Friday, May 23, 2014

Impressive Persons At Town Hall

Last night was the Cornell dinner, and it was the best-executed evening I've ever had. Everything was planned down to the last minute, and, barring slight issues with a BART train and an obstructed crosswalk, everything went swimmingly.

Town Hall occupies multiple floors of a small and beautiful brick building in the city. On the interior, white hallways and large windows contrast with the darker elements of the dining room to create an atmosphere of fresh, lighthearted sophistication. As we mingled with the adults and waited for Mr. Ramsey to set the name cards around the tables, we were served various hors d'oeuvres. I didn't have any because I was determined not to spoil my appetite; I had foolishly eaten a large bowl of ramen after school and wasn't too hungry yet.

Once we were ushered into the dining room and found our places, introductions multiplied at an startling rate. I was seated in the far back of the room at a table with my mother, Kevin and his father, and three alumni. On my left was Mr. Alex Vollmer, whose name card said class of '65 but who told us he graduated in '62. On my right was Ms. Alison Leaf, class of '09. Across from me was Jason Levy, class of '07. At each place setting there was a menu with multiple options for each course and a schedule for the evening. We each ordered either gumbo or salad, and settled in to converse. Alison Leaf told me all about her Cornell experience, describing the community and academics, and adding charming details like the campus-made ice cream and the lakes and gorges. She expressed not a single regret about attending Cornell, although she did state that after her time there she knew she wanted the city life.

Conversation paused as speeches began. We heard from two students, one alumna, and Mr. Ramsey. I was grateful for the perspective the speakers provided: the alumna, Samantha, moved from architecture to engineering before she settled into design, proving that it's not paramount for high school students to know what they want to do as they first enter college, and Mr. Ramsey reminded my cohort that the experience the ILC is offering us is for the good of the community more than it is for us.
I'm not going to describe the food because it sells itself. 

As Samantha was finishing her speech, an alum at another table stood and presented Mr. Ramsey with a small Cornell banner and a baseball cap. He used them proudly as props when he spoke.

With the speeches concluded, we were once again free to enjoy the food and learn from each other. Alex Vollmer, who worked as a civil engineer, engaged Alison Leaf, who is working towards a biochemistry Ph.D, and the rest of the table in a discussion of her work. Gradually, the conversation shifted to Cornell's quirks, like that every incoming freshman has to either know or learn to swim. Mr. Vollmer said that both his mother and grandmother attended Cornell and had to learn to swim - the requirement's been around a while.

At around 9, a couple of alumni had to leave, so Don hustled us outside to take a group picture. Within a few minutes of returning to the dining room, Kevin and I had thanked and bid goodbye all three of the alumni at our table. We were left with only our parents, who took advantage of the photo opportunity.
Before we left, Mr. Ramsey came around to each table, saying "We always make sure the moms get the flowers" and pushing the beautiful red-and-white centerpieces towards the mothers. The server provided cardboard boxes to better contain the vase and the arrangement. Outside, we removed the water so that there would be no risk of spillage on the ride home.

The flowers were a very kind gesture, but they became cumbersome when, after we'd been sitting in an ailing train for several minutes were were told to get out and wait for the next. Still, the wait was relatively short and we were soon on our way again.

Riding home, I reflected that this was certainly the fanciest meal I'd ever eaten, and that the event was beautifully organized down to the smallest of details. I'm grateful to have spent an evening in the company of such brilliant, idealistic, and well-spoken people, who have convinced me that the college experience at Cornell is one worth striving for.

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