“In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of the summer, we remember them.”
This refrain, part of the Call to Remembrance recited at the University Service of Remembrance and Thanskgiving, framed a moving ceremony held during Reunion Weekend.
The annual service, presented June 10 in Sage Chapel by Cornell United Religious Work, is held to remember and honor classmates, colleagues and friends who have died in the past year.
The service began by spotlighting three Cornellians who, as Rev. Kenneth Clarke, director of CURW, described, “impacted and shaped the life and the history of this institution in distinctive ways” – Cornell President Elizabeth Garrett, who died March 6 of colon cancer at age 52 after eight months in office; Rev. Daniel Berrigan, former assistant director of CURW and a peace activist and poet, who died May 1 at age 94; and Marion Howe ’38, CURW’s longest-serving staff member (1938-83), who died Feb. 21 at age 98.
Three candles, one each for Garrett, Berrigan and Howe, burned in the chapel apse.
Noting that remembrance is “to bring the past into the present with new meaning,” Clarke reflected on the legacy and impact of each.
“It was inconceivable, on the sunlit Friday morning of Sept. 18, 2015, amidst the pageantry of a presidential inauguration, a moment pregnant with great expectations, that Elizabeth Garrett would be among those whom we honor today,” Clarke said.
“It was Beth Garrett’s intention to make a difference in the world. [And] in the brief, shining moment that was hers at Cornell, she sought to make a difference.” He noted her work to address housing issues for graduate students; her meetings with black, Latino and Muslim students about racism and Islamophobia; her approval of opening a grocery in Anabel Taylor Hall to address student food security; and creating the Cornell College of Business.
“Part of her legacy to us is her comet-like impact – brief in its appearance, but lasting in its impression,” Clarke said.
Berrigan was “a prophet, poet and peace activist,” Clarke said. The Jesuit priest rose to international fame during his time at CURW through his nonviolent protest and activism against the Vietnam War. “He, like Martin Luther King Jr., highlighted the intersection of war with racism, materialism and poverty.
“He influenced hundreds, if not thousands, of Cornellians during that turbulent period in the life of both the campus and the nation. … His commitment to a world of peace and justice, rooted in and shaped by his faith, endured to the end of his days.”
Howe, described by Clarke as “a persistent presence in CURW, indeed a keeper of the flame,” began working at CURW as a student with its founder, Richard Edwards. Clarke got to know Howe long after she retired; her apartment at Kendal at Ithaca was like a well-organized archive of CURW, he said.
“I learned from her what it was like to work with the shifting terrain of her 44 years at Cornell,” Clarke said. “Her grace, gentleness, generosity, sharp intelligence and curiosity always shined through.” He noted a headline from The Ithaca Journal reporting on her retirement summed up her work and her approach to life: “Marion Howe: Her business has been humanity.”
At the candle lighting service following Clarke’s remembrances, about two dozen Cornellians stepped up to offer names of those whom they were remembering.
They told, in voices at times breaking with emotion, of classmates and high school sweethearts, of professors, parents and siblings, and dear and lifelong friends. The brief stories described equine specialists, thesis advisers and a world-renowned ophthalmologist.
Each brought a candle up to the front of the chapel to be lit – and each new flame was lit by the light of one of the original three, and placed with the others.
Members of the Savage Club of Ithaca sang “Evening Song” and the alma mater; Rev. Daniel McMullin, CURW associate director, gave the benediction.