Aug. 20, 2007
Skorton emphasizes freedom with responsibility in address welcoming new and transfer students
Freedom with responsibility was the central theme of President David J. Skorton's welcome address to several thousand new and transfer students and their families huddled in Schoellkopf Stadium Aug. 18, on a morning with more than a hint of autumn in it.
Skorton's second New Student Convocation address of his presidency was as playful as it was thoughtful and disarming, introducing a new generation of Cornellians to a leader with a sense of humor who has been a transfer student himself and is an accessible everyman who prefers being addressed as "David" by the public and "Your Immenseness" by those who work with him -- the latter with a nudge and a wink.
Skorton described Cornell as a caring community "that is inspiring and inclusive, where freedom and responsibility go hand in hand and where a tradition of looking outward has a real impact on education, research and outreach and how the university engages the world."
The response was as warm as the welcome, befitting the university that Newsweek magazine dubbed the "Hottest Ivy" last week in its ranking of "25 Hottest Schools" -- a distinction Skorton referenced mirthfully during his talk.
The president acknowledged the "paramount importance of physical and emotional health" for students facing four years or more of multiple deadlines and high expectations.
"There is no denying that this is a high-pressure environment ... the transition to independence during the college years can be challenging," Skorton said. "We have enormous leadership by professionals on our campus regarding mental health issues ... But all of us must acknowledge, starting today, our interdependence and share responsibility for our own and others' well-being.
"When we care for ourselves and allow others to help us when we are in trouble, we ease our own burdens and enable each of us to express compassion in the taking as well as the giving."
Among his suggestions for stress relief: Walk, exercise, music -- and, in a pinch, "watch reruns of my speeches." In other words, don't take yourself too seriously.
Cornell's emphasis on freedom with responsibility, Skorton said, "offers a tremendous opportunity to mature and grow in wisdom and independence.
"Sometimes you'll make the wrong choice, and you'll find there are consequences. That party in Collegetown the night before a big prelim might not have been such a great idea. ... In the process of making choices and assuming responsibility for the outcome, you will gain maturity and confidence that will serve you well."
Freedom with responsibility has implications for parents as well, he said, and he spoke about his relationship with his son, Josh, a senior at Stanford University.
"It is a fine line that we parents walk in trying to help our children succeed and in cushioning them from the worst of life's blows. I've found it helpful to keep in touch with Josh as he wishes to be kept in touch with ... and to listen carefully and sympathetically to what he has to say, and to react slowly, so that he has time and space to solve problems on his own."
The president praised the more than 50 new students who arrived a week early to participate in the Pre-Orientation Service Trips program. Skorton said they serve as an example of Cornell's tradition of "looking outward" through involvement in outreach and public service. He invited the entire class to follow their lead.
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