Cornell Goes to the Dance, and Alumni Celebrate
By Scott Pesner '87
In March, as the Big Red men's basketball team began its journey in the NCAA "Big Dance" for the third year in a row, alumni groups around the world held the usual first-round celebrations. "We've been through this the past two years, so we figured we'd have a couple of viewing parties at local bars and at the Cornell Club-New York and that's all we needed to do," says Ashley Barry '07, sports chair of NYC Cornellians Young Alumni. "But when we were overwhelmed by the turnout for the first game against Temple, we knew something special was in the air."
That "something special" was the national spotlight thrown on the men's team, as it defeated Temple in the first round and the University of Wisconsin in the second, earning a trip to Syracuse to take on the University of Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen—the first time in thirty-one years that an Ivy League team made it that far.
Cornell alumni were now not only boasting about their school's academic reputation but its athletic prowess as well. The Alumni Association's Face-book page (www.facebook.com/cornell alumniassociation) was inundated with postings from around the world about how proud Cornellians were of their alma mater. Said one: "My undergraduate degree is from Ohio State, but my PhD is from Cornell. That Ohio State is in the Sweet Sixteen is no big news; Ohio State is a super power in both football and basketball, but, wow, Cornell! Awesome!" (For some other postings, see sidebar.)
As the team continued its march, some alumni headed to Syracuse for the Sweet Sixteen. Alison Torrillo French '95 and her husband, Matt French '95, ME '96, made the trip from Washington, D.C. "Matt is a huge NCAA basketball fan—he and his dad always get tickets when the tournament is in D.C.—so how could we pass up this chance when Syracuse is driving distance away?" French says. "We momentarily considered doing the 'responsible' thing and not taking the days off work, but realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we'd very much regret if we didn't go. It was a great feeling to share such a special evening with so many other Cornell-ians." Her favorite part? The run on Cornell merchandise at the Carrier Dome. "Everything sold out," she says. "At one point, I walked by a vendor who was opening a new box and a ton of people raced over—only for him to say, 'Sorry, there's no Cornell T-shirts in here.' How often does that happen?"
Of course, most people couldn't make it to Syracuse, so alumni groups around the world planned viewings in their areas. For Robert Mandelbaum '81 of the Cornell Club of Atlanta, putting together gatherings to watch Big Red sports events was fairly common—but this was different. "We usually get fifteen people for games, but for the Sweet Sixteen we had seventy-five," Mandelbaum marvels. "People came just to be there. We had alumni who had no interest in basketball say they had to dig out their old Cornell T-shirts and sweatshirts because they wanted to share in the experience." The excitement was comparable on the other side of the country. "We had to offer viewing at two locations in Seattle because we had so much interest," says Blakely Lord '97, president of the Cornell Club of Western Washington. "We had a great cross-section of alumni, with all ages and colleges represented."
In New York City, alumni interest grew as the tournament continued. "By the second game we had six locations, including two owned by Cornellians, and they were all packed," says Barry. "The excitement was incredible." Eventually, viewing parties were held in thirteen locations, including Brooklyn and Queens. The Cornell Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association drew a huge crowd at a bar in Chelsea, and the Cornell Black Alumni Association invited its members to gather at a viewing party at Tonic, a large three-level bar in Times Square. That's where Warren Kurtzman '87, visiting New York on business from Raleigh, North Carolina, found himself for the Cornell-Kentucky game. Kurtzman was amazed to be surrounded by some 400 alumni who had taken over the entire location. "The size and enthusiasm of the crowd was overwhelming," he says. "Perhaps the best part was that I brought along a business associate who had no connection to Cornell, and he was converted into a Big Red fan within minutes."
Of all the viewing parties, perhaps the most interesting was the one Mike McMahon '93 organized deep in University of Kentucky country. "We're in the heart of enemy territory," he says, "but there are a lot of Cornell alumni on the Kentucky faculty." The gathering was held at an upscale Lexington bar, which was also occupied by Kentucky fans. "We were fortunate that it was a night game, because our alumni had to hide the fact that they were Cornell fans," he says. "They wore University of Kentucky turtlenecks—but when they took off their jackets, they were wearing Cornell sweatshirts over them. I think people were nervous, but we escaped without any bloodshed."
Scott Pesner sits on the board of the Cornell Alumni Association and chairs its marketing and communications committee.
Big Red Pride, Facebook Style
The Cornell Alumni Association's Facebook page was hopping as men's basketball, as well as wrestling and men's and women's hockey, advanced in their respective NCAA tournaments. The site continues to post information of interest to alumni. For those not on Facebook, the discussion is available through the Cornell alumni website, alumni.cornell.edu. Here's a condensed sampling of the March postings:
"I spent half of my morning in Bangkok, Thailand, on the NCAA website. I have never in 30 years watched a live game before . . . found myself cheering like mad for the team."
"I have never watched a basketball game on TV. So to sit on pins and needles waiting for Thursday night to roll around to watch those amazing young men face Kentucky was a new experience for me. I'm so proud of my school."
"How exciting it has been to actually have conversations with non-Cornellians about Cornell athletics! More than one Big Red team in the news in a single week! I was so proud to watch the men's basketball team on the court."
