NEW YORK -- Cornell's "$4 billion aspiration" – its five-year Far Above campaign – is halfway there, with $2 billion raised since the campaign was launched in October 2006. The campaign's goals are to increase student financial aid options, recruit the best faculty, and build and maintain top-notch research and teaching facilities.
"I continue to be astonished by your passion and generosity," President David Skorton said in announcing the achievement to a cheering crowd of about 1,000 alumni, friends, faculty and students, Jan. 25, at a celebration in the heart of Manhattan.
The $4 billion goal is the largest ever for Cornell and among the most ambitious in higher education.
It was a fitting announcement for a magical evening that featured, among other things, a "statue" of Cornell's first president, Andrew Dickson White, coming to life and conversing with the crowd; and a video of Cornell's Big Red Band morphing into the actual band beating its drums, tooting its horns, and cutting a swath through the crowd to herald the Campaign for Cornell's $2 billion achievement.
The event, "Big Red in the Big Apple," was a celebration of "the unparalleled capabilities of the campuses of Cornell Ithaca and Weill Cornell Medical College" to solve some of our planet's most pressing problems through their research, teaching and outreach, said Skorton. Indeed, the university's potential to make the world a better place was the idea behind the celebration, as well as being the campaign's most potent message.
The setting was Cipriani 42nd Street, an Italian Renaissance-style 1920s architectural landmark distinguished by Corinthian columns, a 65-foot-high beamed wood ceiling and chandeliers reminiscent of Willard Straight Hall's Memorial Room on the Ithaca campus, only larger.
Cipriani was transformed into a showplace for such Cornelliana as a stage-set replica of the Hot Truck – a behind-the-dorms Ithaca campus fixture – complete with slices of hot fresh pizza; and a miniature Cornell Dairy Bar with samples of Big Red in the Big Apple ice cream, a flavor whipped up for the occasion featuring vanilla with a red apple cinnamon swirl.
Skorton spoke about the opportunities that Cornell scholarships have offered students like Alfredo Rabines. "One of only two in his high school class of 400 to apply to an Ivy League school, he is now chief intern of emergency medicine at a level-one trauma center in the Bronx," he said. Such success stories "remind me every day why the investment we are making together in Cornell is important to the future of our world."
Skorton also called Weill Cornell Medical College "a truly global force for improving the health and quality of life for all."
Far Above campaign co-chair Jan Rock Zubrow '77 said: "This campaign is about making Cornell the best it can be. Reaching this milestone really reflects people's feelings about the university, how much they care and how much faith they have in President Skorton and his ability to take Cornell into the 21st century."
Stephen Ashley '62, MBA '64, also a Far Above campaign co-chair, added: "This is something we can all be tremendously proud of. It shows a lot of commitment on the part of Cornell and a lot of hard work on the part of volunteers. We're still at the halfway point, but with events like this we've got great momentum going forward. I couldn't be more enthusiastic about Cornell's future."
Around the room at Cipriani were plasma video displays showing images from both campuses and illustrating such campaign themes as "advancing knowledge and the quality of life" and "addressing society's greatest challenges."
The guests mingled in special conversation areas to talk about issues that surfaced at the "Meeting of the Minds" faculty panel earlier in the evening. Among those continuing the discussion was Mark Eisner, retired associate director of Operations Research and Information Engineering at Cornell and a master of engineering fellowship donor, who said he was inspired by the panelists' "integration of ideas across disciplines to resolve real problems."
But perhaps the most evocative moment came when Skorton thanked and called to the podium many of those who had helped bring about the $2 billion milestone. Eventually he was surrounded by a small army of campaign volunteers, including former Cornell Presidents Frank H.T. Rhodes and Hunter Rawlings, who joined the audience in a champagne toast and the singing of the alma mater.
Through some deft camera sleight of hand, the group was projected, larger than life, on the arch-shaped screen on the wall above. To the audience it looked as if they were standing on the Ithaca campus with McGraw Tower behind them silhouetted against the sky "far above" Cayuga Lake at sunset.
"It was a fabulous event with a great turnout that shows Cornell at its finest," said Weill Cornell campaign chair Bob Appel '53.
Freelancer Linda Brandt Myers '64, MFA '99, is a former Cornell Chronicle writer.