Lindsay France/University Photography

ITHACA, N.Y. — The ceremony always starts promptly at 11, and one Cornellian was more than 60 years late: Calvin Graziano ’53, MBA ’54, with his granddaughter, Liza Graziano ’13, who was about to receive a master’s degree in industrial and labor relations.


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President David J. Skorton, also a physician, offered what might be the ultimate doctor’s excuse, saying: “Cal missed his own Cornell Commencement in 1954 because he was getting married that day to Diane Johnston Graziano ’53 – before heading off to Marine Officer Candidate School. Cal, we’re pleased that you could participate in today’s ceremony!”

Cornell’s 147th Commencement Sunday morning, May 24, in Schoellkopf Stadium, the last for Skorton, could easily have been all about the departing leader, whom many 2015 graduates first met while sharing a dormitory with Skorton and his spouse, Professor Robin Davisson, during Freshman Orientation Week 2011.

Introducing Skorton – who’s been packing for his new job as secretary of the Smithsonian Institution – Robert S. Harrison ’76, chairman of the Cornell Board of Trustees, called Cornell’s 12th president “approachable, accessible and inclusive,” then added: “While I love President Skorton’s musical riffs, I am very grateful to his father for refusing to allow his son to become a professional musician, instead of going to college. Cornell would not be where we are today if David Skorton were playing sax on Bourbon Street.”

Lindsay France/University Photography
Lindsay France/University Photography

After that, the day was all about Cornell graduates and the careers to come.

“You will leave this stadium today with the most advanced and up-to-date knowledge that your teachers and mentors on the faculty and staff have been able to impart,” Skorton said in his Commencement Address, by tradition given by the university president.

Careers will commence, Skorton predicted, “with the critical capacities, inventiveness, imagination and curiosity for a lifetime, that come from a broad and deep liberal arts education.”

There was plenty of tradition to go around in the historic stadium, filled to capacity with balloon-toting grads, parents and family, faculty members in academic regalia and red-jacketed volunteers at every turn. Nearly ubiquitous grand weather (sunny in the low 70s this time around) is a given.

The crowd screamed “RED!” when the national anthem got to “…rockets’ red glare…” And graduates cheered for their respective deans, such as when Gretchen Ritter ’83, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, proclaimed: “I have the honor to present these superb candidates.”

Commencement wouldn’t be the same without arm-length, inflated latex gloves lofted by College of Veterinary Medicine doctors. Or mortarboard-topped students marching onto the field, cell-phoning parents in the stands: “Look, Dad, I’m on the Jumbotron right now!”

Traditionally a front-row chair is left empty “to honor classmates lost during your time here,” Skorton said, before reporting that members of the senior class, spearheaded by Lara Keskinkaya and Sam Coleman, raised funds to plant a “Tribute Tree” on the pathway between the Engineering Quad and Collegetown, for seven members of the Class of 2015 who died. In addition, the senior honor society Quill & Dagger partnered with Cornell Plantations to plant a grove along Cascadilla Creek.

Skorton expressed two further wishes to the Class of 2015: “I hope you leave with a renewed commitment to direct your talents toward the world’s deep needs. And a generosity of spirit that will guide your activities and your interactions with others wherever in the world you go next.”

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Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.