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Choosing connection and community

It is amazing to be here with all of you, to celebrate the opening of a new academic year—the very first at Ithaca College for our Class of 2023.

I hope you’ve had a wonderful week on campus, getting settled into your residence halls and familiarizing yourself with this place.

I hope, too, that you’ve really embraced the opportunity to meet new people—not just your classmates but our wonderful staff, faculty, and community members.

This past week, you became a part of the IC family. All of us in this space right now join your loved ones in being a powerful part of your life. People who will stand by you in the years to come, offering support, advice, and love. Welcome to this family.

Ithaca College is a special place—a distinctive institution with an equally distinctive community. Our roots run deep in the arts. We began as a music conservatory in 1892, and we are still known today as a place where the most talented artists travel to receive a best-in-class music education.

We have a commitment here to theory, practice, and performance, which sprang from our start as a conservatory but has grown over the years to apply to the broad scope of our liberal arts disciplines and field.

What does theory, practice, and performance mean? It means that we explore the world around us by diving deep into established knowledge then taking intellectual risks in pushing those boundaries.

It means we collaborate with one another—and understand how our connections with others combine powerfully with our own deep and authentic knowledge, shaping us as scholars and as people.

Finally, it means we embrace what we’ve learned and we equally embrace our journey, using both as a springboard to fully engage with the world and contribute positively, constructively, and boldly to our communities.

Students, you are coming to this campus at a time in our world that is incredibly uncertain. We exist in a society that often reflects only our divisions, rather than the commonality of our humanity. We exist within the reality of a climate crisis, when innovative and sustainable thinking is desperately needed if we are to literally survive. We exist in a cultural landscape of silos, of people turning inward and turning their backs on the unknown.

This is the reality we all exist in, and the stakes are high. That is why it is so important that you are here, intentionally and in community with others. You chose connection. You chose community. You chose to venture into the unknown. Not with your backs to one another, but rather with an ability to lean into yourself, to others, to community. 

Ithaca College strives to be a private institution that serves a public good and each one of you here now is a part of that mission. During your time on campus—and after you leave—your IC experience will be the foundation from which you show up authentically in the world and contribute in meaningful and powerful ways.

Students, take second to savor this moment that you’re in and the interesting company you are keeping as a member of this class. You are among 1,610 new students, 96 of whom transferred to Ithaca College from 62 other institutions.

There are 248 first-generation college students in the Class of 2023—students who, like me, are the first in their families to attend college. Notice the 45 flags that hang in this arena; they represent the countries and territories of origin for 88 students in your class.

And 44 of you come to IC from right here in Ithaca and Tompkins County.

Earlier Provost Cornish pointed to our close-knit community as one of our greatest strengths. I want to introduce you now to nine people who are a part of this community—people who are a part of your IC family and will partner with you in very different ways to make your IC experience rich and welcoming … people who support you here and in your lives.

You’ll get to know Cheryl Christopher very quickly here through her work at the post office in Emerson. Cheryl wants students to know that they can come to her for anything, and says if she can’t help you herself … she has connections!

Emily Crowell works at our Towers Marketplace, and went to culinary school at Paul Smith’s College. Before her time at IC, she worked at Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Resorts, where she helped open The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Jack Dembow, Ithaca College Class of 1977, has been on our board of trustees since 2017. In addition to a rewarding career in health administration, Jack is also a professional potter and though he makes a lot of things in his home studio, he only sells one: personalized dog food bowls. Jack lives outside of Philadelphia with his husband, Mark, and their golden retriever, Rolex.

Patrol Officer Sophia Dimkos is new at IC just like you—she’s been with us for only six months. In addition to her work with our public safety department, you can find Sophia teaching dance at the annual Greek Festival in Syracuse.

Ben Hogben is both an IC alumnus—Class of 2006—and an IC parent. In addition to his work at the library, Ben has a passion for music, and plays almost any instrument that has strings. He’s been working at the college for 28 years and describes IC students as “empowered learners.”

Luca Maurer has worked at IC for nearly 20 years. He says the best part of his job is using his privilege to dismantle oppression, because LGBTQ+ liberation must be intersectional … or it will not be liberation at all. Luca maintains his wellness through reading and distance running … though not at the same time.

Professor Chris McNamara was herself a student at IC, graduating in 1981. Now she’s the Director of the Occupational and Physical Therapy Clinic, and takes a lot of joy when she sees students in the clinic put into practice a skill or technique learned in the classroom. She grew up in Syracuse, but both her parents are both from Ithaca, and her mom’s family opened one of the first Italian restaurants in town.

Through his role at the student fitness center, Sean Reilley supervises 75 student employees, and says he is always impressed by the positive energy that they bring into the workplace every day. Sean’s also a new dad: father to Celia Jane, IC Class of 2041.

Holley Westbrook has worked at IC for 21 years in two areas of our college that are incredibly student-oriented: financial aid and the registrar’s office. Holley loves helping students in any way she can and is an important campus partner. She describes IC students as “happy and engaging.”

Thank you so much for being a part of our community and for introducing yourselves to our new students.

Students, once again, welcome to Ithaca College. You have an entire community here who is invested in your success and in your ability to thrive. Thank you.