A Cornell University logo tattooed on a man's right arm.

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By Lindsay Lennon

According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, nearly a third of Americans have at least one tattoo—and around a fifth have two or more. Asked why they chose to go under the needle, 69% said it was to “remember or honor someone or something.”

With tattoos so ubiquitous in society, and Cornellians so devoted to their alma mater, we wondered: how many of you have Big Red-related ink?

And … might some of you be willing to share your tatts with your fellow alums?

So we put out a call on social media and received more than a dozen responses, which are showcased here.

A tattoo of the Finger Lakes with Lake Cayuga colored blue
Yagmur Dulger ’22, MPS ’22, honors the Finger Lakes—with a special focus on Cayuga.

(OK, except for one: a blurry shot of a Cornell pennant—sent from an anonymous email account and aptly signed “Cheeky”—emblazoned on a bodily region that’s not quite “safe for work.”)

Many tattooed alumni memorialized their time on the Hill with a variation on the classic Cornell “C”—which, we learned, is a tradition among Big Red wrestlers like Jacob Cardenas ’24 (seen in the image at the top of this story).

But others opted for more unexpected designs related to their academic courses or cherished experiences.

When Katherine Huntley ’25 gained admission to her parents’ alma mater, her mom, Kimberly, “felt the need to represent the legacy” with a tattoo of Touchdown hugging the Cornell “C” while perched on vines of ivy.

(Kimberly is a CALS alum, while her daughter—now a junior—is following in the Arts & Sciences footsteps of her dad, chemist C. Frederick Huntley, PhD ’00.)

Derek Chao ’20 playfully refers to his tattoo of McGraw Tower and Uris Library as his “bingalee dingalee,” because he once heard someone refer to the clocktower that way—and it stuck.

But for storytelling purposes, the Arts & Sciences alum prefers to call it a “snowy depiction dedicated to my personal growth.”

A tattoo of various landmarks around Ithaca, New York
Liam Felton ’23 created a custom design.

Says Chao: “I told the artist that I wanted to commemorate graduating from Cornell with the library/clocktower area where I studied, worked as a student librarian, and had late night walks near, not to mention Slope Day being on Libe Slope.”

When Liam Felton ’23 turned 18, the Hotelie decided he’d get a tattoo for every place he’s lived.

He draws them himself—and for his third tattoo, he sketched an amalgamation of his most cherished Ithaca spots.

The design includes the building where he lived in Collegetown; the fraternity house where he and older brother Robert Felton ’21 both lived; the bridge next to Collegetown Bagels on College Avenue, with Cascadilla Gorge below; and, of course, McGraw Tower to tie it all together.

“I had a challenging and wonderful three years in Ithaca,” he says, “and I am proud to have it on my arm.”

Yagmur Dulger ’22, MPS ’22, who came to the Hill from Turkey to study computer and information sciences, also paid homage to lands beyond campus.

She got her tattoo of the Finger Lakes right after graduation. Cayuga Lake stands out in bright blue—and at its base, Ithaca is marked with a red “X.”

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Brian Myers ’80 waited decades after graduating to get his Big Red tattoo. Distraught over his canceled 40th Reunion in 2020, the ILR alum decided to mark the occasion in another place: his left deltoid.

Cornell wrestling coach Mike Grey shows a C tattooed on his arm while wearing a red Cornell Wrestling t-shirt
Head wrestling coach Mike Grey ’11 shows off his Big Red ink.

“I love my Cornell Touchdown tattoo and proudly display it whenever I can,” says Myers. “The only annoying response or comment I have ever gotten was, ‘I didn’t know you were a Chicago Cubs fan!’ Ugh!”

There’s a bit more to the story, though.

I love my Cornell Touchdown tattoo and proudly display it whenever I can.

Brian Myers ’80

“Being a very law-abiding person, I wanted to make sure that getting the vintage tattoo of Touchdown did not infringe on any Cornell copyrights, insignias, or trademarks,” Myers explains.

After consulting University policy, he got permission to use the image for his own personal purposes.

“Quite a crash course in trademarks,” he muses.

Some alums couldn’t wait until after Commencement to get inked—like Rachel Shim ’20 and Caroline Sheridan ’20, who were roommates for all four years of undergrad.

Their senior spring, they ventured to an Ithaca tattoo parlor and memorialized their time together by getting their NetIDs—the combinations of initials and numbers that comprise Cornell email addresses—inked on the inside of their lower lips.

Two young women showing tattoos of numbers and letters on the inside of their lower lips
Pals Caroline Sheridan ’20 (left) and Rachel Shim ’20 show off their (usually) hidden NetID tattoos.

This may not be what the University meant when it instituted dual-factor authentication—but it’s safe to say that these two will never forget how to log into their accounts.

Sarah Schlee ’20, BS ’19, DVM ’23, and Dakotah Tanczuk ’20, BS ’19, also got inked together before graduation.

While their designs are both Cornell-inspired, the CALS animal science majors had different reasons behind their respective tattoos.

Schlee opted for a canine pawprint connected to a pulse line on her wrist as a tribute to her field of study.

Tanczuk’s simple outline of a bear on the back of her neck “has several meanings,” she says, “but Cornell was a large aspect of it. I found a home here the second I stepped onto campus and I had never visited before Move-In Day.”

Two women show off tattoos, one of a pawprint and pulseline on her wrist and the other an outline of a bear on the back of her neck
Sarah Schlee ’20, BS ’19, DVM ’23 (left) and Dakotah Tanczuk ’20, BS ’19, sport their fresh ink.

Top: Photo illustration by Caitlin Cook / Cornell University, featuring an image submitted by Big Red wrestler Jacob Cardenas ’24. All photos in this story provided.

Published October 25, 2023

Do you have body art inspired by your time on the Hill?

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