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Skorton to new students: 'Discover what excites you'

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Joe Schwartz
David Skorton
Robert Barker/University Photography
Cornell President David Skorton addresses new students and their families Aug. 23 at Schoellkopf Stadium, offering advice, encouragement and support.
new students
Robert Barker/University Photography
The Class of 2018 and their families, along with transfer students, listen intently to President David Skorton's guidance at the Convocation for New Students and Families at Schoellkopf Stadium Aug. 23.

Before thousands of brand-new students and their parents, Cornell University President David Skorton welcomed the Class of 2018 at the Convocation for New Students and Families at Schoellkopf Stadium Aug. 23. He and four seniors described the journey ahead for first-year and transfer students.

“You’re joining one the most distinguished universities in the world,” Skorton said. “You’re Cornellians now! And with all of you joining us … I have no doubt that we’re about to become an even stronger university going forward.”

The Class of 2018, comprised of 3,261 first-year students, is the most selective, diverse class ever. The students hail from 49 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C., and dozens of countries. About 43 percent self-identify as students of color, Skorton said. The 572 entering transfer students include 98 first-generation college students, slightly up from last year, he said.

Skorton offered four pieces of advice: Pursue your intellectual passions, meet your professors, embrace the culture of the community and strive to experience the full scope of Cornell.

“You, or your parents, may expect you to have one clear, straight path to a degree, and subsequently a career,” Skorton said. “But college is a terrific time to discover what excites you, to learn about subjects far outside your major and to take some intellectual risks. Make time each semester to take at least one course for the sheer joy of learning.”

Skorton stressed the importance of knowing professors, “inspiring teachers who care about you as students and people.” He and his wife, Robin Davisson, professor of biomedical sciences at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, serve as faculty fellows at Carl Becker House on West Campus, and during the semester’s first week, they will spend time in their apartment in Mary Donlon Hall.

With a foundation in the university’s land-grant roots, students have a strong tradition of public engagement, Skorton said, noting they provided more than 400,000 hours of community service last year. He encouraged students to join clubs, participate in research and see the world by studying abroad.

Prior to Skorton’s speech, Rachel Gerber ’15, co-chair of the Orientation Steering Committee, told the stadium that several hundred student volunteers helped first-year students move more than 15,000 boxes into residence halls. “Cornell can be overwhelming.... It’s not easy, but worth the work,” she said.

Sarah Balik ‘15, president of the Student Assembly, added: “Today you will unpack your suitcases and join a community.”

Ross Gitlin ’15, student-elected Cornell trustee, spoke of recalling his first weekend at Cornell when Harry Katz, dean of the ILR School, told Gitlin and others that they “’belonged here – the admissions office does not make mistakes,’” Gitlin said. “That meant a lot to me. Each and every one of you belongs here too, and you will succeed here.”

Gitlin continued: “Take a step back and simply take in the beauty of the area around you. Take a trip to the farmer’s market, go hike, bike or run the many trails around us. Go enjoy some music on the Commons.”

The message from Winnie Huang ’15, co-chair of the Orientation Steering Committee, was to try new things. She suggested new students get “strategically lost” and explore the campus. Said Huang: “I highly encourage you all to take risks – step out of your comfort zone, and try something completely new that may intimidate you.”

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Blaine Friedlander