encourage you to stop saying, ‘We know that we need to do better’ and just do it,” Dr. Rand said. “For the life of us, we cannot fathom how you have been able to accept drowning after drowning and not have taken substantive action to put an end to these tragedies.” Nate and a group of students were swimming in the Fall Creek Gorge around 4 p.m. on July 2 when Nate became trapped underneath the water near Ithaca Falls. The New York State Police dive team was called to the scene and recovered his body at about 8:55 p.m that night.Dr. Rand also decried the lack of action taken by the gorge safety task force, formed in 2008, and the several gorge safety committees that have been in place for the last five years.“Stop the insanity — it is preventable. Stop spinning your wheels with committees,” Dr. Rand said. “A wise and knowledgeable man once told me … ‘Everyone knows if you don’t want something to get done, assign it to a committee.’”In what Dr. Rand called “one example of appalling laxity,” he also spoke of his family’s shock to learn that warning signs for the gorges had been designed last spring, but were not put up until right before Orientation Week.“So you keep the signs in a closet and go through a summer with no signs? And three consecutive deaths? A student, right after the day he graduates? A visiting summer student who had no idea of the dangers? And Nate?” Dr. Rand, referring to the deaths of Kendrick Castro ’11 and Stanislaw Jaworkski, who also died in the gorge this summer. Dr. Rand concluded by asking the administration to disprove his family’s skepticism about the power of gorge-safety committees.“Even though we’re skeptical about committees, we believe Cornell does need one more committee,” Dr. Rand said. “Cornell needs a committee to investigate the lapses of action, the apparent low priority and, sadly, the apparent absence of caring about this problem.”Following her husband at the podium, Maggi Rand also expressed her grief. “I’ve been married a long time, and I don’t think I can ever recall my husband being quite as angry as he was just now,” Ms. Rand said. Ms. Rand also questioned the efficacy of the University mandated swim test that students must pass to graduate from Cornell. “I am not exactly sure what the point of it is,” Ms. Rand said. “Might it not be the perfect time in that swim test to talk about the other places students might be swimming besides that swimming pool?” Ms. Rand ended her speech tearfully, urging the Cornell community to take responsibility for preventing future gorge-related deaths. “I am not here to get Nate back,” Ms. Rand said. “I am here with the last bit of strength here in my body to say please don’t let anybody else die … there are beautiful things in Mother Nature, but Mother Nature doesn’t care about us.”Professors and students offered a series of loving tributes to what many called Nate’s gregarious, soulful personality at Sunday’s memorial service.Darryl Scott, admissions director for the College of Human Ecology, who Rand’s parents credited with playing a large role in Nate’s decision to come to Cornell, remembered Nate as someone who “extended himself and embraced me always.”“I wish I had his measure of poise at his age,” Scott said. “I wish I had it now.”Students echoed Scott’s sentiments.“Nate was a person who if you spent more than three to five seconds with him, you’d be talking to him for hours,” said Kevin Yi ’12, who had been friends with Nate since freshman year.Yi also remembered an altercation he had with Nate sophomore year, recalling how Nate started following him out the door when he tried to leave and apologized profusely when he returned.“He was just the kind of person who hated conflict … just like he hated bananas,” Yi said, sending attendees into a fit of laughter. Tony Kang ’12, who jumped into the gorge after Nate on June 2, also remembered his love for music.“Freshman year, we wanted to learn how to play guitar … and be able to serenade girls,” Kang said. “After a year, we were decent. He was probably a little better because he practiced more.”President David Skorton, who also spoke at the memorial, said that although he did not know Nate, he had heard from the stories of Nate’s friends and family how empathetic he was.“Nate always said that ‘Everyone needs to be heard,’” President Skorton read from a letter sent to him by Prof. Steven Ceci, human development. “‘And he was determined to help everyone communicate.’”Justin Walls and Neil Case, members of the New York State Police Scuba Unit who recovered Nate’s body, said that although they did not know Nate, he had an effect on their lives and careers. “It’s not often that we get a chance to know the victim’s families,” Case said. “From now on, I know I will take the time to get to know the families of the drowning victims.”

Original Author: Liz Camuti