Cornell Class of 2020 Spotlights

Cornell University
May 18, 2020 · 13 min read

Cornell’s Class of 2020 hails from every corner of the United States, as well as more than 50 countries spanning the globe. They’re musicians, scholars, athletes, artists, builders, designers, scientists, entrepreneurs and engaged citizens.

A diverse collection of undergraduates and graduate and professional students, as Cornellians they’ve explored courses far beyond their academic disciplines; pursued firsthand research in labs and in the field; given their time, energy and ideas to serve the public good; and enlivened and entertained campus with their artistic and athletic endeavors.

They’ll have a distinct place in Cornell history — a class undeterred by a global pandemic that required them to complete their final semester with online instruction. Despite these obstacles, the Class of 2020 persevered, discovering new ways to grow, learn and connect as they finish their studies and prepare to embark on new journeys as Big Red alumni.

Fabrice O. Ulysse

What does being a Cornellian mean to you?
Being a Cornellian means to be curious about the world, to engage in inquiry and intellectual exploration. Cornellians are rugged, and they’re tough. You see it in their work ethic, their tenacity, and you see it in motion through the athletes. The cold weather, the long walks, the rigor of the coursework, prepare us to thrive anywhere.

Who inspired or influenced you during your time at Cornell?
Professor Inna Zakharevich solidified my interest in mathematics and inspired me to pursue graduate studies. She’s always excited to share her passion for math with her students. I took MATH 3340: Abstract Algebra, with her, and it’s my favorite class at Cornell. At least once every week, I would have a moment where I’d chuckle and say, “That’s beautiful.”

What message or advice would you give to fellow graduates?
Things are bleak right now, and it’s hard to see how soon they’ll get better. Despite that, take care of yourselves and your families, keep holding on, and relax when you can. We’ll get through this, we always do.

Jessica Tao

What is the biggest lesson you gained from studying business?
Being a strategic “giver,” rather than a “taker,” is always the way to go. I was most surprised about the importance of human connection. Over the years, I have realized my classmates and co-workers are the most successful when they are humble and treat others well.

Which academic, extracurricular or personal achievement are you most proud of?
I am proud of my startup,PediCure, and all the milestones my co-founders (Jialin Ke, Joshua Zhu and Jonathan Pao) and I have achieved. We have grown from a crazy idea, just on PDFs and paper, to having a working prototype and gaining the support of the National Science Foundation, NY Department of Health and Cornell University. Our company has pitched at One World Trade Center, and we’ve interviewed with venture capitalists at age 21. Entrepreneurship has taught me to embrace uncertainty and to be fearless.

Emma Clark

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?
One of my favorite Cornell memories is from my first hockey game, fall of my senior year, when the band played “Far Above Cayuga’s Waters.” All the students linked arms and swayed back and forth together, and in that moment I was filled with school pride like I’d never felt before, and I imagined what it would be like to listen to that song with the class of 2020 on my graduation day. Because of the pandemic, that will not happen at this time, but instead I treasure the camaraderie and emotion of that moment: surrounded by friends, excited to cheer on our team and proud to be a Cornellian.

What accomplishment as a Cornell student makes you most proud?
The accomplishment I’m most proud of is being able to serve as a role model for younger women in the computer science community through Women in Computing at Cornell. Advice and guidance from more experienced students is the reason I had the confidence to pursue a career in computer science as a woman, and nothing has made me happier as a senior than to pass down these reassurances to the incoming students of our community.

Read more about Emma’s journey.

Deon Provost

What accomplishment as a Cornell student makes you most proud?
As a first-year MBA student, I was invited to join BR Ventures, Johnson’s student-run venture capital fund. After performing due diligence on an early-stage consumer packaged goods company, I had the unenviable task of informing them that we would not be investing at that time. I provided constructive feedback on what the company needed to improve to better position itself for future fundraising. Months later, when I ran into the CEO, the company was doing amazingly well. Most people seek an MBA in hopes of making an impact. I’m incredibly proud and thankful that I was able to experience that feeling so early in my tenure.

