"Good, Smart People"
In an emotional talk with new students and their families, Dave Price '87 defused elephants in the room that burden many college newbies and their parents.
"What a cool beginning," said Ashely Rudolph, a Kinston, N. C., resident whose son transferred to ILR from the College of Charleston. "I expected to get lots of figures and formulas."
Instead, she heard a compassionate talk that lovingly confronted fear.
First, Price articulated the private worries of many 18-year-olds in Uris Hall Saturday. "What if I don't make friends? What if I am overwhelmed by academic work? How do I handle that moment when my family says goodbye?"
Thirty-one years ago, Price was in their shoes.
"This is the first step of being your own person … (but) you don’t know who to be," he told students at the annual ILR Dean"s Welcome event, held the morning after new students arrived on campus.
Twenty or more times, the audience erupted with laughter at Price's funny stories, spliced in among serious messages.
Freshman year, Price felt awkward with girls, gained 40 pounds, preferred bowling to mingling and bombed a few courses. "I had no idea what I was doing."
One night that first year out of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., he sobbed, thinking "I bit off more than I can chew."
"You will cry here," he told students. "That's OK. Everything is not perfect and you are not perfect."
"A lot of you got in here because you were at the very top" of high school classes, he said. "Then, it reverses."
"You gotta give it time and there's no special amount of time," he said. Misgivings will eventually give way to "I feel good."
Lots of schools attract smart people, but Cornell attracts "good, smart people, nice people," Price said. "You are about to meet the people who will walk with you for the rest of your life."
At ILR, those people include peers, faculty, alums and administrators – "an endless source of people willing to invest in you," Price said in an interview Friday. "There's a constant circle of people who care."
"I love this school for all I learned here academically, for professors who gave of their time and for administrators, who are often the unsung heroes, who made everything good so much better."
Ginny Freeman, ILR's registrar for decades, remains a hero to Price. Panicked, he went to her after being placed on academic probation after his freshman year. "Ginny assured me that with focus, hard work and maturity, I could move beyond that."
Freeman and Price became close friends. Price kept in touch with visits and more than 150 postcards from his travels around the world as a journalist. Shortly before her death from cancer in 2010, they had lunch.
"Ginny saw beyond a student ID and took a young kid who wasn't sure of his place here and took it upon herself to make sure I felt like I belonged and helped me thrive. I will forever be grateful to her."
An HR professional who gave up a job at Pepsi to take a crack at television, Price now shuttles between New York and Hollywood developing television programming. For years, he reported weather and news for "The Early Show" on CBS.
Price illustrated the deep bonds that he developed at Cornell through stories about his three closest friends, each of whom he met at Cornell.
In one of his most moving recollections, Price talked about how devastated he was when CBS fired his on-air team. He asked the Uris audience to guess who was waiting outside the studio to comfort him as he left that studio for the final time.
"It was my best friend."
With that, he stunned students and parents by introducing David "D.L." Resell '87, sitting in the audience with Price's other closest Cornell friends, Gabe Boyar '87 and Dave Andrade Hotel '87. The audience greeted them with a standing ovation.
Price asked his friends to travel to Cornell for the Uris talk to help him drive home the value of the Cornell experience, the importance of developing friendships and of being, above all, a good person.
Price has been delivering the welcome talk for more than 10 years as a way of giving back. This year, he gave it with intensified passion.
"This is the beginning of the most memorable period of your life. Embrace it. Don't let it be clouded by anxiety. Set forth with a healthy attitude so that 31 years from now, you can come back here with people who mean as much to you as these guys do to me."