Smiles, sunshine, sweets and song punctuate Commencement
By Blaine Friedlander
As students began to line up for Cornell’s 2019 Commencement May 26, the morning skies that threatened rain gave way to rays of sunshine wriggling between the clouds. Families noshed on bagels, cream cheese and coffee in Collegetown before heading to Schoellkopf Field for the pomp and circumstance.
Hansika Iyer ’19, a member of the Big Red Raas competitive dance team, made her way to the lineup. Iyer’s mortarboard sported fresh art with the words: “We are made of star dust,” a salute to late Cornell astronomy professor Carl Sagan’s original assessment of humanity as “star stuff,” and to 2019 Convocation speaker Bill Nye ’77. Said Iyer: “When I was younger, Bill Nye sparked my passion for science.”
Walking in the graduation procession with Brittany Papa ’19 was Shamus, a 10-month-old German shepherd service dog-in-training with Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
The School of Hotel Administration’s Jose Frayre. M.M.H. ’19, and Dennis Gonzales, M.M.H. ’19, wore matching commencement cords made of wine corks and plastic grape bunches. Frayre and Gonzales trained weekly as competitive wine tasters with Cornell Cuvee, the university’s wine education and blind-tasting society. Frayre’s favorite wine? Syrah from France, he said. Gonzales’ favorite: Tawny port, aged 20 years. “It’s fine wine,” Gonzales said.
Becca Lublin ’19 earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering; her mortarboard invoked Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden,” with an exclamation: “I built my foundation.”
Over in the Architecture, Art and Planning lineup area, the mortarboard of art major Jada Haynes ’19 featured gold leaf in a beautiful pattern, made with her leftover art supplies. Haynes recounted a story from last week, while she awaited graduation: She found a chair, hauled it up Libe Slope, broke it on purpose, reassembled it differently and adorned it with glitter. She explained that, as an artist, “sometimes you have to break things and put them back together.”
After five years of study and hard work, architect Ainslie Cullen ’19 said she was ready for graduation, but she will stay in Ithaca this summer to teach Introduction to Architecture at the Summer College for high school students.
The families and friends of graduating students began arriving in Ithaca on Friday, but enjoyed hanging out Saturday.
The extended family of Samir Jain ’19, recent captain of the Cornell Bhangra dance group, hung out Saturday afternoon eating snacks at Schoellkopf Field, waiting for the Convocation crowd to clear. Among the large entourage were his brother, Sahil Jain ’14, and his parents, Lalit and Abha Jain. Additionally, Samir’s uncle Dr. Raj Jain ’92, aunt Aanchal Jain and cousin Tara Jain ’23, an incoming freshman, toured Ithaca’s gorges in the afternoon.
Across campus, business thrived at the Cornell Dairy Bar, with two long lines moving quickly.
For his graduation weekend, Ikenna Onyekwere ’19 enjoyed the dairy’s berry good Alumni Swirl, while friends Ankit Rana ’19 savored Bavarian Raspberry Fudge and Kevin Chen ’19 relished Kahlúa Fudge. “Finally, I’m an alumnus – that’s why I got Alumni Swirl,” Onyekwere said.
Friends since their freshman year in Balch Hall, Lina Huang ’19, Julie Lim ’19, Erika Kim ’19 and June-Summer Kim ’19 have been inseparable for the last four years. Whenever they went to an event, they always took a photo together. The friends do, however, have different ice cream preferences: Huang ate maple walnut, Lim enjoyed Big Red Bear Tracks, June-Summer Kim savored the mango sorbet, while Erika Kim preferred Cornelia’s Dark Secret. “It’s a classic,” Kim said.
The parents of Sebastian Forero ’19 enjoyed the campus on Saturday afternoon. Father Luis Forero and mother Gladys Ayure came up from Florida; the family is originally from Colombia. Ayure is particularly proud of her son graduating from Cornell and for the opportunities this affords him.
Junlan Lu ’19 – serving Ezra’s Morning Cup and mint chocolate chip ice cream to his family – recalled fond memories of his engineering physics major.
Overlooking the city of Ithaca, Nihar Sidhu ’19, accompanied by her brother Nihal Sidhu ’22, was one of many students who took photos Saturday with the Ezra Cornell statue on the Arts Quad.
A favorite campus memory of Nancy Ren ’19 is the March 15, 2017, snowstorm, that shut down campus and gave her a chance to play on Libe Slope. Ren was an accomplished student biology adviser, and she performed a senior piano recital in late April, playing works from Schumann, Beethoven, Chopin and Gershwin.
Ren’s friend David Navadeh ’19 – a photography aficionado – volunteered to take images with Ren’s family on the Arts Quad late in the afternoon. Only the day before, Navadeh – chapter president of Beta Theta Pi – had been a guest speaker before the Cornell Board of Trustees.
The Cornell University Chorus and Glee Club gave the academic year’s last musical performance Saturday night at Bailey Hall. The chorus’s pieces – including the commissioned piece, “It Isn’t a Dream,” by Melissa Dunphy – were all composed or arranged by women.
Harkening back to its 19th century roots as the Cornell Glee, Banjo and Mandolin Clubs, the Glee Club – celebrating its sesquicentennial – opened its program with “Gentle Annie” by Stephen Foster, featuring DB Lee ‘19, Will Guzman ’21 and Milo Reynolds-Dominguez ’20 on banjos and mandolin. They learned their instruments last fall, according to Robert Isaacs, Cornell assistant professor of music and the Priscilla Browning Director of Choral Programs.
The Glee Club also performed “Falling Water” – a piece about Ithaca composed by Julia Adolphe ’10, based on a poem by Safiya Sinclair – and “Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant Us Peace),” composed by Joseph Gregorio ’01.
For their traditional “Song of the Classes,” in which seniors from the Cornell Chorus and Glee Club cheekily reminisce about their undergraduate years, Izumi Matsuda ’19 performed as the “freshman” soloist, Chris Umeki ’19 sang the “sophomore” honors, Michelle Carfagno ’19 soloed as the “junior” and Fraz Lugay ’19 crooned the “senior” solo.