The Cornell community gathered solemnly across campus in the late afternoon March 7 to pay their respects to Cornell’s 13th president, Elizabeth Garrett, who died the previous day of colon cancer.
More than a thousand university leaders, students, faculty, staff and local community members met on the Arts Quad, the same ground that fewer than six months earlier saw the celebration of Garrett’s inauguration.
At the stroke of 4 p.m., the chimes atop McGraw Tower signaled the hour, then went silent for approximately one minute as the assembled stood in quiet remembrance of the university’s first female president, who took office July 1, 2015.
Cornell chimesmasters Charlie Xu ’16 and Emily Graf ’16 then played a selection of songs as the gathering remained respectfully silent, before dispersing at approximately 4:20 p.m.
Savvas Papadopoulos ’18, an engineering major from Long Island, said he, like so many others, was just drawn to the event out of respect.
“In my opinion, she represented someone who would usher in a new era of Cornell, a more modern era,” he said. “I think everyone here would agree that it was just something that we had to do, come here and pay our respects. For the short time that she was here, she was definitely an influential president.”
Freshman Winnie Ho, a biology major from Long Island, said arriving in Ithaca at the same time as Garrett was special to her.
“Having a female president during my first year of college was really inspiring, and she’s a great role model for all of us,” she said. “I figured that coming here was the least I could do to pay my respects to someone who, in the last year of her life, gave the absolute best she could for my college and all my peers.”
Professor Linda Nicholson from the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics described Garrett’s passing as “a huge loss, a very big shock,” noting that her 89-year-old mother is a colon cancer survivor.
“I’ve just been so impressed with President Garrett,” Nicholson said. “I had the delight of hearing her speak several times. I’m on the Faculty Senate, and I’m the faculty mentor for the Posse Scholars. She gave a speech at an event [last April, before she took office] that was really very moving.”
A somber Chimes concert
Xu and Graf were asked by university leaders Monday morning to put together a short remembrance concert to play immediately following the moment of silence.
“We started going through our database and finding songs that fit the mood,” said Xu, head chimesmaster for the Cornell Chimes. “We chose five songs that would both sound best on the chimes and would fit the mood of the occasion.”
The playlist they put together for the remembrance concert was: “Clair de Lune” (Debussy), “Adagio for Strings” (Barber), “(Somewhere) Over the Rainbow” (Arlen), “The Hill” (traditional Cornell) and “Evening Song” (traditional Cornell).
“We incorporated ‘The Hill,’” Graf said, “which is an older Cornell song, so alumni would recognize that … [we added] a classical piece (‘Adagio for Strings’) and a popular song (‘Over the Rainbow’), so we’d have a range.”
It was a difficult and sad day to play, Xu said. “The mood of the campus was quite down today. People wanted to hear something that fits how they feel.”
The two chimesmasters said they respect the chimes’ ability to bring the campus together – on sad occasions as well as for celebrations.
“The last song we played, ‘Evening Song,’ we traditionally play that at the end of every evening concert, and it’s performed quite often by the Glee Club,” Xu said. “So we thought closing the concert with two Cornell-related songs would really help bring the campus together in a time of distress like this.”