Which classmate do you most admire?
Sofia Huther. She’s the most humble and authentic person I know. She’s intellectually brilliant, fun, thoughtful, cultured and unassuming. She effortlessly adds value in every environment she enters. Whether discussing diversity and intersectionality, the nuances of leadership, classwork, professional aspirations or family life, she always provides a unique perspective or killer question that propels you forward in your thinking and outlook. Sofia does nothing for show; everything is borne from a deep conviction of character. She epitomizes empathy and authenticity. She shows up for everyone and, yet, most would never know.

Read more about Deon in Poets & Quants 2020 Best and Brightest.

Chloe Mikles

What does being a Cornellian mean to you?
Being a Cornellian means being immersed in a community of people who are incredibly passionate about what they do. Every student at Cornell is dedicated to and loves their work, whether it be in their academic field, visual arts, athletics, the list goes on. Being surrounded by this every day makes Cornell an inspiring place to learn.

What is your most memorable undergraduate research moment and why?
My experiences doing research at the Lab of Ornithology are the most memorable. I was able to learn about evolutionary biology through the lens of birds, and by using molecular techniques in the lab, documenting biodiversity in Kenya and studying avian behavior in Australia. I learned more through my lab and field experiences than I ever could have imagined, and I am so thankful to have had these amazing opportunities.

Jesus Perez

What was your favorite class and why?
My favorite class was ECON 3770: Inequality in U.S. Higher Education. It combined an interesting topic with economics and is taught by a great professor. The course material is very relevant to the lives of students, touching on topics like social mobility, affirmative action, graduation outcomes and more. Professor Riehl’s lecture format is also great, as the class was actively engaged through questions.

What is your main extracurricular activity and why is it important to you?
My main extracurricular activity has been my involvement with the Cornell Farmworker Program. As a student not originally from New York, I wanted to interact with people outside of just New York City and Ithaca. The CFP has allowed me to get to know other areas of upstate New York while also doing impactful work, like providing people with legal resources or ESL lessons. I’ve gotten to meet lots of great people, and it has helped me to have an impact on the community outside Cornell’s campus.

Read more about Jesus’s journey.

Eva Esteban

What moments, big or small, made your Big Red experience special?
Some of my favorite moments were during the sprints, when all of us got to work on our Studio projects for 24 hours and pitch at the end. Being in an environment where every team is focused on bringing their product idea to life made me feel incredibly inspired. My friends and I used to randomly dance during the breaks because we were so excited about presenting our ideas!

What message or word of advice would you give to fellow graduates?
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all the students here, but it has also brought us closer. We’re supporting each other through the challenges it’s bringing, and although having a virtual graduation is not what we envisioned, it has made the 2020 cohort special and stronger. Wherever the future takes us, we’re now professional Zoom users, so let’s use it to keep in touch.

Sian Brown

What classes or professors stood out during your Cornell experience?
I enjoyed taking Anthropology of the Fashioned Body. It was taught by Dr. Denise Green and was my first class at Cornell. A result of this course was the Women Empowered: Fashions from the Frontline exhibition, which was curated by Dr. Green and students in the course. It was a pleasure to work with my peers to create something that honored so many resilient and tenacious women. It was very rewarding to bring awareness to their stories. I believe that this class prepared me for my graduate research and taught me the art of exhibition curation. This knowledge definitely aided in the future for the process of curating my exhibition Black Excellence: Fashion that Prevails.

What you will miss about Cornell?
I will dearly miss the staff, professors and my peers in the Fiber Science and Apparel Design department and cohort. I will also miss the views of Beebe Lake from my office in the Human Ecology Building!

William Grenis

What moments, big or small, made your Big Red experience special?
Cornell Tech’s academics surpassed my expectations, and the extracurriculars I participated in truly rounded out my Big Red experience. We created our first-ever Cornell Tech basketball team and had the opportunity to play both in Israel and in a multi-university tournament. This solidified our friendships and promoted the Cornell Tech brand. Another special moment was seeing the smiles on school children’s faces as they grasped the concepts that we taught as part of our K-12 initiative. Experiences like these, along with the diverse student body and gifted faculty, make the opportunities at Cornell Tech limitless.

