It is not enough to congratulate ourselves on our exclusivity, our Ivy League association, our elite status. If we do that, we succeed only in becoming snobs, and we ignore the admonitions of the Founders across the expanse of the past 150 years. We aspire to be elite, without the burden of being elitist. We need to understand that we are not special merely because we are exclusive, but that we are exclusive because we are special. Because of Cornell, villages in the American southwest have clean drinking water. Because of Cornell, a four acre family farm in Malawi has been able to use innovative techniques to improve their nutrition, supplement the soil, and save enough money to send their four children to school. Because of Cornell, a new Picasso painting has been discovered under an old canvas. Because of Cornell, farmers in upstate New York and all over the world can produce better, more environmentally sustainable products and get them to market. Because of Cornell, young people – can learn from Nobel laureates and National Science Foundation Award winners, even when your parents can’t even afford the local state colleges.
Our alma mater was created as an antidote to the aristocracy of the rest of the Ivy League. Up until the time of the Civil War, it was common in the Ivy League to bring your slave, or man servant, to school. Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White rejected that premise. Recent studies at Brown, Harvard, Dartmouth, Emory, the University of Maryland, William and Mary, Washington and Lee and Princeton have begun to explore the relationship of higher education and their complicity in the slave trade. One scholar at MIT has written that higher education at the nation’s early colleges were, along with church and state, the “third pillar” of American slavery.
We are 1 of only 2 private land grant universities in the United States. Therefore, as Cornellians, it is our special mission to seek ways to make the world a better place through scholarship and service. Cornell continues to look for new ways to assist in creating global equity for less developed countries all over the world. Our past immediate past president and the current president of the Smithsonian Institution, Dr. David Skorton, has called Cornell the world’s land-grant university.
Randall Nixon ’78
Cornell Black Alumni Association ’15-’18