Cheers of encouragement, heartfelt love and exuberance punctuated each award presented at the annual Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives’ (OADI) Honors ceremony May 4, at the Statler Hotel ballroom.
Dainelle Allen ’18 epitomized the room’s buoyant atmosphere when she provided the student keynote address in which she described early academic difficulties as she adjusted to Cornell. “What I’d learned help me to float, but eventually, I had to learn how to swim unassisted. This was easier in languages and networking, and more difficult in chemistry and time management,” she said.
Allen continued, “My story would not be complete without mentioning the joys and successes that I found here,” she said. “None would have been possible without the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives. Without OADI, I would not be the person standing before you. OADI has provided me with opportunity, a family and a place of refuge when Cornell became too much.”
Majoring in biology and society, and minoring in inequality studies, Allen is a McNair Scholar, an LSAMP Scholar, a Higher Education Opportunity Program scholar, a member of P3 and the secretary of Cornell’s Zeta Upsilon Chapter of Chi Alpha Epsilon National Honor Society. She has conducted research with Kathleen Rasmussen, Cornell’s Nancy Schlegel Meinig Professor of Maternal and Child Nutrition; Anthony Hay, associate professor in microbiology; and Sarah Reyes Paredes, a graduate student in nutritional sciences.
“Exist as a work in progress,” Allen said. “Know that every day may not be easy, but it will be worth it. Know that for every experience that you can gain from this institution, you make the ultimate choice of how it will shape you and your life. Know that…you cannot use another person's scale to measure the worth of your life and your experiences.”
Reflecting on her Cornell experience, she said, “I have changed in some ways dramatically and in some ways minutely – but I was able to take all of the struggles, all of the successes and all of the failures and create a life that expands beyond the boundaries of my imagination.”
Edward Estrada ’94, leader of the Financial Industry Group of the global law firm Reed Smith, in their New York City office, delivered the keynote address. Estrada explained his collegiate struggles and how he conquered them. “The one thing that Cornell gave me – the lasting gift,” he said, “was a level of confidence and understanding my voice and my place, what I can add to conversations and how can I shape the world around me.
“I rarely have found [that] success … has been a straight line that hasn’t been checkered with self-doubt, the doubts of others, roadblocks,” Estrada said. “The concept of resilience and adaptability is something that I talk about a lot. It is one of the most important things that you can keep in mind today. The world around us is changing dramatically, so the skills that you have developed here and the education from Cornell is going to be an amazing tool for you.”
During the awards portion of the program, the students in the ballroom provided unfettered cheers for peers.
“The students have so much pride, so much sense of community, so much love and support, I think we have something really special,” said Stephanie Cowling, senior OADI adviser. “That’s what you see: motivated, engaged student-scholars who have found their sense of community and sense of family. That’s why their peers are cheering – they know what goes into being successful.”
- Amairani Marin Tovar ’18 won the Solomon Cook Award, which recognizes engaged learning and leadership;
- Lizbeth Lucero ’20 won the George Washington Fields Award, which recognizes a pre-professional undergraduate student for their development;
- Paola Ocampo ’18 won the Gloria Joseph Award, given to the Educational Opportunity Program/Higher Education Opportunity Program student or POSSE Scholar who serves as a role model to their peers;
- Xiao Yin Ma ’18 won the Marvin Jack Award, which recognizes an undergraduate who has motivated others to strive for excellence in scholarship, leadership and advocacy;
- Malek Jacobs ’19 won the Jerome “Brud” Holland Award, given to an undergraduate who exemplifies a commitment to diversity, scholarship, leadership and community engagement;
- Edward Estrada ’94 won the Ryokichi Yatabe Award, which recognizes an alumnus for advocating campus diversity;
- Hay won the Estevan Fuertes Award, which recognizes Cornell faculty for their commitment to developing OADI scholar-leaders;
- Evelyn Ambriz won the Tomás Bautísta Mapúa Award, which recognizes a professional staff member for commitment to developing OADI scholar-leaders;
- Emily Martin won the Toni Morrison Award for the Graduate Students Mentoring Undergraduates program or OADI Graduate Program Coordinator for outstanding contribution to their mentees or scholars; and
- The Cornell Filipino Association won the Club Brasileiro Award, given to an undergraduate student organization that reflects OADI’s values of scholarship, professional development, community engagement and social justice education.