August 24, 2014

At Convocation, President David Skorton Addresses New Students

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Addressing new students and parents, President David Skorton told Cornellians at Convocation Saturday to take advantage of what Cornell has to offer.

Skorton began by welcoming the newly-arrived first-year and transfer students, noting that the Class of 2018 is the most selective and most diverse class in University history.

“For me, and for many of us on the campus, today is the most optimistic day of the year because with your arrival the University is renewed,” he said. “With all the wonderful skills and perspectives you, our newest students, bring to the campus — I have no doubt that we’ll be an even stronger university going forward.”

In honor of Cornell’s sesquicentennial, Skorton compared the incoming students to Cornell’s very first class in 1868, who sat for examinations in Ithaca before the University opened for enrollment.

“Those judged qualified … were, like you, a diverse and interesting group,” Skorton said. “Some were, like you, a diverse and interesting group,” Skorton said. “Some were attracted by the University’s then-radical openness to people of all races, creeds, and economic circumstances and by its emphasis on practical studies as well as the liberal arts — characteristics that are even stronger in Cornell’s current culture.”

Though this first class was entirely men, ranging from the ages 15 to 30, Skorton noted that there were several from abroad — representing Canada, England, Russia and Brazil — and that many of them “went on to distinguished careers in science, politics, education, art, literature and other fields.”

Skorton also gave advice regarding how to remain involved and balanced at Cornell while also pursuing intellectual passions.

“You — or your parents — may expect you to have one clear, straight path to a degree and, subsequently, a career. And many of you will,” Skorton said. “But college is a time to discover what excites you, to learn about subjects far outside your major and to take some intellectual risks.”

Skorton stressed that students should connect with faculty by asking questions during and after class and making use of programs such as West Campus dinners with professors and the “Learning Where You Live” initiative.

“Take advantage of whatever opportunities to connect with your professors work best for you,” Skorton said. “Make it a goal that before you leave Cornell there will be at least four professors — one each year — who know you very well.”

Skorton next talked about Cornell as a “caring community” and called upon the student body to take proper measures for their own safety and well-being and that of those around them.

“Membership in our caring community means that if you experience academic or personal challenges, you don’t have to struggle through them alone,” he said. “Membership also means looking out for others and helping them get assistance when they need it. Remember, it is a sign of strength to ask for help.”

He closed his speech by giving advice to parents about letting their children go, setting expectations and keeping in touch with their children.

“There is no doubt that the college years can be tumultuous, and it is sometimes hard to let go — at least it was for me,” he said. “But the fact that your sons and daughters are at Cornell means you and they have done well and that they are ready for this next step.”