Congratulations on crossing the finish line! It's an accomplishment that you have earned every right to celebrate, one that can't be taken away from you, and one that will inform and guide your experiences for the rest of your lives.
Your chapter of the story of Big Red athletics is coming to a close. It's a chapter that took a completely unforeseen twist, one that is without precedent in recent decades — perhaps in the entire history of the University. When you made your commitments to Cornell and to your coaches, and sent in your tuition deposits, you certainly did not sign up for anything like the experience of the last year and a quarter.
And as intercollegiate athletes, the impact upon you was particularly acute. You chose to attend Cornell, at least in part, specifically to play for this program and represent this institution. So having the rhythm and ritual of practice, training in the Friedman Center, and of course, competition days — ripped away from each of you, for at least a full season of play, was an especially great price to pay. It's a sacrifice that is not lost on me, and one I hope is borne in mind by all Big Red fans in the years to come.
But in a sense, there was another type of competition at hand — one that lasted the whole 2020-2021 academic year, one where every day was game day. In this game, the equipment wasn't sticks, balls, pucks, oars, and the like — it was Daily Checks, masks, social distancing, and surveillance testing.
It was a game with an outcome far from certain. When President Pollack and her administration made the decision to conduct instruction in-person this year, I was convinced that, on balance, it was the right call. That is, it was the least bad of the available options. Even so, it was a massive roll of the dice. There were many who said it was reckless and foolish, said it couldn't be done, said we'd be back in fully remote learning in no time.
You proved them wrong. In every possible way. You met the moment, and you rose to the occasion. You came together with your own teammates, and students across campus, and staff, and faculty, united as one Cornell team. And as these final days of this school year pass, they pass like the final seconds of a blowout victory at Lynah Rink — keys out and jingling, imploring the naysayers to warm up the bus. Because victory in this long game is just about assured. It's a victory that I take to be as meaningful as any Big Red championship — perhaps even more so. It makes me so proud to be associated with this singularly great institution.
You're saying goodbye to your days of suiting up in carnelian and white in a way you never expected to. But while it may be goodbye to those days, it is most certainly NOT goodbye to your teammates, nor to Cornell. To them, it is merely "until next time."
As you prepare to depart from the East Hill and enter what Shakespeare called the "undiscovered country" — the future, or as it's sometimes called from your vantage point, the "real world" — know this with absolute certainty. A part of you will always remain there. All of you will always be welcome back there. And each of you will always be home there.
Thank you, one and all, for all you've given to the Big Red, and to Cornell University. Give my regards… and far above. Hail, all hail… and love to thee. Yell Cornell… and LET'S GO RED!!!
I composed this over the last week or so, as Cornell Athletics individually honored each member of this year's graduating class on social media. I shared it on Twitter yesterday, but I also thought it worthwhile to post here, with a few additional remarks.
First, I've seen comments that the true and proper way to honor these exceptional Cornellians would be to let them play. But that doesn't take into account the whole picture. I don't think the decision was ever really Cornell's to make, at least in terms of play within its conference. Not long after Cornell announced it would conduct this academic year residentally, Harvard announced it would remain fully remote for all of 2020-21, and Princeton backtracked to that same position. If those two schools weren't going to bring their players to campus, there seems to me to have been no realistic way for the Ivy League to conduct competition. Each school made what it thought was the best decision for its community, given each school's unique circumstances, particularly the percentage of students living in on-campus housing.
And second: when I saw the forecast for here outside Philadelphia this weekend (highs mid-50s, lows low-40s, and very wet), I wondered how cold it might get at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake on this last weekend of May. Fortunately, the answer: not any colder than here. Still, everybody stay warm and safe up there as you celebrate!