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Why Cornell?

 

Dee Ann Rexroat '82

 
Four years at Cornell has a monumental impact on a young person’s life.

Choosing a college is like driving a new road and not knowing where it will lead. Few decisions have such far-reaching consequences.

The college experience reshapes your values system, your way of thinking, your understanding of others. It results in friends for life and sometimes a spouse. It may lead to a profession and a life’s work. Indirectly, it influences the people you meet along the way.

Where you go to college has an importance so great you can be frozen by the very necessity of making the choice. For most of us, though, it comes down to a sense of fitting in, a recommendation from a teacher, or perhaps a generous financial aid package.

People in Cornell’s admissions office say today’s teen-agers and their parents are more sophisticated consumers than ever before. According to one higher education consultant, the top 10 characteristics for choosing a private college are quality of faculty, availability of specific majors, safety, quality of academic facilities, availability of scholarships, quality of residence life, cost after financial aid, friendliness, teaching emphasis, and academic reputation. Sound familiar?

“People like to say it’s faculty and all those things, but when it really comes down to it, it’s financing and a gut-level feeling,” says Kathryn Falb Gutz ’57, a 17-year veteran of the Cornell admissions office. “People fall in love with a place and then it’s financing.”

My own story begins at a party with my mom in Mount Vernon. When some adults there learned that I was a pianist and wanted to study music in college, they insisted on taking me to the home of piano professor Julian Bern. He received me politely, listened to my impromptu audition, and encouraged me to try out for a scholarship. Until that night, Cornell was barely on my radar screen. The impact? Today I am married to a former Cornell professor, work at the college, and live in Mount Vernon. I’m also a different person because of Cornell. A better person, I think.

The Cornell alumnus who has had the greatest impact on Cornell chose us on little more than a whim. One day in study hall at Thornton Township High School in Harvey, Ill., a young man asked his classmate—someone he didn’t know well—where he was going to college. “A school out in Iowa called Cornell,” the classmate said. Though he hadn’t heard of it, the young man thought if Cornell was good enough for his classmate, it was good enough for him. He never looked at another college.

The classmate was Campbell McConnell ’50, who became an economics professor, author of the most widely read economics textbook in the world, and a significant donor to Cornell. The young man was Richard Small ’50, who founded Cheker Oil, became chairman of Tri-Star Aerospace, led Cornell’s board of trustees, and is the most generous philanthropist Cornell has ever known.

 
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