What message or advice would you give to incoming students?
In our Startup Studio class at Cornell Tech, we learned about the concept of “pivoting,” which is when an entrepreneur realizes something isn’t working and goes back to the drawing board to rework the idea. This lesson from studio class is profound and applies to our lives as a whole. As we go through life, we must be flexible, receptive to feedback and have an open mind to new ideas.

Vera Lin

What moments, big or small, made your Big Red experience special?
A big moment in my Big Red experience was having the chance to do a credit internship with the labor relations department at Disneyland. This experience allowed me to apply so much of my coursework to the real world, while working alongside fellow Cornellians. I am so grateful that this was a part of my Cornell experience as it truly allowed me to grow personally and professionally.

What surprised you most about your Cornell experience?
I was most pleasantly surprised by the diversity on campus. Students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and have differing perspectives on issues, all of which have enhanced the learning experience and made for very interesting classroom discussions.

Samay Bansal

What do you enjoy most about your school?
The community at the School of Hotel Administration is incredible. All of the students and faculty are extremely passionate about hospitality and love sharing their experiences and their unique perspectives. The alumni are so gracious with their time and are always willing to share knowledge with you and speak candidly about their journey. The people at the Hotel School are so special; each person has left an impression on me and I look forward to continuing to build relationships until the day I graduate.

Which academic, extracurricular or personal achievement are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my nonprofit, Million Meals Mission. The organization allows me to help support global efforts to reduce food insecurity while I am in school. Currently, Million Meals Mission provides meals to people in North India, Cambodia and, most recently, Madagascar. The potential for growth is limitless.

Read more about Samay in Poets & Quants 2020 Best & Brightest.

Chloe Kuo

What will you miss the most about Cornell?
I’ll miss most the countless hours and unlimited effort that my electrical and computer engineering professors have dedicated to me. They’ve transformed me from a high school hobbyist into an enthusiastic engineer.

What moments, big or small, made your Big Red experience special?
One of my most special moments was bringing home a Collegiate National Boxing Title for Cornell. Countless friends, peers and professors came to the tournament to lend their support, and definitely brought their Big Red spirit!

Nathan Revor

What does being a Cornellian mean to you?
To me, it means taking advantage of every opportunity to further my learning and understanding, both by exploring the wide range of classes and clubs on this campus, but also by meeting as many people as I could.

What will you miss most about Cornell?
After these four years, I’ll miss the people I’ve met the most. Everyone here is passionate, talented and so interesting to be around — I learned more from my Cornell peers than any class could have taught me.

Tracy Potter

What does being a Cornellian mean to you?
It means committing to a lifetime of learning to better your community, however big or small it may be. For me, this means moving to a rural area of western New York to support farmers as a veterinarian. While I look forward to bringing the knowledge I have gained at Cornell to this new job, I’m also excited to continue to learn so that I can bring the best standard of care to my future clients and their animals.

Who inspired or influenced you during your time at Cornell?
The main hallway into the veterinary college is nicknamed the “Hall of Fame,” because it is lined with composite photos of all of the previous classes. My great-grandfather and great-uncle were Cornell-educated large animal veterinarians from the classes of 1918 and 1940, respectively, and it was always inspiring to walk by their pictures each morning on the way into school. It’s hard not to feel a sense of pride for continuing a family legacy and I really hope that they would have been proud of me.

Grace Brosofsky

What moments, big or small, made your Big Red experience special?
There were late nights spent hashing out moot court and mock trial arguments with friends and “studying” in the law journal offices. I enjoyed getting involved in Ithaca’s vegan community and co-hosting the Law School’s first “Vegan Food Day” with one of my best friends, meeting local environmental activists, getting to argue before real judges, and being cold-called about animal ears I wore to class. I took full advantage of Cornell’s gyms, hiking trails, and Lynah Rink with friends, as well as local festivals and misadventures in downtown Ithaca.

What will you miss the most about Cornell?
The Cornell community is strong, and I made some of my closest friends during my three years here, so I will miss them dearly. I will also miss the natural beauty of Ithaca, the “Hogwarts” feel of the Law School, brilliant and supportive professors, the Federal Indian Law Litigation Clinic and moot court/mock trial.

With their Cornell studies complete, the Class of 2020 joins a family of 230,000 Big Red alumni. Discover more at www.alumni.cornell.edu.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store