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In a pandemic-delayed State of the University address, President Pollack lauds 17 months’ worth of Cornellian achievements

By Martha E. Pollack

The following is the introductory text of the State of the University address that President Martha E. Pollack delivered on March 26. The complete speech can be found here.

Every year, one of the biggest challenges in putting together these remarks is choosing what news and achievements to highlight from what has always been a very full twelve months.

This year, the challenge is doubly compounded. I have not 12 but 17 months to report on since my last State of the University address. And none of those months have been ordinary months.

But neither is Cornell an ordinary university.

Despite all the challenges of the pandemic and the other crises we’ve faced since my last report, these months have been extraordinarily productive ones, even by the standards of Cornell.

We’ve launched new departments, a new school, and a tremendously ambitious new philanthropic campaign. Our faculty, students, and staff have achieved at the highest levels, and their work has been recognized with an impressive range of accolades and awards.

These months have been extraordinarily productive ones, even by the standards of Cornell.

And as the public health landscape has continued to evolve, we’ve continued to rely on science and the expertise of our faculty in ways that are both new and that stand at the heart of our 157-year-old mission: creating new knowledge and educating new generations of global leaders with a public purpose, for a changing world.

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This weekend, we’ll celebrate the life of one of Cornell’s giants: our ninth president, Frank H.T. Rhodes. President Rhodes was a visionary in many ways, and he spoke often and eloquently on what he saw as the role of the university—not just for its own faculty, students, and graduates, but for all of humanity.

“It has become,” he wrote, “the quiet but decisive catalyst in modern society; the factor essential to its effective functioning and well-being.”

Today, Cornell is that catalyst in countless ways. We are an institution like no other—one that combines Ivy League scholarship and research with a land-grant mission; the liberal arts with the professions; a rural identity with urban campuses; an incredible breadth and depth of world-leading expertise with a culture of collaboration; and a foundational commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

This constellation of strengths has made us uniquely agile in our ability to respond to the changes and challenges of our times.

And it puts us in a unique position to carry forward Ezra Cornell’s vision and become the model of a modern research university for the 21st century—one that creates the knowledge, the expertise, the global citizens, and the innovative solutions for the future.

One that fulfills the role of the university as President Rhodes saw it: as an “engine that drives humanity forward.”

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Top image: Photo by Jason Koski/Cornell University

Published April 25, 2022


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