Stand up for your principles, but listen respectfully to the views of others, even – or especially – when you disagree, President Martha E. Pollack told new students and their families at Convocation on Aug. 18.
“Becoming more thoughtful involves learning to think critically about what we know, and what we think we know,” Pollack said, as thousands of first-year and transfer students at Schoellkopf Field huddled under their umbrellas in a steady rain. “You are here in part to become more thoughtful, and that happens only when you are willing to listen to and consider perspectives that are different from your own.”
Pollack was among the speakers who exhorted the new students to make the most of their time at Cornell by challenging themselves, getting to know faculty, becoming involved with extracurricular activities, immersing themselves in the community, listening to and respecting others, and making lifelong friends.
She reminded students that Cornell is a truly diverse place, with members of the Class of 2022 hailing from 47 states and 43 countries, and 27 percent identifying as underrepresented minorities. The Intergroup Dialogue Project for first-year students, and the Belonging Project for transfer students, will help them navigate their differences, whether in background, sexual orientation and identity, or beliefs.
“We will guarantee the freedom to express your own points of view, and we will encourage you to speak out forcefully against speech that is at odds with your core principles or the principles that we share as members of an academic community,” Pollack said. “But we will also expect you to assume a key responsibility that comes with free expression: the responsibility to discuss even the most hotly contested topics with civility and an attitude of respect toward one another so that a true exchange of knowledge and ideas can occur.”
Even if they didn’t remember the details of her speech, Pollack suggested the audience listen to the late Aretha Franklin’s anthem, “Respect,” “and reflect upon what it means to feel respected and reflect upon what it means to respect one another.”
Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, encouraged the students to focus on making enduring, real-life connections and to take full advantage of the time they would spend surrounded by so many accomplished teachers and peers.
“Be sure to cherish those who join you on your journey,” Lombardi said. “These folks are not your competition. They are your Cornell family. Lift each other up and help each other become their best selves, together as a community.”
Belonging was a common theme, as speakers reminded the new students that they were among people who would soon feel like their family.
“No matter where you come from or what your high school experience was, you belong here,” said Student Assembly President Varun Devatha ’19.
Studying and learning are an essential part of the Cornell experience, but students should also remember to take care of themselves and enjoy themselves, speakers said.
“You’ll soon discover that a love of learning extends beyond the classroom walls,” said Orientation Steering Committee co-chair Miranda An ’19.
Although Cornell’s students come from a wide range of backgrounds and life experiences, they have important qualities in common, Pollack said: their capacity to learn; to become more thoughtful; and to represent Cornell’s land-grant mission through service to the community and the world.
“We have recognized in you a desire to take your learning and your thoughtfulness and put them to use in ways that benefit the country and humankind,” she said. “You are, in those regards, among kindred spirits here.”