Dec. 22, 2008

Be travelers, not tourists, Skorton urges January graduates

Jason Koski/University Photography
Kia Hope Jeter is congratulated by David Skorton at the sixth annual January Graduate Recognition Event and Reception, Dec. 20 in Barton Hall.

Despite icy roads and 10 inches of fresh snow (optimistically called "challenging weather" by President David Skorton), about 300 January 2009 graduates and their families and friends made it to Barton Hall Dec. 20 for the sixth annual January Graduate Recognition Event and Reception.

The new graduates will head into a global job market that is very different from previous ones, said Skorton in his address to the graduates. But the skills and attributes they have learned at Cornell, he said -- particularly the abilities to think critically, to be creative, and to respect other cultures and views -- will serve them well wherever they go.

Quoting the late historian and author Daniel J. Boorstin, Skorton urged the soon-to-be alumni to live their lives not as tourists, but as travelers. Tourists are passive observers, he said, merely observing events around them. Travelers, however, are active participants in life, searching for adventures and experiences and ways to change things for the better.

"Be among those who make things happen. Generate positive experiences for yourself as well as for others," Skorton said.

"The world, whatever the latest headlines may say about its economic and political woes, is in need of you," he continued. "You have education. You have skills. You have gifts that you have cultivated.

"Use these attributes, not only in your professional lives, but in your personal lives and in your civic lives. Think carefully about what you can do to strengthen communities in which you will settle. Wherever you go in the coming years, there will be people whose lives can be made better by your actions. Please do take those actions."

Skorton also encouraged the graduates to remain engaged in the Cornell community. "I hope you will stay connected to Cornell, no matter where in the world you will go," he said. "Good luck, and stay in touch."

Audience members cheered and whooped as graduates crossed the stage. The graduates included Daniel Bailey, a biology and philosophy major whose aunt and father, Doloris and Lockxley Bailey, drove to Ithaca from Maryland very early Saturday morning to attend -- and who would drive back the same evening.

And there was Xiaoyan Sun, who received a master's degree from the ILR School in just one and a half whirlwind years -- and was cheered on by friends and fellow students. She will start her career at Dell Inc. in the spring but planned on heading home to China first for a much-anticipated vacation. "Afterward, I will come back," she said, "to begin my new life."

A solemn moment came when College of Engineering associate dean David Gries called the name of Evan Wade '08, a senior and member of the Navy ROTC from Williamsburg, Va. Wade died in a single-car accident Oct. 25. U.S. Navy Capt. Larry B. Olsen accepted Wade's diploma in his stead; and the audience rose for a standing ovation.

After the ceremony, some students and families mingled and celebrated in Barton; others headed out to sparkly-white snow and welcome sunshine.