A white sheet covered in colorful post-it notes

The display board at the Cornellians booth at Homecoming 2022. Lindsay France/Cornell University

What Does Cornell Mean to You—In Five Words or Less?

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At Homecoming, we invited alumni and students to ponder that question. Beyond our wildest expectations, they delivered

By Beth Saulnier

Sum up your feelings about your alma mater—in a mere five words or fewer. Sounds like an impossible task, right? Well … what if we bribed you with tote bags, pens, and candy?

Homecoming 2022 marked Cornellians’ first-ever appearance at the beloved annual event, held in and around Schoellkopf—our publication having launched less than a year earlier, in October 2021.

At our table within the fun-packed Fan Festival, we invited the happy hordes of alumni and current students to take up Sharpie and Post-It note, and ponder their Big Red experiences.

People filling out post-it notes at a table at Homecoming
Revelers flocked to the Cornellians booth. (Noël Heaney/Cornell University)

We titled it “Cornell, on the One Hand: What Does Cornell Mean to You, in 5 Words or Less?”

(And yes: we know that’s not strictly grammatical—but it’s punchier.)

Once the willing scribes completed their oeuvres, we added the notes to our display board—which swiftly became a gloriously crammed, neon-hued paean to Cornellian spirit.

Where I became me

Best years of my life!

My happy place.

Something new every day.

Everyone is welcome!

Passers-by beheld it—and some of them even got a little choked up.

A chance to pursue passions!

Peace community gorges

Surprises of all types.

Inspiration, aspiration, perspiration, excellence, family.

Greatness in everything!

Unlocking your potential.

Friendship, research, diversity.


In total, more than 400 people participated in our thought exercise—so many that we ran out of Post-Its.

(As for our signature tote bag, whose supplies ran dry far earlier: it became Homecoming’s hottest—and most practical—accessory.)

Among those hundreds of entries, there were some common themes.

Dozens of people used variations on “friends,” “community,” “home,” “family,” or “dream.” “Grow,” “future,” and “love” made frequent appearances.

A community of caring individuals.

My place to grow.

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Good friends and good hockey.

Fulfilling a dream.

New career, new friends—Ithaca!

An illustration of the words: love, home, family, beautiful, challenging, friendship, diversity, future, growth, gorges, cold, fun, hilly, hard, new, opportunities, community, passions, exploring, red, community, dreams, best, happiness, people
Some of the most commonly used terms, weighted by frequency. (Cornell University)

Of course, Cornellians are wise, and they tell it like it is. No surprise, then, that some of the chillier realities of life and scholarship in Upstate New York made their appearance: “cold,” “hard,” “work,” “challenging,” “hilly.”

(And, naturally: “prelims.”)

Sleep deprivation.

Cornell classes are hard.

Coffee, prelims, Okenshields.

Hard work, blood, sweat, tears.

Good pizza, cold weather.

About a dozen people went with the classic, if unoriginal, “Go Big Red!”

(Did you really mean it, or did you just want the tote bag? Either way, we’re glad you stopped by.)

And then there was this poignant scrap of paper, eloquent in its simplicity:

“Cornell,” it observed, “that says it all.”

Top: Photo by Lindsay France/Cornell University.

Published October 5, 2022

What does Cornell mean to you in five words or less?


  1. Katie Schoenberg, Class of 2003

    Opportunity to grow and thrive!

  2. Ted Rauch, Class of 1961

    Psi U; Jim’s Place…best!

  3. Murem Sharpe, Class of 1970

    Home away from home

  4. Gary Bullis, Class of 1983

    Lifelong Friendships!

  5. Dianne Dyson Coles, Class of 1969

    Sally Lunn
    Sleepless nights

  6. Faith, Class of 1988

    Hard ass learning, thrive!

  7. Teresa Davis, Class of 1982

    A seat at the table

  8. Judith Harvey, Class of 1966

    Walking around Beebe to Ag.

  9. Altagracia Rodriguez Coleman, Class of 1976

    Cornell means the greatest friends of over 55 years!!!! Priceless!!!!

  10. Dale (Jack) McCarthy, Class of 1968

    Lifetime friends, fun, education, beauty

  11. Gloria J. Lang, Class of 1969

    Education, Friendships, Mentors, Vision, Growth

  12. Yaenette, Class of 1997

    Where I learned to learn.

  13. Betty K Zielinski, Class of 1962

    Best four years ever!!!!!!

  14. Ray Baculi, Class of 1990

    Hard work but worth it

  15. Bob Everson, Class of 1961

    Met my life long love

  16. Richard Ballantyne, Class of 2004

    Too woke

  17. Patricia Stewart Noar, Class of 1977

    Door to a new life

  18. Rob O’Riordan

    Beautiful, Chimes, Challenged, Chapter House!

  19. Marlene kwee, Class of 2001


  20. Paula Laholt, Class of 1963

    “Best opportunity for enhanced lifestyle.”

  21. Karen Wilk Rubin, Class of 1978

    Cold Rain snow black umbrellas

  22. ANNE FENSTERMACHER, Class of 1971

    Best years of my life .

  23. Alexis R

    Beautiful home away from home!

  24. Philip Alkon

    A challenging, life-changing and loving experience that has not only stayed but grown within me for all these many years. A highlight of my life.

  25. Gary Brandt, retiree

    East Hill Colleagues, Excellence, Love

  26. geoffrey+hewitt, Class of 1979

    A great place to learn !

  27. Peter Einset, Class of 1976

    It is all over!

  28. Chris Rakov, Class of 1996

    Blue books, prelims, Libe Slope

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