"I live in Seoul, South Korea. The past few weeks have been an amazing ride—nonetheless so as I was up in the wee hours and canceling morning meetings to catch the game."
"The entire ride—and the way the team and the Cornell community responded, balancing the education we value with the sports we played—is a testament to the University. A proud day for Cornellians everywhere."
"Can we challenge Kentucky to a spelling bee now?"
Rhodes Award Winners Announced
Eight distinguished Cornellians have been honored with the 2010 Frank H. T. Rhodes Award for Exemplary Alumni Service. The highest alumni honor, the award recognizes graduates who have given long-term volunteer service to Cornell throughout the broad spectrum of alumni organizations. This year's recipients are Carol Bagdasarian Aslanian '63; John Foote '74 and Kristen Rupert '74; Keith Kennedy, MS '41, PhD '47; Nancy Radick Lynk '52 and Robert Lynk '54, DVM '61; Nelson Schaenen '50, MBA '51; and Jay Waks '68, JD '71. The awards will be presented at a formal dinner during Homecoming Weekend.
Alumni Website Gets a Makeover
After many months of work by Alumni Affairs and University Communications, the alumni website— alumni.cornell.edu—got a new look and expanded content. The revamped site divides information into four areas: Participate, Volunteer, Remember, and Give. Its main feature is a "Find Alumni Events & Groups" function, allowing users easy access to events in their area and to groups in which they can participate. In addition, it will serve as a gateway to CornellConnect, Cornell's online community. The site also features connections to social media platforms. Visitors without Facebook accounts can still participate in the Cornell Alumni Association Facebook feed and also get updates on Twitter postings about Cornell.
Website Profiles Distinguished '79 Grads
By Tom Cummings '75
Inspired by The 100 Most Notable Cornellians by Glenn Altschuler, PhD '76, Isaac Kramnick, and R. Laurence Moore, the Class of 1979 sought to identify its most notable members. The result is a new website that showcases the accomplishments of an ever-growing number of classmates.
Class officers Jeff Berg, ME '80, MBA '81, Mary Maxon Grainger, MPS '87, Jordan Schell-Lambert, ME '80, and Cindy Williams solicited nominations from the class. They also consulted with staff in Alumni Affairs and Development and conducted extensive Web research. They defined a distinguished classmate as "a person who has made a meaningful, recognizable, and lasting contribution to their profession, community, business, or constituency."
Former class president Jeff Berg said, "We knew via anecdotes and the Class Notes column in Cornell Alumni Magazine that since graduation a number of our classmates had done amazing things in business, public service, education, and their communities. We wanted to compile a list of the most notable classmates and share their accomplishments as we approached our 25th Reunion."
In honor of that reunion in 2004, the class published a brochure that highlighted twenty-five distinguished individuals. For their 30th in 2009, they added another thirty to the list and updated the profiles of the initial group. Recently, with the help of a grant from the Cornell Alumni Association, the class produced a website (http://classof79.alumni.cornell.edu/ Classmates/index.html) that serves as a highly accessible archive that can be easily updated.
The fifty-five honorees to date include individuals in eight broadly defined fields: arts/media, education, entrepreneurship, health care/medicine, product businesses, public service, service businesses, and service to Cornell. Representing all seven undergraduate colleges, they hail from around the globe. Each profile includes a photo and links to the honoree's organizations and achievements. "What we found, and continue to find through nominations and research, is truly heart-warming, as the honorees are very humble," says Mary Maxon Grainger, former vice president for communications and current reunion chair. "We encourage classmates to share their accomplishments and those of others they know, so we can continue to expand our list of classmates at upcoming reunions."
A downloadable nomination form for the thirty-five distinguished classmates to be honored at the 35th Reunion in 2014 is now available on the site. By adding corresponding numbers of classmates at their 40th, 45th, and 50th reunions, the Class of '79 will have recognized 225 individuals by its 50th Reunion in 2029.
Tom Cummings '75 is a director-at-large for the Cornell Alumni Association.
Asian Alumni Honor Annie Wong '77
More than 250 alumni and friends came together in February to ring in the Year of the Tiger at the Cornell Asian Alumni Association's annual banquet at the Golden Unicorn, a restaurant in New York City's Chinatown. The event, which featured a ten-course traditional Chinese meal, also included entertainment by a Taiko drumming troupe. Annie Wong '77 was this year 's honoree—recognized for her professional achievements, support for CAAA, and leadership as an alumna.
Wong, who chairs the University Council's Committee on Student and Academic Services, received the award from Susan Murphy '73, PhD '94, vice president for student and academic services. In accepting it, she spoke about growing up as a first-generation American in San Francisco and going to the public library in the spring of her junior year of high school to research colleges. She decided that she would ask for information from all eight Ivy League schools, but would apply to only one— since the fact that the elite institutions were located on the other side of the country made attending one seem a distant dream. She said when she received a beautiful white viewbook with red lettering, she knew that Cornell was the place for her, and her love affair with the University has never stopped.
Proceeds from this year's banquet benefited the CAAA Scholarship Program, which recognizes outstanding students who demonstrate a commitment to hard work, academic achievement, and community service. Since 1992, CAAA has raised nearly $150,000 for scholarships benefiting two dozen Cornell students.