I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, during the civil rights era of the 1960s and ’70s. I was the first person in my family to even think about going to college – and I had the audacity to want to become a lawyer. I was interested in driving social change through using law to increase diversity and inclusion.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, I came to Cornell to enroll in the Law School and the Johnson Graduate School of Management. The J.D./MBA program changed my trajectory and focused me on a business law career. Upon graduation, I joined the Federal Trade Commission, where we challenged unlawful mergers and ensured that markets remained competitive. After 10 years, I switched to private law firm practice, where I now advise companies and guide them through the process of securing approval for strategic mergers and acquisitions.
Although I did not become a civil rights attorney, I have continued to advocate for diversity and inclusion in the workplace and for social and economic justice in society.
I feel an obligation to give back to Cornell, which gave me the training to excel in my career, and to make sure that diverse and first-generation students have the resources they need to succeed. Throughout the years, I have been involved in various alumni activities. I became the first African-American to chair the President’s Council of Cornell Women, and I currently serve on the board of trustees and as chair of Cornell Mosaic.
Cornell Mosaic was conceived in 2006 to bring together and celebrate the diversity of Cornell alumni. Although its structure has varied over the years, Mosaic remains the lead advisory organization of Cornell’s diverse alumni communities. We seek to increase the number of active and engaged alumni of color, LGBTQ alumni, first-generation alumni and differently abled alumni and to advance inclusion in all aspects of university life.
In November 2017, Cornell Mosaic co-hosted a night at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and unveiled the Medal of Distinction, which will recognize alumni, faculty and administrators for their commendable impact or leadership in creating opportunities and access for diverse communities within the academy, industry, public service and the professions.
I was proud to present the inaugural Medal of Distinction to Lance Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of the College of Engineering, in recognition of his outstanding leadership and commitment to diversity. Under Dean Collins, the college has implemented a wide range of innovative programs and processes that have not only increased diversity at the admissions stage, but also have focused on the retention and success of underrepresented minorities and female students and faculty.
Under President Martha E. Pollack’s leadership, Cornell Mosaic is embarking on a new formal structure as a council.
The goal of the Cornell Mosaic Council will continue to be ensuring that the needs of diverse students and alumni are an integral part of Cornell’s strategic direction. Mosaic members will provide input on diversity related programs, offer feedback and perspective on university initiatives, and contribute to Cornell as volunteers, donors and ambassadors. Later this year, an inaugural group of outstanding alumni who are leaders in their professions and have an interest in advancing diversity and inclusion will be nominated to serve as at-large members of the Cornell Mosaic Council.
I am proud of Cornell’s founding as a place where any person can pursue any study. And I am pleased to contribute to ensuring that Cornell continues to be a place where all students, faculty, staff and alumni – regardless of their race, ethnicity, religious and spiritual background, abilities, gender identity and sexual orientation – can coexist and thrive in a safe and respectful environment.
Laura Wilkinson, MBA ’85, J.D. ’86, is a Cornell University trustee and chair of Cornell Mosaic.