This Thursday, author, activist, Holocaust survivor, and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel spoke to a sold-out crowd in Bailey Hall. The line outside of Bailey started forming long before the doors opened, so I owe a major shout-out to my friend Kyle for securing such excellent seats! It was amazing to see so much of the Cornell community taking advantage of an opportunity to hear Dr. Wiesel, even if it meant a little extra planning for us.
The talk was as beautiful and inspirational as one would expect from him. Still, having read a couple of his books didn’t really prepare me for how moving it was to see him in person and hear his words in his own voice. I also had never heard him describe his time in America: he saw our country in some of the darkest periods of the Civil Rights struggle. The questions he graciously fielded from the audience were also interesting, challenging, and sincere: an Ithaca-area middle school teacher who has taught Night to over 800 students asked for a takeaway from the book straight from the source. I can’t do him justice, of course, but I think the conclusion was that it is a book of despair but also a book of hope.
Also great was getting to see my friend Eleanor introduce Dr. Wiesel. As president of Cornell Hillel, she had a huge hand in planning the entire event, and she and the other organizers of the event did a beautiful job onstage.
For a great run-down of his talk, check out the Cornell Sun’s coverage.
One learns pretty quickly that the New York City’s influence on Cornell is very strong. With a little under 50% of our undergrads coming from New York, historic ties to the state, a campus in midtown Manhattan, and many faculty from the tri-state area, it’s easy to think that this place is a tiny little pocket of the NYC in the center of the state. My first introduction to this fact was when everyone around me referred to New York City as “the city,” as if there were no other cities in the world. Or when people insisted that the bagels or pizza we have up here aren’t “real,” or when people talked smack about the South. The New York Centricity of it all can be obnoxious, but most of the time, it’s easy to ignore.
So the title of this year’s Milton Konvitz Memorial Lecture, an annual speakership in honor of a legendary ILR professor, brought a predictable eye-roll: “New York State and the Federal Constitution.” I figured all I was going to hear was why New York is sooo great and why small states don’t contribute anything to our country. (Don’t get me started on how we would have lost the Civil War if Maryland had seceded.)
However, the talk was anything but too New Yorky. The speaker, Yale Law professor and extremely prolific author Akhil Reed Amar, did a fantastic job of giving the 105 Ives Hall crowd a very different take on the Constitution. With a series of vignettes on the ratification process and the early days of the Constitution, Professor Amar painted a beautifully nuanced picture of how New York State fit into the founding, without being too self-congratulatory. Being part of a group of ILRies to meet with the speaker beforehand was quite a privilege, too, and gave me tons to think about re: graduate school. And hopefully the New Yorkers in the audience learned how to talk about their state with a little less superiority!
Every Thursday night is reserved for weekly reunion dinners with the ILRies I don’t get to see anymore. For a school as small as ILR, it’s actually quite possible to lose track of people when you don’t have classes with them. Accordingly, I dined with one of my dear friends from Stats and Labor Law, who caught us up with her exciting credit internship plans for junior year. It seems that everywhere I go, another ILRie tells me about their choice to go abroad or how they are brushing up on their German or spending a semester in Asia.
On the other hand, I have no plans to leave Ives Hall or even take a foreign language. Since my parents almost never take vacations, I’ve never been one for traveling. It took me eighteen years to get to Europe, and my motivation was a lot less cultural discovery than it was seeing the last show on the last Europe leg on the Magic tour. To date, I’ve only visited Spanish-speaking countries, one of which contains approximately 80% of my relatives. I haven’t exactly breached my “comfort zone,” and I have no interest in doing so. Does that make me a self-centered American? My usual excuse is that I want time to work on an honors thesis in senior year with no need to rush. The real answer is something more along the lines of having more courses I want to take than could fit into four years.
And besides, the world has a funny way of coming to Cornell: I went to see Sergio Farjado, former mayor of Medellín, Colombia, which was once considered the most dangerous city in the world. Farjado’s transformation of the city, with its heavy focus on participatory action and including historically marginalized groups, was freaking inspiring. I had to wonder if the same principles will work in our fragmented, pluralistic society, but I am sure that Farjado’s critics told him the same thing. One week later, I had an extended discussion with a State Department official at the Non-Profit and Government Career Fair: he told me that I seemed like an “international person” anyways, and that ILR fields are relevant in any country, especially during this recovery period for our image abroad.
As usual, no worries about this choice. I’m going to cherish the – yikes! – four complete semesters I have left.
This afternoon, I had the unique privilege of catching a lecture by David Sanger, New York Times White House Correspondent. I’ve never considered journalism as a career, but mornings with the Washington Post defined my early years: my dad drinking coffee and reciting the news in Section A, handing me the crossword in the Style section for the road. I couldn’t pass up a chance to hear from someone on the front lines, working to reverse of what many of us believe to be a crumbling trust with the American people.
