May 1, 2012

Semester’s End: A Thank-You, A Reminder and A Wish

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As classes draw to a close, I am reflecting on another year of interacting with and learning from Cornell students. The distance between students and a university president is not an easy one to bridge. We’re all busy and our schedules often don’t match (many of you are just getting going just when I’m going to sleep).

Nonetheless I appreciate the opportunities we have had to share information and exchange ideas. I’ve met some of you during office hours, which I host periodically with Vice President Susan Murphy, and also during regular meetings with student leaders. We’ve had conversations at Student Assembly and Graduate and Professional Student Assembly meetings and chatted at 400 Club breakfasts, which recognize our intercollegiate athletes who maintain an average of 4.0 or better while playing a sport, and in connection with Cornell’s efforts to create the New York City tech campus on Roosevelt Island, for which Cornell students were such strong and successful advocates. I also appreciate the comments from students that I’ve received in response to these columns in The Cornell Daily Sun.

I am so proud of the academic and other accomplishments of Cornell students this year. A remarkable number of undergraduates competed successfully for major national and international scholarships — including Churchill, Udall, Goldwater, Beineke, Truman, Gates Cambridge, Keasbey, Beineke and Kaufman. In addition, our teams earned several Ivy titles — in women’s cross country, wrestling, men’s ice hockey and women’s ice hockey — and many of our spring teams are having outstanding seasons.

Time and again, in spite of all the other activities that fill your time, you’ve found ways to be of service — here on campus, in Ithaca or around the world. We estimate that more than 7,600 Cornell students devote more than 400,000 hours to public service activities each year through the Cornell Public Service Center, the Cornell Commitment programs, in individual organizations and on athletic teams. Law students working with Professor Muna Ndulo, for example, did research and written presentations that supported the development of an agreement to end fighting in Somalia and move toward a federal parliamentary system of government, under the auspices of the United Nations Political Office for Somalia.

More than a thousand of you gave your time to help the nearby community of Owego recover from devastating flooding last fall. And, of course, you provide a wide range of services to help others closer to home — from mentoring local school children to volunteering with many community service organizations in the greater Ithaca area. Local community leaders testify eloquently — and often — about the impact you have had.

Students Against Sweatshops, the Cornell Organization for Labor Action and other student organizations have been active in bringing the concerns of organized labor and oppressed workers to the attention of the campus. While we have not always agreed on every issue, I’ve valued these organizations’ tough-mindedness and passion in their advocacy for workers’ rights.

I also value the leadership that many of you have shown in helping make our campus safer, greener and more supportive of all members of our community. A graduate student and an undergraduate serve on the President’s Sustainable Campus Committee, along with members of the faculty and staff. The committee oversees all aspects of sustainability in our campus operations and facilities — including energy, climate, water, food, waste, buildings, people, land, purchasing and transportation. The committee compiled the information that led to Cornell’s gold ranking on the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System — including data on our climate action plan, the innovative, multidisciplinary projects in our David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future and the more than 30 student organizations that work on sustainability-related issues.

Students, faculty and staff also serve together on a Gorge Safety Committee that is working to make our gorges safer to enjoy. In addition, the Student Assembly is creating a gorge safety video aimed at incoming students and has supported the Cayuga’s Watchers, an initiative to train students to recognize and respond to high-risk drinking among their peers.

As you take a well-deserved break Friday to enjoy the music of Taio Cruz and Neon Trees on Libe Slope, I hope you’ll look back with pride on the past year. Look out for your friends — and for yourself — on Friday. If you are of legal drinking age and choose to drink alcohol, do so responsibly, for your own safety and the enjoyment of those around you.

For those of you who are leaving Cornell at the end of the semester for new opportunities, I hope that you’ll stay in touch. For those who will return to campus next fall, have an enjoyable and productive summer, and I will look forward to having you back next fall. Thank you for another terrific year.

David J. Skorton is president of Cornell University. He may be reached at david.skorton@cornell.edu. From David appears bi-monthly this semester.

Original Author: David J. Skorton