Under faultless blue skies and a flawless mid-60s temperature, Cornell University President David Skorton welcomed the Class of 2017 at the Convocation for New Students and Families at Schoellkopf Stadium Aug. 24. He presented a vision to the newcomers – freshmen, transfer students, graduate and professional school students – of a glorious Big Red world of opportunity and an academic voyage of self-discovery.
“Welcome to the start of a great adventure and our journey together. Welcome to the academic breadth and depth, the intellectual rigor and societal engagement that are hallmarks of a Cornell education and a Cornell experience. Welcome to a place of high standards and personal responsibility. Welcome to a close-knit community whose members – faculty, students and staff – come here from all over the world to learn and discover and create and make a difference,” Skorton said.
With about 7,000 people in attendance, Skorton explained that the 3,282 first-year students were selected from 40,000 applicants – making this the university’s most-selective class. The class represents 48 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, and 11 percent hail from 51 countries. About 41 percent self-identify as students of color and just over half are women.
Skorton urged the new students to pursue intellectual passion. “Make time for classes beyond a major and take courses for the simple joy of learning. College is a time to discover what excites you, to learn about subjects far outside your major and to take some intellectual risks,” he said.
Talking to and knowing professors will be a critical component in learning, he said. Cornell’s faculty includes MacArthur “geniuses,” Emmy Award and Pulitzer Prize winners. “Make it a goal that before you leave Cornell there will be at least four professors – one each year – who you will know very well,” Skorton advised.
To obtain a full-throttle Cornell experience, Skorton urged students to become active members of the campus and wider community. He noted that Cornell students annually provide about 400,000 hours of service through the Cornell Public Service Center and about 1,000 student organizations. Taking part in these programs helps students become creative, collaborative and reflective leaders, he said.
For his final note of advice, Skorton spoke to parents – some holding back tears – assembled in the stadium. “The most helpful thing you can do now for these accomplished young adults is to step back and let them find their own way,” he said. “Try hard – really, really hard – to give your sons and daughters the space, time and freedom to find ways to solve their problems for themselves.”
Prior to the president’s address, Jason Button ’14, from the Orientation Steering Committee, discussed his lifelong friends he met during freshman year.
Ulysses Smith ’13, president of the Student Assembly, reminded the students: “Your comfort levels will be tested. You will and probably already have seen groups of people that you have never come across before. … These are the people that will shape the communities of the future right alongside you.”
Student-elected trustee Darrick Evensen, Ph.D. ’14, noted that success and failure are integral parts of learning, and he urged students to seek support when they need it.
As the Class of 2017 embarked on its academic adventure, Kevin Tobin ’14, of the Orientation Steering Committee, quoted fictional Cornellian Andy Bernard – from the TV sitcom “The Office” – who said, “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you left them.”