Approximately 30,000 people braved the pouring rain to honor Cornell’s class of 2016 as they recieved their diplomas at the University’s 148th commencement ceremony in Schoellkopf stadium Sunday.
Provost Michael Kotlikoff delivered the Commencement address — becoming the third provost in Cornell history to perform this duty since 1950 — according to Corey Ryan Earle ’07, associate director of student programs in the the office of alumni affairs. Interim President Hunter Rawlings had previously announced that he would be unable to lead the ceremony, citing a priot engagement, The Sun reported.
In his speech, Kotlikoff both praised the plurality of the Cornell experience and subtly rebuked the University for its valuation of diversity, saying the school must continue to seek out and foster opposing viewpoints.
“This [diversity] is a valuable and undervalued part of the University experience … where we learn to respect other points of views and to find our own voices,” he said. “Cornell does not do a perfect job at this. Frankly, we can and must do better.”
Kotlikoff pointed to current political tension as a consequence of homogeneous interactions, stressing that Cornell must remember and seek to fulfill its mission of providing a home for “any person” to pursue “any study.”
“As in our broader society, interactions of people of diverse backgrounds can be limited at large universities,” he said. “Today, however, the political climate only underscores the importance of renewing and reaffirming Cornell’s ‘any person’ legacy — our commitment to equal opportunity.”
Kotlikoff urged graduates to use the lessons they learned at Cornell about the value of diversity and the necessity of respect as they venture into the wider world.
“As you leave Schoellkopf today … continue to widen your horizons and take a step or two outside of your comfort zones — build on the diverse and respectful experience of Cornell,” he said. “You’ve experienced firsthand that it is not only possible but also valuable and enriching to live, work, collaborate, disagree and debate in a diverse community,” Kotlikoff said.
Kotlikoff quoted novelist David Foster Wallace — and nearly echoed the advice of James Franco at convocation — in reminding graduates that their university education should represent only the beginning of a life filled with learning.
“[A] university education is the job of a lifetime and it begins now,” he said, quoting Wallace.
The commencement ceremony was cut short — as degree candidates were recognized simultaneously, instead of by college — largely due to the worsening weather conditions. Cornell’s commencement ceremony has not moved indoors due to the weather since the ceremony was moved to Schoellkopf stadium in 1975, according to Earle.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Michael Kotlikoff was the third provost to deliver a commencement address to a graduating class since 1950. In fact, he was the third provost ever and the first since 1950.