Stone-carved words to earlier scholars at 150-year-old Cornell University echoed through Barton Hall at the Recognition Ceremony for 2015 January Graduates, Dec. 20, reminding the first sesquicentennial-year graduates of their accomplishments. And of the real work ahead.
“‘So enter that daily thou mayest become more learned and thoughtful,’” said Interim Provost Harry C. Katz, quoting from the inscription on the iconic Eddy Gate arch, which stands at the Collegetown edge of campus.
“‘So depart that daily thou mayest become more useful to thy country and to mankind,’” Katz urged in his address to some 380 January graduates, families, friends, deans, faculty members and scores of red-jacketed volunteers.
“I prefer the winter graduation – it’s so intimate,” said long-time commencement volunteer Ben Williams, a retiree from Boyce Thompson Institute, “and it’s a little less formal, too.”
Indeed, slouchy Uggs replaced heels under graduation gowns for many who marched. There were hugs by academically gowned faculty members with aisle seats, as their students filed past.
Everyone in the winter ceremony gets to hear his or her name precisely pronounced by a dean who clearly practiced. And the noontime reception that follows, with light refreshments set up in the east end of Barton while ceremonies proceed behind the big red curtain, really is a family affair.
“It’s great to be here,” said Randy Nelson, snapping pictures of Joe Nelson ’14, an environmental engineering bachelor’s degree recipient and the pride of his mom, Karen Nelson, one beaming grandfather and one kid brother who all made the trip from Cleveland, Ohio. “It’s such a great day.”
“In the midst of this celebration,” said Katz, “take time to think about the ways your family helped you get here and reflect on how much your family enriches this event.”
Senior Class President Don Muir ’15, giving his first commencement address (the next will be May 24, 2015), said the greatest take-away lesson “cannot be found in a textbook; rather it comes from one another. Over the past few years we have developed lifelong bonds, learning from each other and institutionalizing a network that will continue in perpetuity.
“Yes, today you are moving on, you are moving on but never moving past, because those impenetrable bonds and lifelong friendships will march with you hand in hand as you shape our future,” Muir continued.
Mindful of all the smartphones pointed his way, Katz advised, “You will feel pressures pulling you away from the friends now sitting next to you. Find ways to overcome those pressures, whether by reconnecting through Cornell alumni events in the years ahead or through your own devices (literally and figuratively). Your Cornell friendships will add meaning to your life.”
(For those with waning batteries in their devices, the entire proceedings are preserved at the CornellCast video site.)
“We will never forget the university that brought us together today,” Muir concluded. “Once again reunited in Barton Hall on the eve of its 150th anniversary, we will never forget this incredible institution far above Cayuga’s waters; we will never forget Cornell.”
Reflecting on the Eddy Gate inscription, Katz encouraged graduates “to remember those words and fulfill them through your own special talents and your own life journey.”
After what will be the sesquicentennial generation’s last alma mater verse for a while (“Far above the busy humming, of the bustling town …”) there were more hugs and handshakes, many parting pictures and address exchanged, and more than a few reception snacks stuffed into pockets for the journey ahead.