Editor’s Note: The following is an editorial from Ithaca Voice Editor Jeff Stein, Cornell class of 2013.
As always, we are eager to republish alternative or dissenting viewpoints. To do so, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Why I Shop Downtown
Ithaca, N.Y. — Maybe I’m an aberration, or antisocial, or in some other way an outlier for feeling this way.
So be it. Here’s the unvarnished truth: As Cornell kicks its 150th birthday party into high gear, I feel less — not more — drawn to the university.
The recent outpouring of over-the-top praise for Cornell and its history are understandable, given the historic nature of the anniversary. But we take real risks if we confuse a manufactured ideal of Cornell with the much more mixed — and, I’d argue, more beautiful — reality of its record.
In honor of the sesquicentennial, Cornell has churned out an avalanche of promotional materials, held “dazzling” celebratory events in New York City (including lighting the NASDAQ building and Empire State Building) and sponsored gatherings all over the world.
It has created new websites, new commemorative groves (not to be confused with commemorative plaques, mind you) — and even invented new, Cornell-specific ice cream. (The Big Red bear is rumored to be chained in a a basement below Barton Hall, producing Cornell memorabilia around-the-clock.) Alumni somehow raised over $25K to build a “bronze bear cup statute and new plaza” outside of Teagle Hall. Months of buzz will climax this weekend at Charter Day, a weekend-long celebration of Cornell.
The festivities will begin Friday, the night of the “Big Red Birthday Bash.” That will be followed by other parts of the “Festival of Ideas and Imagination” weekend, including a speech from President Skorton on Cornell’s “Enduring Values,” a separate celebration of “150 great years,” other panel events honoring Cornell’s role in combating global hunger, an event on “150 years of Leadership Excellence,” as well as opportunities to order your official Cornell class ring. Of course, you can also march in a Cornell “Cap & Gown” ceremony (?) — or, if you’re of the more couch-bound type, watch everything on a free Cornell LiveStream.
Look, I don’t fault for Cornell for wanting to throw a big birthday party for itself. I think it’d be nuts to expect Cornell to mention its faults in its promotional material. It makes sense that the university would do everything it can to drum up Big Red Spirit — really, who doesn’t want to see Bill Nye speak with Steve Squyres? — and they’ve sure done an excellent job at doing so for the vast majority of alumni. Moreover, both Cornell and Ithaca are dependent on alumni donations to thrive; I don’t deny that reality.
But I still feel compelled to at least partially deflate the ballooning rhetoric around the university’s birthday. Here’s why: I love Cornell best with its imperfections. The pro-Cornell drumbeat of Charter Day festivities has been relentless enough to airbrush the past and make the present out into a sort of Disneyland, a place where the university can do no wrong. But true love of institutions — like true love of all kinds — is strongest when it looks squarely at both the good and the bad.
So this Charter Weekend, as Cornell justly celebrates 150 years, I hope that its alumni remember that Ezra Cornell and AD White’s experiment is far from finished. As for me, I’ll probably still make it up to campus for an event or two. Just don’t expect me to buy a class ring.