For the 6,000 students receiving diplomas from Cornell University in 2017, the Memorial day weekend – May 26 through May 28 – was one of the most important three days of their higher education. The weekend entailed senior convocation, senior commencement, and the individual commencements of the 12 academic schools and colleges to encompass the university’s 149th “Commencement Weekend.”
Cornell is labeled one of the eight Ivy League establishments of higher education, the rest being Brown University, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and Yale University.
Senior Rose Schaffer says, “As a senior, you always hear about the people who get accepted into Ivy League schools. If it is a big deal to get an acceptance letter, I can only imagine how exciting it is to receive a diploma from one!”
The individual commencement ceremonies for each of the 12 schools were scattered across campus at different times throughout the weekend. Students were recognized based on their reception of a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, as well as Doctors of Philosophy (Ph.D.). Each ceremony lasted about one hour, depending on the number of students receiving diplomas.
Several speakers addressed the graduates and audience of each ceremony, including the dean of the school and multiple professors. The responsibilities for reading each recipient’s name as they crossed the stage to receive a model diploma was usually shared between multiple faculty members.
The seven undergraduate schools include the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Human Ecology, and the School of Industrial Labor Relations (ILR). The five graduate schools include the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell Tech (located in New York City), Cornell Law School, the College of Veterinary Medicine, and the general Graduate School.
Friday, May 26 marked the beginning of Commencement Weekend with award ceremonies and banquets to recognize graduating members. School commencement ceremonies continued into Saturday, May 27. Around noon, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden delivered the senior convocation address to thousands of people in Schoellkopf stadium.
University president Martha E. Pollack introduced him, the speech being her first address as president. Biden’s address lasted about 40 minutes as he discussed the beautiful surrounding area, the students’ future, and mutual respect, even touching on moments from his own past.
In Biden’s honor, students of the Cornell Dairy Bar developed an ice cream called “Big Red, White, and Biden.” The ice cream is vanilla with chocolate chips, and was available to all after the convocation.
On Sunday, May 28, the festivities ended with the conclusion of individual commencement ceremonies and the all-encompassing Senior Commencement. The entire graduating class of 2017 and all students receiving a diploma “walked” for graduation in Schoellkopf stadium in the morning. Senior Class President Lauren Lang and Pollack both delivered addresses.
ILR graduate Alexis Cashman says, “The wind ensemble played Disney music for the whole procession. Even though we were graduating college, it reminded us of our childhood and how all of us got to be where we are.”
The students receiving Ph.D.s led the procession, wearing red gowns. Each of the 12 schools followed, led by its dean, two banner bearers, and a symbol bearer. The banner bore the name of the school, and the symbol representing each school was presented on a flag carried by a student.
Many students brought different gifts into the stadium, the most common including flowers and balloons. The graduates from the School of Veterinary Medicine brought purple balloons in the shape of arms and hands, which they waved while walking into the stadium and during applause. The graduates from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences brought hand towels, which they waved in the air as well. Graduates from the College of Architecture, Art and Planning brought plain white balloons, which some released during the ceremony.
During the ceremony, students did not cross the stage or receive diplomas, instead receiving them in the mail. When a school was called, the graduates stood up and were recognized as a whole by Pollack. The bulk of the ceremony was dedicated to the graduates and faculty simply walking into the stadium.
The university campus shares Ithaca, N.Y. with Ithaca College campus. The town is home to Cayuga Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. The region is filled with many mountains, hills, and cliffs, consequently forming rivers and waterfalls – thus, the town slogan, “Ithaca is gorges,” playing on the word “gorges” sounding similar to “gorgeous.”
Freshman Kiersten Gasko, a Cornell legacy, says, “Cornell’s campus is enormous. It has to be for over 20,000 students and faculty. The best part is that everyone leaves there with a brighter future than when they got there.”
How is university graduation different from high school graduation? What does it tell you about a university which thousands of people worldwide travel to witness one of its graduations?