Mark (mhaithaca) wrote,

A new era far above Cayuga's waters

I was privileged to attend this afternoon's installation ceremony for the 11th President of Cornell University, Jeffrey S. Lehman '77, the first graduate of the University to hold the office. It was held in by far the biggest interior space on campus, but was still pretty limited, so I'm glad I got to be one of the roughly 4,000 attendees.

The interior of Barton Hall was barely recognizable; it's literally a former aircraft hangar (WWI planes were housed there) as well as being an active gym, basketball facility, track, and ROTC training area. Today, though, there was lots of black and red draping making the building look positively elegant.

Attendees included representatives of eighty other universities and colleges, who entered with the academic procession in the chronological order in which their charters were signed... beginning with Oxford University, chartered in 1251 or thereabouts, and followed by Harvard University, chartered in 1650. The participation of several dozen of Cornell's peer institutions and neighbours really impressed me.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Cornell alum, was the guest speaker; she spoke about the ten presidents who preceded Dr. Lehman. It was neat to see her speak, but I got the feeling she would rather have been talking about something else.

Lehman himself is an energetic and strong speaker, which is nice to see. I never felt Hunter Rawlings was a great public speaker, an impression worsened by the inconvenient fact that he followed Frank Rhodes, probably the best public speaker I've ever known. Lehman invoked the wood framed and leather bound volume of Copernicus's On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres in the library building a few dozen yards northwest of the spot where he was speaking, and Toni Morrison's Beloved in the next library building to the west, as he talked about the University's scientific and literary missions.

Also present were Presidents Emeritus Dale Corson and Frank Rhodes, the eighth and ninth presidents. Rhodes looked fantastic; I don't think I'd seen him since he was seriously injured in a car-pedestrian accident in Florida almost two years ago.

The program ended with everyone singing Cornell's alma mater. (Just the commonly sung first two verses. Pft.)

I'm off to Zinck's shortly; it's a worldwide Cornell alumni event that just happens to be tonight, and of course I'm one of the local organizers.

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