May 1996. My high school band took a trip to Toronto. (We could do such things without passports back then.) The outbound leg of that trip included a stop at Ithaca College for us to play. As we approached, I caught a glimpse of a clock tower off in the distance. Even then, the East Hill had my attention. Tom Brokaw reading "pumpkin atop the clock tower" on NBC Nightly News a year and a half later did nothing to dissuade my mind. As 1998 came to a close and I'd taken my visits, I kept my options open, but I knew what I wanted - nay, what I'd set my heart on. Fees were paid, applications were filed...
... and hopes were fulfilled. A favorite podcaster of mine advocates for discarding celebration of your birthday in favor of your "achievement day." A few in the last nineteen years come to mind - getting my dolphins in September 2006, finally taking my bachelor's degree in December 2011, passing my NRC operating license exam in January 2016 - but getting the fat envelope on April 3, 1999 still rings clear and true for me. The enclosed folder bore a striking title: "The Case for Cornell" - as you can probably deduce from the words above, I'd long since delivered summary judgment in favor of the Big Red.
I matriculated to the East Hill; fun was had, mistakes (on my part) were made... but most importantly, deep and lasting friendships were forged. Notwithstanding my failure to take a degree from Cornell, it's those friendships that keep me coming back to Ithaca year after year. I was particularly ecstatic to make the trip last year, as I was coming off six consecutive night shifts. We made a decision to bring down one of our reactors to go and fix a problem; just as the last of those six shifts was concluding, a colleague and I had brought that unit critical again. That was a great jumping off point for Bonecoming 2017.
I'm not going to deeply detail the events of the weekend here. But I do want to reference two things - one short, one long. The first: a Tweet I fired off from the Schoellkopf Crescent, as the Big Red were well on their way to victory over Brown - "Awesome as #CornellHomecoming is, seeing tweets from those not here reminds me how poorer we are for the absence of they & their families." And the second is a lengthy Facebook post I wrote after I got back here to Pennsylvania - and that I had to re-write after my half-brother delivered some game-changing news to me on October 23. Those words seemed to move many of my friends on that platform, and I'll reproduce them in full here in a post to follow.
In the many years since I left Cornell, one of the things I belatedly realized about it is perhaps one of its greatest strengths - that it's big enough for everybody. Two people can matriculate at the same time and have completely disparate experiences. The East Hill truly embodies a certain title and lyric from Fleetwood Mac, one that I particularly recalled in Halifax on Canada Day last year - "you can go your own way."
Cornell gave me so many great memories, including a bunch that unfolded on patches of artificial turf. But as Cornellians, we don't define ourselves by what happens on artificial turf on any given autumn Saturday, nor by those seemingly eternal four and a half seconds on Memorial Day 2009. How might we define ourselves? Easy - not by those seven letters on a piece of sheepskin, but by how we bring our experiences far above Cayuga's waters to bear upon the world around us, near and far. One memory always keeps this in clear focus for me. Back when I was an undergrad, Yale came to visit us for Homecoming. As I marched with the band to the tailgate on Kite Hill, my friends and I noticed a gentleman holding above his head a banner, one that read "For God, For Country, and For Yale." I immediately knew how the Big Red version would read, and it hasn't changed from that day to today...
"FOR FRIENDS, FOR FAMILY, AND FOR CORNELL!"