Homecoming Weekend’s Oct. 17 fireworks-dance-party-history-lesson-laser-paced-celebratory-throng in Schoellkopf Stadium did more than kick off the 150th-year observances for Cornell in Ithaca.
Joyous voices of the thousands – kids from the community and parents, performers, Cornell students, university leaders, returning alumni and fireworks fans – chanting “1-5-0!” turned the old stadium’s crescent into an Arecibo-like broadcaster of one unified message across the surrounding hills, the planet and possibly into space.
Earlier that evening in Barton Hall, the sesquicentennial year launched with a gala presentation to Trustee-Council Annual Meeting participants and guests. An after-dinner song-and-dance revue light-heartedly condensed 15 decades of university history, with emcee Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina joining the student performers.
The premiere of a video, “It’s a Wonderful School,” asked the Frank Capra question: Where would the world be, had Cornell not been founded (spoiler: a stuffier place without air conditioner pioneer Willis Carrier and bereft of books like “Gravity’s Rainbow”).
Homecoming, President David Skorton and Professor Robin Davisson recalled, always meant a return to their Orientation Week domicile among first-year students in Mary Donlon Hall. “As you might imagine,” Davisson said, “the first question on the minds of those freshmen who lived with us was: ‘Do we have to share a bathroom with President Skorton and with you?’” (They did not but “but the look of fright on those students’ faces honestly was amazing,” Davisson said.)
Skorton led the already-pumped Barton Hall contingent into Schoellkopf Field where “1-5-0!” spirit really could be amplified. Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 proclaimed Cornell “the greatest university in the world in the greatest city.” Cornell President-elect Elizabeth Garrett received a welcoming ovation and called herself “the lucky 13th president.”
Community and Cornell student performing groups – Armstrong School of Dance, BASE Productions, Cornell Bhangra and Phenomenon – entertained the crowd that filled the Crescent. The Big Red Marching Band, cheerleaders and the Big Red Bear took the field. Everyone danced and sang, swaying with arms linked, singing “Far Above Cayuga’s Waters” in the traditional tempo and a hip-hop version. A pyrotechnic ground show, sweeping laser effects and infectious cacophonous music kept an energized crowd on their dancing feet.
Inevitably there was a booming, sparkling grand finale. A blitz of fireworks-washed selfies, snippets of favorite performances and 1-5-0 mania multiplied the vibe throughout social media. Threads of sesqui-songs, learned minutes before, rose above the nightlife din of Collegetown.
Crowd consensus: A grand old place with a lot to celebrate has only just begun.
What 'Sesqui…' means
“It means we’ve been here 150 years, and we’ve got a lot of work to do back home setting up a special celebration on April 25 on Long Island.” — Randy Rosenberg ’74, Alumni Association board member
“The sesquicentennial for me is an opportunity to really reflect on Cornell’s long history and the wonderful things that have come out of Cornell. But I think it is also an opportunity to connect with fellow alumni and to be thankful for what is yet to come for students yet to come.” — Jill Fields ’88
“The sesquicentennial means a celebration of Cornell but also a celebration of higher education, the fact that Cornell has changed the face of American higher education and still continues to do so.” — Scott Pesner ’87
“The 150th anniversary reminds me how old I am, because I remember coming up to Cornell on a visit when I was in high school and going into Barton Hall and noticing the university seal, and that it was close to the centennial.” — Gary Sesser ’72
“Having gone to Cornell in 2002 and coming back to business school in ’07, as an undergrad you initially appreciate Cornell for the camaraderie. And when you come back as a graduate student, it’s another whole level. You appreciate Cornell, you appreciate Ithaca, you are able to see what the value really was.” — Michael Cooke ’02, MBA ’07
“The sesquicentennial is a chance to stop and think about the things that make Cornell a special place, to think about how we make those things better in the future.” — George Jakubson, Cornell EMS volunteer, professor of law and economics