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Looking back on student experiences -- from 2047

This past June, I "returned" to Cornell for my 35th reunion. In truth, I have been back at Cornell for 30 of those 35 years, but this year I attended reunion as an alumna, not as a vice president with official responsibilities. As I traversed the campus with my classmates, I wondered how our current students -- especially those in the Class of 2012 joining us this fall -- would experience their 35th reunions at the midpoint of this century. How will they reflect on the impact of their alma mater? What will their memories be?

Susan Murphy with students, 2006.

First and foremost, I hope and trust they will think of Cornell as a place where, indeed, any person can find instruction in any study. Our commitment to need-blind admissions and need-based financial aid was enhanced greatly with this year's policy to replace loans completely for many of our students and to cap loans at $3,000 per year for many others. While we still have much to do, I believe, to help our low- and middle-income students make Cornell affordable and accessible and to compete in the marketplace, our strengthened commitment to financial aid puts Cornell among a handful of schools in this country. Moreover, our ability to recognize outstanding leaders, scholars and those committed to work and service through our Cornell Commitment programs allows us also to attract and support students who are among the best in the country. This commitment must remain the foundation of what we do for our students.

With all freshmen living together on North Campus and the creation of the West Campus house system, we offer Cornellians today an opportunity to create and build friendships not just with their peers, but also with faculty who are in residence, faculty and staff who dine regularly in dining rooms that are a fundamental part of each house, and graduate students who serve as mentors and fellow residents. The integration of living and learning that is reflected in the new residential experience has given students choices we did not have at Cornell. When the Class of 2012 returns for its 35th reunion, I suspect many will return to Cook, Becker, Bethe or Keeton House with a similar interest and enthusiasm that alumni have for their fraternities and sororities today. I hope today's students will reflect on the friendships they made through their residential experiences as one of the most treasured parts of their Cornell education, just as we do as alumni.

Another memory this generation of Cornellians will have will be that of service to their communities. If my generation reminisces about the civil rights and women's movements, not to mention the Vietnam War protests, this generation will reflect on the work they did directly in Ithaca through scores of programs in the schools, community centers and other not-for-profit organizations. Many also will think about their travels to Africa or Central America to build schools or fight malaria. We protested; today's students act to make a difference in their communities.

Susan Murphy in 1973, during her senior year at Cornell.

Susan Murphy in 1973, during her senior year at Cornell. See larger image

Finally, this generation of Cornellians will have many tales to tell about the excellence around them. They have witnessed both the men's and women's basketball teams compete in the NCAA tournament -- the first time an Ivy League school has accomplished that feat -- as well as six other Ivy titles this year and more than 30 during their time at Cornell. While virtually every undergraduate seems to find his or her way to the Cornell Fitness Centers while they are here, and thousands compete in intramural or club sports, our varsity athletes have demonstrated their commitment to excellence in a way that has been a renaissance for Cornell athletics.

The richness of these and so many other experiences -- the Dalai Lama's visit, Maya Angelou, outrageous concerts and activities, activities, activities -- is made possible because Cornell continues to attract interested and interesting students from across the country and around the globe. But beyond simply attracting them, we are engaging them, of course in the classroom, but also beyond. Those student life opportunities provide a foundation for lifetime friendships and lifetime memories that forever connect us to our alma mater. That is one aspect of the Cornell experience I trust will never change.

Susan H. Murphy is Cornell vice president for student and academic services.

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