2018-08-15 / Columns

Celebrating the ties that bind us to our beloved Cornell

SALLY FRIEDMAN

College Reunion season is over. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t reflected on why I feel such a deep attachment, one that seems to defy reason, not to my college, but to my husband’s law school.

Every few years—especially the ones that were his big 5th or 20th, and then marking even more momentous numbers—I would return misty-eyed and moved from those events that were officially his, not mine.

After a while in long marriages, colleges become community property.

Actually, there are compelling reasons why Cornell University had drawn me into its ivy-covered universe and made me feel an allegiance that is more emotional than rational.

The law school gave my husband the scholarship that allowed him to become a lawyer, his lifetime dream. Like so many children of immigrant parents, he could never have reached that dream without help.

There is another piece of history, far less compelling. During my junior year of college, I had a serious crush on a chemistry graduate student at Cornell. M. was one of those strong, silent types, a brooding, aloof fellow who ended up preferring his potions and test tubes to me.

But I did spend a lot of time at Cornell that year, crashing at the tiny apartment of my sister and brother-in-law during their own graduate school days far above Cayuga’s waters.

I came to love Cornell, with its rolling hills and spectacularly beautiful trails. Being there made coming back to my own campus, the asphalt and concrete of the University of Pennsylvania, rather traumatic.

Cornell seeped into me again when I took summer courses there, and tried to fathom James Joyce and William Butler Yeats.

And that might have been that.

Except that I ended up marrying a Cornell alumnus after all. I was still in college and he was a bona fide, grown-up lawyer when we met, and our whirlwind romance included that time-honored realization that we knew so many of the same people. Cornell was often the connector.

Our wedding party included a flock of Cornell Law alums.

The first time we returned to Cornell was during the years of early marriage, when my Cornell alumnus was celebrating a 5th law school reunion. Back then, the reunion, for me at least, was simply a way out of the diapers and formula that had come to define my life.

But we kept coming back to Cornell.

We’d somehow make room for a weekend up in the hills of Ithaca until it got to be a lovely, addictive habit.

The years slipped by, as they always do. But still we went back to the place that had played a role in our lives, drinking in the love and loyalty so many felt for this university.

Alums came back to their campus from Hong Kong and Scotland, from Tahiti and Venezuela, and from towns 10 miles away.

And they reminded me, once again, that reunions at Cornell have a flavor all their own.

Some return, no doubt, for the silly fun of it all, including the blazers and buttons and foolish hats that are part and parcel of the memories.

Others come back because they are proud of where they’ve gotten.

But I would wager that Cornellians, more than most, return to alma mater because the place is a tranquil well of renewal.

The last few years have been sobering ones. We are now “The Old Guard.” Our ranks are thinning; so many are gone; so many have weathered the tempests of age and illness.

We don’t get to as many reunions as we used to.

This year, we didn’t get to Ithaca at all. We were bracing for a move, and there was just too much competition from all the dubious pleasures of changing addresses in what is called the “twilight” of our lives.

So, no walking in the law school’s alumni parade. No singing the old songs, or listening to the chimes at sunset.

But the heart remembers. And while we weren’t here to watch in awe as these men and women assembled after decades to pause and remember, and to sing the Cornell Alma Mater with a lump rising in their throats.

“Maybe we’ll get there next year,” we told each other as we spent reunion weekend packing pieces of our lives in cartons.

Yes, maybe next year. 

pinegander@aol.com

Return to top