Blast from the past

By Susan Schwab Donovan '66

I follow my college roommate up the steep steps to King Chapel. How much time must we have spent in this special place, the heartbeat of Cornell, during our undergraduate days. As we settle into the familiar pews, my memory drifts to the mandatory convocations, the special concerts and recitals, and the ever-present knitting projects in the back rows.

The dignitaries march down the aisle, resplendent in colorful academic regalia. They fill the empty seats on the stage, the same stage where we performed silly skits in our freshman talent show and where Martin Luther King Jr. addressed us. Today two of the honored speakers are my classmates.

Catherine Quehl-Engel ’89 blesses us with a prairie prayer, filled with metaphors of corn and growth and harvest—so elegantly simple, so right for this time and place.

President Les Garner assures us that Cornell’s mission remains clear and compelling. His confidence and passion are contagious, and I trust him as a good steward of Cornell’s future.

The awards are conferred—first to David Harsh ’61 and Ann Archer Harsh ’61, for exemplary leadership and service, then to Jim Ingle ’66 and Ingrid Wendt ’66, for their remarkable achievements in medical research and poetry. They speak eloquently about the foundation laid for them at Cornell, and they express their deep appreciation for the mentors who shaped their growth. We applaud their success and their humility, and we swell with pride.

From my perch in the balcony, I search out the faces of my classmates—friendships tended, deepened, and reconnected at this reunion. They, too, tell stories of accomplishments and service—they, too, are models of strength and courage in both adversity and success.

The Class of ’56 files forward, hands outstretched to receive their Golden Alumni pins. “Almost eucharistic,” comments the chaplain—an apt comparison for those of us who have been fed and formed by this place. (“That’s us in 10 years,” whispers my roommate.)

We stand and sing “Cornell, Greater Be Thy Name.” I haven’t heard the alma mater for years, and my eyes fill with tears.

Moved by the organ’s majestic recessional, I remember why I came to Cornell so many years ago. I leave today with gratitude for the gifts we received here. I silently vow to return in five years to reunite with old friends and to sing again in King Chapel. For sure, I’ll be back in 10 years to pick up my pin!