In a typical Cornell student’s four years as an undergraduate, there are precious few events that truly bring the entire University together. The disjointed nature and great size of our alma mater makes these kinds of events nearly impossible to organize and justify.
Typically, the only “university-wide” events that a student attends during the course of an average undergraduate tenure on The Hill are the Orientation Week welcome speech from the president and the Convocation and Commencement ceremonies. And even these events aren’t truly “university-wide,” as only one class year participates at a time. One could also include Slope Day in this category, but it would be a stretch to call this a “university-wide” event when very few faculty and staff participate and a good portion of the students either don’t know they are there or can’t remember it the next day (Plus, although some may disagree, I have a problem designating any Slope Day as one of Cornell’s prouder moments).
At some schools, sporting events are a way for an entire student population to come together and show pride in their school. But, sadly, this is not the case here at Cornell. Our most popular athletic team, men’s hockey, plays its games in a building that only holds approximately 4,000 spectators at a time, with only about half of its seats going to student season ticket holders. And while it would be nice to get a full house at Schoellkopf for a football game sometime in the near future (not including homecoming, because I know it’s mostly alumni), I’m not holding my breath.
So, when it comes to this Thursday’s inauguration of President Skorton, we’re really lucky. We have the opportunity to participate in an event that only, in theory, occurs once in a long while. We have the opportunity to participate in a truly university-wide event, an event that most Cornell students do not get to experience during their time here.
An event that puts on display what being a Cornellian really means.
The fact that this will be Cornell’s second presidential inauguration in three years does not mean, hopefully, that we will be making a habit of this. This will only be the twelfth such occasion in the University’s existence and, in fact, judging by the schedule of events and the location of the ceremony, it seems that the organizers have chosen to try to make President Skorton’s inauguration as different as possible from President Lehman’s (maybe trying to eliminate bad karma?). Instead of a transnational extravaganza that required three different ceremonies on two different continents, they have seemingly (wisely) decided bring the celebration back, exclusively, to where it all began.
(Seniors, I know that you were around for President Lehman’s inauguration in October 2003, but I am assuming that the fact that you were so new to the campus at the time meant that most of you did not attend. I, a sophomore then, only attended because some ticket holders didn’t show up on time and the extra seats were given to those waiting outside Barton Hall.)
As I said two weeks ago, a president (or chancellor, or dean) sets the tone for a university. President Skorton has already done so with his decision to have Cornell divest from Sudanese oil companies, and I am sure that he will outline his other plans in his inauguration speech.
Whether you are a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, graduate or professional student, faculty or staff member or a member of the Ithaca community, you should be making the trip to the Arts Quad on Thursday afternoon.
In some way, we are all Cornellians, whether we have been students here for years, just matriculated or work here as a staff or faculty member, and it is very rare that we all can assemble in one place to celebrate the institution that brings us all together.
While Cornell always asks for support from alumni in the form of monetary donations, the most important way to support Cornell is to participate in it. Being a part of this community is not a four-year educational endeavor. The fact that you have chosen to learn here or teach here or work here or live here means that you have joined an exclusive group. And Thursday is a very special day for us as a whole.
It is a day in which we officially welcome a new era at Cornell. A day that has been a long time in waiting, and a day that will be remembered for years to come.
In his 1868 inauguration speech, Andrew Dickson White, Cornell’s first president, said, “I hope we have laid the foundation of an institution which shall combine practical with liberal education, which shall fit the youth of our country for the professions, the farms, the mines, the manufactories, for the investigations of science and for mastering all the practical questions of life with success and honor.”
I would argue that this is exactly what Cornell has done since.
The impact of an inauguration on the Cornell campus has always been significant, not just for its pomp and circumstance, but for its ability to bring the community together and steer it in a fresh direction. It is truly an event to attend and to cherish.
Eric Finkelstein ’06 is a former Sun managing editor and is currently a first-year student in the Law School. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Saturdays Excepted usually appears alternate Mondays.