As a first-generation college graduate and a woman of color, Cornell trustee Laura Wilkinson, J.D. ’85, MBA ’86 – former deputy assistant director of the Federal Trade Commission, now an antitrust lawyer and partner in private practice – had little difficulty writing her keynote speech for the fourth annual Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives’ (OADI) Honors Awards Ceremony May 5.
Wilkinson centered her talk around three key pieces of advice that she received when she began on her path to success.
One: “Do the best that you can do,” she told the audience of students, staff and faculty. Wilkinson said she was told this as a high school student when her father, knowing of his daughter’s ambitions to one day become a lawyer, brought her to the only lawyer he knew to seek advice.
“At that time, of course, I thought to myself, ‘Is that it? I came to you for advice and all you tell me is to do the best you can?’” Wilkinson mused. “However, this simple principle has been one of the best pieces of advice … it applies to everything.”
Two: always do the right thing. “We are living in a challenging time. Many people want to limit the gains that we have made with respect to diversity and inclusion, and others who are well-meaning may have blind spots due to unconscious bias,” Wilkinson said. Even so, she said students should, in all interactions with others, follow their instincts while treating people with respect and kindness.
Three: Wilkinson reminded students of the adage, “To whom much is given, much is required.”
“I hope that each of you will use your Cornell experience to not only excel in your profession, but also to give back to your communities and to be a servant-leader in all of your interactions with others,” Wilkinson concluded.
OADI, established in 2011 as an academic mentorship and resource center for Cornell students from underrepresented backgrounds, including first-generation students, presented eight awards named after Cornell trailblazers that recognized achievement and excellence of scholar-leaders and campus partners. This year’s recipients were:
• Jennifer L. Rudolph, director of Pre-College Opportunity Programs, the Tomás Bautista Mapúa Award for Outstanding OADI Staff Partner;
• Blare Sorenson, graduate student, the Toni Morrison Award for Outstanding Graduate Mentorship;
• Pamela Capellan ’17 and Ujuono Nwizu ’17 of the Pre-medical Minority Mentorship Program, the Club Brasileiro Award for Outstanding Organization;
• Marcos Moreno ’17, the Solomon Cook Award for Engaged Research and Scholarship;
• Sagar Chapagain ’17, the George Washington Fields Award for Professional Development;
• Travis Ghirdharie ’17, the Gloria Joseph Award for Opportunity Programs Students;
• Jaylexia Clark ’19, the Marvin Jack Award for OADI Emerging Scholar-Leader;
• Paola Muñoz ’17, the Jerome Holland Award for Outstanding OADI Scholar-Leader.
Anthony Halmon ’17, an Africana studies major in the College of Arts and Sciences and a McNair scholar, was chosen as the student speaker. He emphasized the importance of students remaining faithful to their communities and dedicated to the pursuit of educational and professional success.
“OADI is a safe place where each and every last one of us, in some form or another, has felt that we belong,” he said.
Robert Johnson ’17 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.