By Liam O'Mahony
With the admissions scandal tarnishing the pristine allure of Ivy League colleges, I was reminded of my Cornell adviser welcoming me by saying, “We grow the Ivy.”
This sentiment was ironic, since there are four “SUNY colleges” within the New York State land grant charter of Ezra “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study” Cornell’s scholarly enterprise on the East Hill in Ithaca.
I enrolled in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, a state school, and arrived as my sister finished her master’s degree in the College of Industrial Labor Relations, another strong state school.
“Cornell was my safety school” was a common boast from students, except those from Western New York, who were grateful to be at a nearby Ivy.
Another phrase I heard a lot was “It’s the easiest Ivy to get into, yet the hardest to stay,” said by uber-achievers from downstate and New England, rationalizing an inferiority complex with their back-home friends apparently coasting at Brown, Harvard and Princeton. This phrase synthesized challenging times that students endured while others could not, leading to Rolling Stone dubbing it “Final Exit U.”
I had the privilege of attending a lecture by legendary astronomer Carl Sagan, who humbled me by showing the “pale blue dot” satellite image of the Earth and saying, “Every person who ever lived walked the surface of this minuscule marble that hurls through space surrounded by a vast, unforgiving universe.”
Former Attorney General Janet Reno, a Cornell alumna, was delivering remarks in Barton Hall when hecklers shouted her down for a few minutes in protest over the Waco tragedy. Freedom of speech was always in play.
I took an advertising class with the professor who created the slogan “Ithaca is Gorges,” now encased in the bumper sticker and T-shirt hall of fame.
I had the great opportunity to work with lacrosse coach Richie Moran, who constantly hollered, “It’s great to be here!” to his student-athletes, coaches and anyone around him, spurring them to excel in every facet of their collegiate life.
As a writer for the Cornell Daily Sun, I reviewed a Notorious B.I.G. concert at Bailey Hall. His fame was rising at the time when he hit the stage saying, “Where the hell are we? Someone stole our luggage!”
Seeing George Carlin was one of the great treats. He had too many classic lines to recall, but his routine stood out with: “What do you mean, respond in my own words? OK, zipdal hapeljunxxxg bokkyz … ”
The syndicated columnist Dave Barry regaled us with his amusing anecdotes and minutiae of life, ultimately telling us not to worry about a career and “just stay in school, your parents will forget, they’re old.”
At the hockey games, the “Lynah Faithful” took pride in harassing goalies, yelling “Sieve! Sieve!” and “It’s all your fault!”
My brother-in-law, a proud Yalie, likes to say I did well – for a state school. All New Yorkers should be proud of the continued excellence of Cornell’s statutory colleges, and Western New York can claim an Ivy school as one of its regional neighbors, especially with the Cornell ILR satellite office in the Market Arcade and the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County in Lockport.
Liam O’Mahony, of Lockport, graduated from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture & Life Sciences.