Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Notes on 50th Cornell Reunion

It's true. I've not posted on Rockbridge Times since the end of May. Not one time in June, until this moment.  This morning I am sitting at the dining room table with my new Cornell coffee mug, which I bought because it is bright red and because the Cornell emblem is twice imprinted, so that both right and left handed alums can see it. Today is a hot summer day and my garden, which I can see from where I sit, is glorious. I've not been outside and don't intend to walk in the heat of this day either. My Fitbit will not be getting its workout.
Twelve days ago, I flew to my 50th Cornell Reunion in Ithaca, NY and on Sunday, June 9, I drove further upstate to Watertown and Lisbon to visit cousins. All was good, yet I found that every minute of this trip was totally over stimulating. And by the way, five of the seven days, it rained, really rained. Two days of sunny blue skies.
It's taken me several days at home to think through this trip that took me back to people and places integral to my life sixty and seventy years ago. At this reunion, I shared a dorm room with Midge Eachus Cooper, my senior year roommate in1962-63. Right next door was Dorothy Samuel, classmate and then, after graduation, my roommate in New York City. Almost mind boggling to see them at 70 years of age and yet, we fell into conversations easily, as if absence and time made little difference.  Each woman was so like I remembered. Delightful to see how little we've changed, older, but our speech patterns and habits were so familiar. We are the same people. We've simply added experience and hopefully, wisdom to our mix. I must say that my two roommates are noticeably skinny. In a very good way. They were rounder in college than today. They can still wear belts. I gave all my belts away several years ago and Spanx is a friend. How have they managed this to hold on to their waistlines?
Here we three are in front of Balch Hall, one of my favorite dorms on campus and the place where Midge and I shared a second floor, two-room suite with Elly Adler Graham.  BTW, the spring semester of our senior year, senior co-eds had no curfews. For the first time ever in Cornell's history, we could stay out all night - just had to sign in at the dorm by noon the next day so they knew we were alive. At the time, this lack of curfew was a very big deal.
See Midge and Dot in the front row of this circa 1961 dorm corridor photo. Makes me want to sort through my college memorabilia. It's all in the closet in the back guest room. Someday.
Loved walking on Triphammer Bridge over the Fall Creek gorge. After all these years, it is the same. Except that under all the campus bridges, there are now metal mesh nets and cameras and warning signs. There are high fences along gorge trails. Three students threw themselves from bridges in 2010.  This was not unknown to happen when I was at Cornell. However, the university is now in an offensive prevention mode. Their efforts include a printed notice listing phone help lines in every bathroom stall I entered. Cornell appears to be taking student well being seriously. 
In misty rain, we walked the arts quad with its reunion beer tents, passed through Goldwin Smith Hall where my favorite lecture hall has been converted into Arts and Sciences admin offices, crossed the new footbridge over the gorge to climb the steps to Martha Van Rensselaer Hall for a tour with curator Charlotte Jirousek of the the Cornell Costume Collection and a self guided look at the new wings of the College of Human Ecology.
Photo below shows a detail of the hand made garment worn by Beulah Blackmore to her Cornell job interview in 1915. She was the first full time clothing instructor in the Department of Home Economics. Surely we were told about this smart, thoughtful and well educated woman who obtained her B.S. at Teachers College, Columbia University, completed graduate work at M.I.T and became a full professor at Cornell in 1923?  I don't remember. Blackmore developed the very department that led me to choose Cornell. I was thinking ahead to a career in fashion merchandising and after graduation, ended up at Bloomingdale's in NYC.
We revisited Mann Library on the Ag campus, which is much expanded and held exhibits of "Pioneers: The Early Women Scientists of Cornell," and " Focus on Fungus." We saw them both. In the middle of the day, we caught a Class of 1963 bus to Cornell Plantations for a BBQ lunch. This was all on Friday and not necessarily in the order which I've described.
The day also included a Class of '63 11:00 a.m. panel discussion in Kennedy Hall,"Can the Exploding World Population Be Well Fed Without Endangering the Environment and Human Health."
The professor who spoke on seed development skirted questions about Monsanto. I lost any illusions I must have had about corporate funding at Cornell. And there was a lot of talk about dairy farming in China and the problems it presented. I ask you, why is Cornell working at diary farming in a country where diary has never been a big food source? The market at work, again? Perhaps I'll delve hrough my notes and write more about that panel in a later post?
