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With songs, stories, students honor Garrett's legacy

Hundreds of students gather for a candlelight vigil in front of Willard Straight Hall March 8 in honor of President Elizabeth Garrett.

Candlelight vigil.

Holding candles flickering in the twilight, hundreds of students gathered on Ho Plaza this evening to honor Cornell’s 13th president, Elizabeth Garrett, who died of colon cancer March 6.

“I remember her saying at Convocation that we need to have goals that extend beyond ourselves,” said Chris Arce ’19, who helped organize the event. “The fact that so many people came tonight to honor her goes to show that even though she was here only a few months, she really did have goals that extended beyond herself and she affected the lives of thousands of people. It’s a huge loss, but we can honor her by living out her mission.”

The vigil was organized by students and spearheaded by Jade Womack, a first-year master’s degree student in applied economics. “This is Big Red Nation at its finest. This vigil came from the ground up,” Womack said.

Several speakers shared their memories of Garrett and how she had influenced them. Before and after the vigil, students signed a card for Garrett’s family.

Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi spoke of Garrett’s unwavering focus on students. Just last week, he said, Garrett emailed him, asking him to apologize on her behalf to students with whom she had scheduled a meeting months before.

Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi speaks of President Elizabeth Garrett’s unwavering focus on students.

Students sign an enormous card expressing condolences for President Garrett's family.

“The email said, ‘Please tell the students I am so sorry that I will not be able to see them today. I feel terrible that I can’t be there to listen to their concerns. Please let them know how much I care about them, that I respect them and how proud I am to be their president,’” Lombardi said. “She signed off that morning with clear intentions that the thing that mattered to her most until the end was that Cornell was moving forward in a way that would serve students the very best that it could.”

The Big Red Marching Band closed the vigil by playing the alma mater and “Evening Song.” Former drum major Michaela Olson ’16 said that Garrett had a vision for Cornell of excellence, community and opportunity. “Even now, Beth is still with us as we are working to make this university a better place. Beth is in every note, every melody and every song that the band plays to bring spirit and celebration to Cornell University.”

Organizations that helped with the vigil included Cornell’s Interfraternity Council, Willard Straight Hall Student Union Board of Directors and Alpha Phi Omega, a coed community service fraternity.

Support services are available to all members of the Cornell community. Students may consult with counselors from Gannett Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) by calling 607-255-5155. Students may speak with a peer counselor by calling EARS at 607-255-3277. Staff members may call the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program at 607-255-2673. For additional resources, visit

Media Contact

John Carberry