May 30, 2010

Skorton to graduates: 'Lift the world's burdens'

David Skorton
Lindsay France/University Photography
President David Skorton tell graduates to forge connections, be alert for opportunity, ask for help when needed and take time to "taste the wonder."
graduates
Lindsay France/University Photography
Ph.D. graduates listen to President David Skorton's Commencement address in Schoellkopf Stadium.
high five
Lindsay France/University Photography
President David Skorton gives graduating seniors high-fives during the procession into Schoellkopf Stadium.

While all university commencements are special moments in time, this year's graduation of the Class of 2010 is a particularly sentimental one for President David Skorton, he said May 30 at Cornell's 142nd commencement.

He arrived at Cornell just before many of this year's approximately 3,700 undergraduates came in 2006. "We have shared these four years. You are moving on, but I am not quite ready to graduate," Skorton quipped.

The crowd in Schoellkopf Stadium under sparkling sunny skies also included 2,600 graduates of the professional and graduate schools and 35,000 friends and family members.

Skorton took a moment to recall memorable moments of the last four years. Notable figures who visited Cornell ranged from the Dalai Lama and Angela Davis to Shimon Peres and Stephen Colbert, to name a few. Students took on such impressive projects as creating an international prize-winning autonomous underwater vehicle. And Big Red athletics victories included men's lacrosse, which made it to the NCAA Final Four for the third time in four years. Among the graduates were winners of such academic awards as Marshall, Churchill, Truman and Goldwater scholarships.

"Their success confirms that a Cornell education, which all these graduates have worked so hard to acquire, is a significant achievement, and is so recognized nationally and internationally," Skorton said.

The past year was not without difficulties, he noted, citing an unusual number of student deaths from accidents, disease and suicides. As hard as these losses have been for the Cornell family, they bring to mind the lessons we have learned together over the past four years. He advised the graduates to apply these four lessons in the years ahead.

No. 1: Forge connections with those around you, he said. "A satisfying life is grounded not just in individual achievement, but in the strength of the connections we form with others."

No. 2: "Sometimes life throws things at you that you didn't expect, and you have to improvise." As carefully as the graduates have prepared for their futures, life doesn't always unfold according to even the best-made plans, he said. "Be alert for unexpected opportunities that may and probably will come your way."

No. 3: Learn to ask for help. Families and Cornell friends, classmates, faculty and staff members and alumni "are a strong support team and will be ready if and when you need it. Check in with the mirror from time to time; make sure you are taking care of yourself, mentally and physically and spiritually. Eat right, get enough sleep, exercise, find ways to reduce stress and make new friends and help others -- and continue to get help for yourself when you need it."

No. 4: "Most important, take time to taste the wonder." Graduates are likely to feel pressure to go to graduate or professional school or achieve such professional milestones as a bigger paycheck or a more impressive title, Skorton said. "But if you spend all your energy thinking about the future and getting to the next level, you will run the risk of missing the joy and beauty of the here and now," he said to a round of applause.

In closing, he challenged the graduates to effect real and positive change in a world urgently in need of their strength of ideas and spirit. "With the extraordinary privilege of being Cornell graduates comes the responsibility to use your skills and knowledge to serve others," he said. "I charge you to continue to lift the world's burdens locally, nationally and globally -- no matter where your path takes you from Schoellkopf today."