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'Embark on an adventure of the mind,' Garrett urges

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John Carberry
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Robert Barker/University Photography
President Elizabeth Garrett delivers her first address at Convocation for New Students and Families Aug. 22 at Schoellkopf Stadium.

The academic journey begins: On a crisp, autumnal Saturday morning Aug. 22, members of the Cornell Class of 2019 and transfer students gathered for the President’s Convocation for New Students and Families at Schoellkopf Stadium.

About 9,000 people – new students, siblings and parents, many with fresh coffee in hand – heard thoughtful advice from Cornell President Elizabeth Garrett and three students on how to approach their upcoming years on the Hill.

In her debut as convocation speaker, Garrett urged the students, “Embrace the culture of inquiry that is a hallmark of Cornell, actively encounter new ideas and challenging experiences, and re-examine what you have concluded in light of the new ideas you will find here and develop with others.”

Now is the time to take intellectual risks, Garrett said: “Perhaps never again will the opportunities for exploration and discovery be greater, or the consequences of failure more manageable … don’t let fear of falling short of your ambitions keep you from exploring all the university has to offer.”

Addressing parents and family members, Garrett said some students will change their majors – and not to worry, as that’s a sign she or he is taking full advantage of Cornell. She reminded students to become grounded in the arts and humanities, as they “can help you develop creativity, empathy, facility of expression, and the deep understanding that [global problems] demand.”

In closing, Garrett reminded the new students: “Today you embark on an adventure of the mind. You’ve come to one of the world’s great research universities. … Embrace its rigor, take some risks, study broadly, engage deeply and globally, set goals that will coalesce over time into a sense of purpose that extends beyond yourself. And – above all – keep on asking what it’s all about.”

Upperclass students also offered advice. Juliana Batista ’16, president of the Student Assembly, focused on imperfection.

“Saying that perfection lies in imperfection implies that perfection is the ultimate goal. And quite frankly, if at this very moment, [perfection is] not the ultimate goal, your next four years will be greatly enhanced,” Batista said. “Within that imperfection, you’ll find a space to discern new challenges and gain an appreciation [of] what you do not know. It’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know’ and then explore the unknown.”

Law student Annie O’Toole ’16, Cornell’s graduate student-elected trustee, said when the Supreme Court desegregated public schools in 1954, there was a university founded 90 years earlier, in 1865, where any person could find instruction in any study.

“I feel particularly proud to study the law here at Cornell, which has this history grounded in equality and egalitarianism,” O’Toole said. “Cherish this Cornell education, which embodied the spirit of [Brown v. Board of Education] almost a century before the case was decided. It will provide the foundation for good citizenship, it will awaken you to cultural values, it will prepare you for later professional training, and it will become the basis for your future success.”

Joseph Spivak ’16 of the Orientation Steering Committee espoused the virtues of vulnerability. Leave your door open, greet all who walk by, sit next to a complete stranger at a dining hall and strike up a conversation or walk up to a random person on North Campus and introduce yourself, Spivak advised. “Just put yourself out there and go with it.”

Between talks, the Cornell University Chorus and the Cornell Glee Club performed Cornell songs and the alma mater.

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Blaine Friedlander