At 3:00 p.m., we took ourselves to Bailey Hall for the Olin Lecture by Pulitzer Prize winner Fredrik Logevall for his book "Choosing War, The Last Chance For Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam". During his lecture, he showed a photo taken during a Cornell student anti-war demonstration in Barton Hall. Note the campus dogs on the stage. I'd forgotten about the Cornell dogs. Hearing Logevall was like hearing a very good, well constructed lecture back in the day at Cornell - or at Rice U, where I used to audit classes. I do like good lectures and good sermons, by the way. Logevall offered the back story that Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon privately expressed grave doubts about the war, but publicly supported it so as not to appear 'soft'. This dreadful notion of appearing soft never ends. Think Iraq and perhaps Syria.
Friday evening was the Class of 1963's Big Dinner for which we all dressed up and put our best selves forward. I recognized many classmates and had no recognition of others. All evening, for that matter all weekend, I noticed lots of quick looks at big round name badges. Everyone was having trouble recognizing 70 year old classmates whom they may not have known well or ever.
Throughout the reunion, I kept remembering that four years at Cornell was much like living in New York City or Venice as described in Donna Leon's Venetian mysteries. One knows lots of folks by face and/or name, but not well enough to ever speak to. We pass people day after day, year after year, but may never call out a hello. I always found that disconcerting at Cornell. 
There were so many groups and subsets, students from 'the city' and Eastern prep school, kids from near by farm communities and upstate, foreign students from far-away places. One was on speaking terms with students from one's own college or dorm or sorority or fraternity, but as for the campus at large?  At this, our 50th Reunion, I found myself recognizing faces, but not having an acquaintance with many.
I did have a good conversation with an old boyfriend from senior year. Having found him on Facebook a couple of years ago, I was eager to see him and catch up. He still has that smile that got me 50 years ago.
Friday evening found us at Bailey Hall to hear the Cornell University Chorus and Glee Club. One of several occasions where I heard the alma mater and remembered how many Cornell songs we learned during our first days of college orientation. (Have a video of the concert to upload when I figure out exactly how to do that.)
Saturday morning Dot and I went to the College of Human Ecology Alumni breakfast held in the new atrium or Commons of Martha Van Rensselaer Hall. Spoke with Dean Mathios and Assistant Dean for Alumni Affairs and Development Marybeth Tarizan, both of whom I'd met in Houston in 2009 during Second Seating's run. The breakfast and program were wonderful and I felt proud to be an alum of this college. Loved hearing about the accomplishments of the award recipients.  Dot and I were not the oldest alums participating. There was a table of 1940-50s graduates at an adjoining table. Nice to see.
Cornell is a curious mix of private and state institutions. In 1925, the New York State legislature established the College of Home Economics, which had originally been created as the Department and then School of Home Economics by the College of Agriculture. In 1969, the college broadened its reach and became the College of Human Ecology.  I like the Mission: Integrating academics, research and outreach in the areas of nutrition and health, design and technology, human development, and public policy.  
I think it is quite similar to the mission of home economics back in the day.  The name change may have given it all a face lift, taken it aways from its old fashioned rurual roots, perhaps? In any case, I benefited from my education at Cornell. I learned to think, to set professional goals and maintain curiosity about so many subjects, which then and now, all seem related to one another.
Both men and women now graduate from the College of Human Ecology and I assume that now as in the 1960s, a student could take courses all over the university, mixing liberal arts and fine arts with courses in one's major. All we had to do was to walk quickly during the ten minutes between class locations that were spread all over campus. 
Saturday was another day of sightseeing, another dinner and for many, another night at the beer tents on the quad. I checked out after dinner and hit bed. 
Recorded over 10,000 steps each day of the reunion. Very healthy. Noticed that the 20th Reunion alums were assigned Balch Hall and there was a kid's play area and toys. Saw 40-somethings on campus with small children in strollers which speaks to the trend of waiting to have babies until two careers are established. Alums were having photos taken with Big Red's bear and I heard one mom say, "This will be on our Christmas card."
Also walked by my old sophomore dorm, Sage Hall, first women's dorm on the Cornell campus and at its very center. It's now an admin building. In 1961, I lived way up on the fourth floor in a garret room and had to climb wooden staircases and walk many corridors to reach what may have been my favorite college room.
And walked by Schoellkopf Field which I used to think in 1959 was a big football stadium. Later, I moved to Texas and saw BIG.
So glad I made by 50th Cornell Reunion. Good to revisit those years and see what how Cornell has expanded and grown in scope, especially at the College of Human Ecology. Good to see classmates and old landmarks. Wouldn't have missed it.
Late Sunday morning, after a walk down into the Fall Creek gorge, Dot and Midge and I packed our bags and said goodbye. I drove upstate on Route 81 to Watertown to visit cousins and see places where I lived as a child before Mom and Dad moved us to Aruba. Read about the second part of my week's trip soon.
Far above Cayuga's waters...Hail, all hail, Cornell!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

enjoying thoughts and sharing memories. your talent shows.