President Martha E. Pollack welcomes incoming freshman, transfer students and returning sophomores gathered at Schoellkopf Field for New Student Convocation Aug. 25.

Pollack to students: Respect knowledge and be kind

The sun was shining and the excitement was palpable as thousands of Cornellians gathered at Schoellkopf Field for New Student Convocation Aug. 25.

“It is really, really wonderful to have you all here in person on this beautiful – I hardly ever get to say this in Ithaca – this beautiful sunny day,” said President Martha E. Pollack, who then encouraged students to take out their phones and grab a quick selfie so they could remember the sunshine in December.

As students fanned themselves with their programs and giddily waved at the livestream cameras, Pollack recalled last year’s Convocation and how the weather wasn’t really an issue.

“Because, of course, the event was virtual,” Pollack said. “It was me and two camera people. And that’s it. Rows of empty bleachers. And I’ve got to tell you, even if it’s hot, it is so much nicer to be here with all of you.”

The Cornell University Chorus and Glee Club perform at New Student Convocation.

While New Student Convocation traditionally welcomes incoming freshman and transfer students to campus, this year’s audience was expanded to include returning sophomores who didn’t have the opportunity to participate in person last year due to the pandemic.

Referring to the two years that have passed since the last in-person New Student Convocation, Pollack shared two lessons learned from that time: Respect knowledge and be kind.

“These are two pieces of advice that go right to the heart of who we are at Cornell, right to the heart of how we’ve kept our community together and moving forward during this extraordinary era,” Pollack said.

After all, it’s Cornell’s commitment to respecting knowledge and science, and basing decisions on evidence, she said, that have been key to the university’s ability to manage the pandemic.

But respecting knowledge, although essential, is not enough.

“Knowledge gives us a compass,” she said. “But kindness is what gets us down the road. And to quote an African proverb that one of my mentors was fond of sharing, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.’”

Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, challenged students to create their own definitions of success and be patient and generous with others as well as themselves. He encouraged the students to resist the temptation to compare themselves to their peers and instead embrace their own paths and their own stories “to help weave the wonderful tapestry of individuals that comprise this great institution.”

“We all have unique lived experiences that define us,” he said. “Focus on spreading kindness, love and support in the coming year. Our world needs much more of this right now.”