In an ordinary year, President Martha E. Pollack would present her New Student Convocation address at Schoellkopf Field from a grandstand on the 50-yard line. Students would sit in the Crescent, listening to her welcome them to the Cornell community.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made this year anything but ordinary, so Pollack and Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, delivered their addresses via video. But for all the things that are different about this New Student Convocation, Pollack said, some things haven’t changed.
“All of you, wherever you may be as you watch this, are now part of this extraordinary community,” she said. “All of you, from this moment, are Cornellians. And Cornell is exactly where you belong.”
During New Student Orientation, new students were listening from their residence halls on campus, from one of Cornell’s study-away locations around the world, from their bedroom at home or from quarantine.
From its founding more than 150 years ago, Pollack said, Cornell has always been a community that has overcome obstacles and moved past barriers – barriers to learning or between disciplines or people. “And as this pandemic has reminded us, Cornell has always been more than just a place,” she said. “It’s a community, it’s a tradition and it’s an ethos that transcends space and time.”
Acknowledging the difficulties that the pandemic has presented so far, Pollack pointed out that each new student had overcome them and made it to this point. “You are Cornellians, and that is what Cornellians do,” she said. “We look at whatever lies between our environments and our goals, between our situations and our aspirations, and we get to work mapping a path.”
She urged students to find new ways to learn, grow and define their first year at Cornell, rather than let the pandemic define it for them. “Study subjects that fascinate you. If you’re here in Ithaca, go outside and enjoy the amazing region we live in,” she said. “Find new ways to interact with all of the people you’ve been meeting, and be sure to ‘Live Smarter’ by doing it safely.”
Lombardi, in introducing Pollack, urged students to make “deep, meaningful and personal connections with your new community.” The most important, he said, are connections with faculty. With much of instruction online this fall, and as the campus continues to practice physical distancing, it will be “critically important” for students to initiate these relationships, he said.
“Participate in virtual office hours, introduce yourself over email, ask them about their research or other areas of study. But get to know your faculty,” Lombardi said. “Doing so will make a positive impact on your Cornell education and, more importantly, probably on your life, too.”
He also encouraged new students to get to know their classmates. “Now you’ll be very hard pressed, at any other point in your life, to have access to such a vibrant, intelligent and diverse collection of individuals as your classmates at Cornell,” he said.
Pollack said the incoming class is talented, diverse and resilient; most had completed their senior year of high school in a way no one has ever done before. But they had found ways to rise above, keep moving forward, learn and grow.
“That is exactly what we do at Cornell,” she said. “So wherever you are as you begin your first semester as a Cornellian, whatever challenges lie ahead, you belong here, and we’re glad to have you with us.”