Sanger focused on the business model of the average American newspaper, facing declining subscriptions and resulting poor ad revenue. Advertisers may one day be enthusiastic to buy ad space on line, but in the mean time, print newspapers are suffering, stripping down their foreign bureaus in favor of using cheaper wire services. Sanger argued, and I agreed, that pulling reporters out of the field is necessarily declining the breadth and depth of reports we get overseas. Even more troubling to me is that print newspapers are scrapping their Washington departments, trending toward regional reporting.
That was a big shock to someone who puts national issues way ahead of state and local affairs; in my case, certainly a side effect of growing up outside Washington, DC. Meeting people at Cornell from all over the country, mainly those from small towns, has made me realize what a uniquely cosmopolitan orientation DC kids have: we can rattle off cabinet members and explain the committee system in Congress, but most of us couldn’t name our state senators or a handful of pressing issues to Montgomery County. I think that kind of environment has its upsides in the form of a global outlook and being well-informed, but it’s so easy to lose a sense of connection to your hometown when national politics are your local news. I do have a Maryland flag hanging in my room, but I love where I grew up because of its proximity to someplace else. Add in that almost all of us have parents that were born somewhere else, drawn to the Washington area for its once-booming job market, and you end up with a lot of people who say “I’m from Washington” even though they totally live in the suburbs.
My Stats project, examining what factors influence reelection rates, has also made me acutely aware that not all voters think in the same terms that my Maryland parents do: that electing a candidate from the right party to maintain a balance in Congress is more important than what they’ve done for our state. So many people I’ve met at Cornell have taught me that not everyone sees Washington as the be all and end all that many Americans – and their newspapers – seem to do today.
Amazing about how a lecture about the press can get you to reflect about your hometown, right?
Three lectures I want to attend are scheduled for the same time this Wednesday! In theory, I can easily walk between Ives, Goldwin Smith, and McGraw, but I still hate interrupting these things. As a clumsy person, the potential for becoming a huge distraction when leaving the room is quite high.
What to do?
“The Financial Crisis: Implications for Washington, Wall Street and Main Street.” An interdisciplinary discussion featuring Robert C. Andolina, Visiting Senior Lecturer of Finance, Johnson School and Former Managing Director, Lehman Brothers; Professor David Easley, Henry Scarborough Professor of Social Sciences, Department of Economics; and Professor Elizabeth Sanders, Department of Government. Extremely topical and relevant content, and I can’t pretend like I fully understand all of the technical aspects of our present situation.
ILR Global Affairs Club presents Professor Sarosh Kuruvilla: Service Section Outsourcing to India. Structural changes of service section outsourcing to India as well as its implications for both India and the US. I know very little about India, and I still have yet to take a class here about the rest of the world. Interesting, relevant to my career choices, and given by an ILR professor, so it’s safe to assume that it’s going to be great.
The Cornell Democrats present Eric Alterman. Eric is a media critic and liberal journalist at the Nation magazine. He will be talking about media bias in the 2008 election and his take on contemporary politics. Exciting stuff, but discussion of the media and politics is not hard to find on this campus. I had sort of taken this one off the table before I checked the guy’s biography: he wrote a book about Bruce Springsteen. Talk about instantly winning my respect (and curiosity about how one makes money doing so!)
I guess that’s the downside of going to a school with so many great events: sometimes they happen at the same time.
When I excitedly picked up my tickets to historian Garry Wills‘ talk about the Lincoln-Douglas Debates early last week, I was overwhelmed by the eerie sense that I was probably going to be single forever. Yesterday was also Constitution Day, by far my favorite federally-mandated holiday that was snuck into a 2004 Omnibus spending bill.
Even though celebrating the Constitution and plummeting the mean age of the attendees of yesterday’s lecture attendees may jeopardize my romantic future, it wasn’t a bad day for me. My fellow ILR sophomores spent Labor Law completely dissecting a 1944 Supreme Court decision on the nitty-gritty details of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. I love details and I love politics, so it should be perfect, right? Part of my problem this week was the mysterious cold that has affected the entire university. However, I still spend approximately half of the class thinking I should be a lawyer, and the other half realizing I’m in way over my head and I have no idea what any of Section 8(a)(5) actually means.
At least I’m not alone. ILRies (“I Love Reading”) generally don’t bat an eyelash at three hundred pages per week in our history classes, but the eight-page Supreme Court decisions are throwing many of us for a loop. I’ll spend most of my weekend with the study group trying to figure it all out… hopefully outdoors because you have to take advantage of weather like this before it slips away.
I’m happy I went to the Wills lecture. He raised the point that modern audiences watch our leaders’ interviews and listen to speeches looking for gaffes rather than paying attention to substance or even rhetorical flair. Sad but true: my daily readership of Wonkette can only confirm it. I haven’t decided if that’s a natural consequence of our media and attention spans or it has more to do with journalism itself: the “grilling” format employed by my Sunday morning heroes. At least I know what to listen for this weekend!