In her first Convocation address to new students and their families Aug. 19, President Martha E. Pollack said that Cornell University fosters intellectual and emotional growth and presents an opportunity to develop fresh interests, passions and ways of looking at the world.
“Cornell will open new vistas that will be unlike anything you’ve experienced so far,” she said. “You won’t just learn facts or theorems, or lab techniques, or another language or how to code,” she said. “You’ll develop in a range of dimensions, all important to becoming an educated citizen.”
As a metaphor for the college experience, Pollack spoke of the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz.” She said she watched it annually on television as a child, while eating supper on a TV tray. “Cornell is going to help you develop a brain, a heart and courage to thrive in the world,” she said.
For the brain, Pollack said, the university will teach students to think critically, communicate carefully, assess information, maintain high standards of integrity, and appreciate the arts.
Developing a heart is an important component to being at Cornell, she said. The university is committed to community and worldwide engagement, Pollack said, and she highlighted a wide range of volunteer and public service opportunities available to students.
Pollack urged the new students to develop courage, take intellectual risks and seize the chance to speak up: “We do not shy away from [controversial] discussions here. In fact, we embrace them. But we also strive for civil discourse … [and] thereby to learn.”
To wrest the most from a Cornell education, Pollack suggested direct interaction with professors; seeking out people from different backgrounds and who have different perspectives and life experiences; discovering new passions never before considered; and risking failure.
Pollack summed up her hope for the new student’s experience: “When you’re done, we hope that you will embody the Scarecrow’s brain, the Tinman’s heart and the Lion’s courage, because like them, you’ve had those qualities all along, just waiting to be developed.”
Courage and creation were themes throughout the morning event. Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, said: “We are about to dump a great big bucket of metaphorical Legos in your lap. Cornell has the most magnificent Legos you can imagine. The very best and world-renowned faculty, passionate students, dedicated staff, and limitless clubs and organizations and other ways for you to create your village. And it will be up to you to use your imagination, creativity and the process of trial and error to build something magical that works for you.”
Jung Won Kim ’18, president of the Cornell Student Assembly, urged new students to take advantage of Cornell opportunities. “I can tell you right now, the only regrets I may have had during my time here are from inaction,” he said. “Go try out for that club you’re unsure about. Go attend that talk hosted by our internationally recognized professors. Go enroll in that interesting class that’s rumored to be really hard.”
Kim continued, “How much you get out of your time here depends wholly on you. Learn all you can, get involved in all you can, and dream all you can. This is just the perfect place to do that.”
Alexandra Finn McFarland ’18, chair of the 2017 Orientation Steering Committee, opened Convocation by thanking more than 500 student orientation volunteers who helped move students into residence halls. She said: “We successfully moved over 5,000 suitcases, 15,000 boxes and more than 19,500 pairs of shoes yesterday.”
The Cornell University Chorus and Glee Club introduced the new students to school’s harmonious sounds with “Song for Cornell” and the alma mater.