April 30, 2020

TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | In These Difficult Times, Let’s Lead With Gratitude

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Our world has been turned upside down in a way that no one expected. It’s quite hard to grasp the global scale and pace at which the current public health crisis is unfolding before our eyes. For me, what had happened didn’t fully hit until I had packed up my pillow and bedsheets in a box labeled “last minute” and packed it up for storage on the morning of my departure from my West Campus dorm room.

Less than a month and a half ago, classes were suspended, and students who could relocate were asked to move back to their permanent homes. For the graduating class of 2020, senior years were abruptly cut short, and graduation was rescheduled. Many of our summer and post-graduation plans have been disrupted, and work authorization concerns have left many international students unable to return home.

This unexpected transition has affected each one of us in vastly different ways and magnitudes, but no one is alone on this rollercoaster of emotions. As it has done to most of my friends, current events have left me feeling many things: sadness about leaving campus, uncertainty about our immediate future and some hope that everything will be alright soon. But most of all, I feel a renewed sense of gratitude.

I am very thankful that Cornell students have remained supportive of each other during these incredibly difficult times. Our undergraduate, graduate and professional student leadership has risen to these challenges by advocating and pooling resources for students at need. Campus leaders have reached out to their communities to lift each other up and remind us that we are all in this together.

I am grateful to our staff, who so quickly adjusted to these circumstances, to keep essential University operations running as smoothly as possible. I have had a chance to witness this extraordinary feat first-hand as a student who had remained on West Campus after Cornell’s closure. I was pleasantly surprised by how our residential staff silently reorganized to minimize disruption to student life while facing a new, bizarre reality where dining halls have become take out only, and students in line are spread out in six feet intervals. Cornell Health staff hunkered down for pandemic operations to continue serving our community by providing critical medical services on the front line.

I am grateful to our professors and teaching staff, who created seamless ways for learning to continue on such short notice for more than 24,000 Cornellians who are now scattered across the world in tens of different time zones. Instructors of courses with labs and hands-on components had to completely rethink their pedagogy to meet the constraints of online learning, and they did so while preserving the integrity of a Cornell education.

I am grateful to the University leaders who have made the well-being of our students, staff, and faculty their top priority. These unprecedented events inevitably demand tough decisions, yet in the face of pressure and uncertainty, Cornell has acted swiftly to protect the safety of our community. We also reaffirmed our commitment to continue helping students who are most at need by prioritizing financial aid as the world braces for an economic fallout.

I am grateful to the alumni, who not only answered the Cornell and Ithaca community’s call for help to donate personal protective equipment, but stepped up as leaders at the forefront of critical medical research.

In fact, many of us now know that a Cornell alumnus, Anthony Fauci M.D. ’66, has been a prominent architect of this nation’s coronavirus response. And every Cornellian probably knows the feeling of seeing the Cornell name or a Cornell graduate on national news. You feel proud to be a part of this university.

For me, I feel proud because when I see the name “Cornell,” I know for a fact that we are living up to what lies at the heart of our mission as a leading educational institution. We cultivate leaders and apply what we know, learn and discover to meet the challenges of the world: It is our business, and it is what we do best. And this is why I am confident that — while these are difficult times — we will persevere as we have done so in the past.

Current circumstances were not an ending to a school year that we wanted, but six feet apart or oceans away on different continents, we remain strong and connected as Cornellians. A turbulent semester now comes to a close, and we anxiously wait to return to campus and reconnect with the people we deeply miss. But as we take a brief pause from our regular lives for the storm to pass, let’s reach out to the people who make Cornell the special place that it is – our friends, staff and faculty – to express our feelings of gratitude.


Jaewon Sim is an undergraduate student-elected member of the Board of Trustees and a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Comments may be sent to [email protected]Trustee Viewpoint runs every other Thursday this semester.