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Lizzie Klein '18

Lizzie Klein '18.

Walking across a bridge to the future

This may be the most exciting time ever to be a freshman at Cornell University. The Class of 2018 has just begun its undergraduate journey and yet, in our very first semester, we already find ourselves a part of Cornell history as the university celebrates its sesquicentennial.

This milestone is a natural time to look back at the remarkable changes and accomplishments at Cornell in student life, academics and the university's scope, breadth and outreach. As a fifth-generation Cornellian, I feel a personal connection to that incredible history. I often think about how Cornell has changed since my great-great-grandfather, C. Reeve Vanneman, Class of 1903, attended the university, and how in so many ways the undergraduate experience remains the same: a time of incredible intellectual and personal discovery. Now, my classmates and I find ourselves caught up in the excitement of what Cornell is to become, and the roles we will play, in that story.

The Class of 2018 came to Cornell for many of the same reasons as those who came before us: the quality (and quantity) of academic programs, the picturesque campus and the opportunity to learn alongside a diverse group of students. Together, we compose Cornell's newest group of young minds, seeking the preparation we need to make our individual impacts after our four years here. The omnipresent winter (does it ever end?) we could all do without, yet not even negative-degree wind chills stop students from taking advantage of all this university has to offer.

Lizzie Klein at age 2 with great-grandfather Bill Vanneman '31, then-President Hunter R. Rawlings III and mom Kara Vanneman Klein '89

Lizzie Klein, right, at age 2, attends her first Cornell reunion in 1998 with, from left, her great-grandfather Bill Vanneman '31, then-President Hunter R. Rawlings III and her mom, Kara Vanneman Klein '89. See larger image

As time passes and Cornell continues to grow in size and reach, we can only imagine what more the university will provide future generations of students. Cornell Tech will soon be well-established in New York City, expanding the university's research, tech and industry partnership capabilities; similarly the new Engaged Cornell initiative will bring students into their desired professional fields before they've even left the Hill.

When we leave Ithaca upon graduation, we will enter an expansive, global Cornell community comprising alumni who can be found almost anywhere in the world. I grew up immersed in the Cornell alumni network, and I know from the experiences of my family that many of the strongest and deepest Cornell connections often develop long after graduation.

I took my first steps through my current freshman dorm at a Cornell reunion, when my mom attempted to appease her daughters' sugar cravings at an ice cream sundae bar in Mary Donlon Hall. At age 2 – even earlier in my Cornell career – I met then-President Hunter Rawlings underneath the reunion tents. I was fortunate enough to connect with him again (this time, I could hold a conversation) just recently at the university's sesquicentennial celebration in Washington, D.C. The ease with which we spoke about my own Cornell experience was a reminder of the familiarity and kinship that exists among so many Cornellians.

We are all connected by these shared experiences, as well as anticipation of things to come. On my first day of class last fall, I crossed the bridge from North Campus toward the Arts Quad and passed over a seemingly unimportant manhole cover, but a small detail caught my attention and I paused to read the inscription. To my surprise, the cover had been donated by the Class of 1931, bringing an immediate smile to my face. On my first day of freshman year, my great-grandfather, Bill Vanneman '31, who had been a Cornell freshman 87 years earlier, stood by me in spirit.

The enduring legacy of Cornell, a tradition of change while staying true to its original goals, will remain the most important aspect of the university in this, its 150th year, and beyond.

Lizzie Klein '18 is a biological sciences major in the College of Arts and Sciences. Cornellians in her family include Kara Vanneman Klein '89, Kenny Klein '87, William Vanneman Jr. '65, William (Bill) Vanneman '31 and C. Reeve Vanneman, 1903.

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