Subash Bhandari offers his Soup & Hope lecture.

Soup & Hope speaker series inspires with stories of perseverance

Celebrating its 17th year at Cornell, the 2024 Soup & Hope speaker series returned to Sage Chapel with stories of great struggles and great accomplishments, including one from Subash Bhandari, a doctoral student in biomedical engineering. 

“I was born in a house without electricity and now I’m working with lasers and light microscopes to look at immune cells for my research,” said Bhandari, who emigrated to the U.S. eight years ago from rural Nepal with only enough money for one year of college. 

“I flew to America with a leap of faith,” said Bhandari, whose story detailed how he figured out ways to pay for the other three years of his undergraduate education at Wichita State University. “Deep down within, I was hopeful that something positive would come out of that experience and that decision. I had never trusted myself any more than that.”

Joel Harter, director of the Office of Spirituality and Meaning-Making and Cornell United Religious Work, speaks at Soup & Hope.

As in previous years, the 2024 Soup & Hope season featured uplifting – and often painful – personal stories from Cornell staff and students, highlighting the role that hope played in their journeys. The 2024 program served to bring the community together for a shared meal of soup and bread and a sense of connection among those in attendance at Sage Chapel. 

“Coming together felt especially important with all the challenges this year around world events, campus climate and free expression,” said Joel Harter, director of the Office of Spirituality and Meaning-Making and Cornell United Religious Work, who told a story of his own about the power of empathy and interfaith engagement when a scheduled speaker in February canceled. 

“Soup & Hope provided an opportunity to hear someone else’s story, to hear about the challenges they’ve faced and to practice the listening and empathy that is so needed right now in our society.”  

In its 17 years, the series has brought more than 80 speakers seeking to create connection across the Cornell and local community. This year’s series featured staff from Cornell Health, Cornell Athletics and the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, as well as two students. 

While the presenters’ stories and experiences are unique to their own diverse backgrounds, a common theme throughout many of the stories was the speakers’ desire to use their experiences to help others.

Guests are served during Soup & Hope.

Joanne Wang ’24 described how trail running helped her manage her mental health and recover from an eating disorder in high school. She said when she came to Cornell, her experience in the Trail Running physical education course and the Cornell Running Club helped her cope with the stress of starting college during a global pandemic. 

“After taking that course, I knew that I wanted to become an instructor myself so that I could share all these wonderful healing benefits with my peers,” said Wang, a biological sciences major who also became a student representative to the Cornell Outdoor Education board and the co-president of the Cornell Running Club. 

“Once again, we connected the theme to our university’s commitment as a health-promoting campus,” Harter said. “Coming together and sharing soup and stories is a way to build community and belonging for students, staff, and faculty.” 

The six talks in the series were recorded and some are available online

The Soup & Hope series is co-sponsored by the Office of Spirituality and Meaning-Making, Human Resources, Cornell Health and Cornell Catering

Laura Gallup is a communications lead in Student and Campus Life. 

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Lindsey Knewstub