When she was growing up in Harlem, Ginger So ’79 walked 10 blocks each way once a week to borrow books from the public library.
In those books, she saw photographs of an America she did not know – an America of houses with white picket fences – and images of other countries. Her reading made her want to travel, so she followed the advice of her mother and studied hard, gained entrance to a good high school and later was admitted to Cornell.
Here she learned hard work alone would not guarantee success; networking, working on team projects and building communities were critical. Upon graduating, she got a job that she found boring, but she took on extra projects and increased her skills.
“You make your own opportunities,” she said to students gathered May 6 at the third annual honors awards ceremony sponsored by the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives (OADI).
Now a senior vice president of U.S. Bank, So advised her audience to “think about how to make what you are doing relate to other people,” build bridges of understanding and networking, and never underestimate the value of their own education.
“You are the Cornellians of the future,” she said. “Your soundness of scholarship, strength of character, sense of responsibility and calmness of constructive citizenship bode well.”
The ceremony recognized the accomplishments and contributions of some of Cornell’s most talented scholars and leaders, including many from the college of Arts & Sciences, following the semiannual Diversity in Scholarship and Engagement Symposium that showcased a wide range of research projects by graduate and undergraduate students. Both were held in Statler Hotel.
Associate Vice Provost for Academic Diversity A.T. Miller presented So with the Ryokichi Yatabe Award, which recognizes “an alumnus or alumna who has made an ongoing commitment to the university through their appreciation and advocacy for campus diversity and their active contributions to the betterment of our greater communities as an agent of social change.”
As an alumna, So worked with the Cornell Alumni Admissions Network; was the first minority chair of the Cornell University Council; led the Cornell Asian Alumni Association; and served in many roles in the Cornell Alumni Association. In 2014 she received a Frank H.T. Rhodes Exemplary Alumni Service Award.
Also recognized were:
- Stephen Salerno ’16: Solomon Cook Award for Engaged Research and Scholarship;
- Abigail Shilvock ’17: George Washington Fields Award for Professional Development;
- Monisha Afrooz ’19: Gloria Joseph Award for Opportunity Programs;
- Jesse Sanchez ’18: Marvin Jack Award for OADI Emerging Scholar-Leader;
- Uju Nwizu ’17: Jerome Holland Award for OADI Outstanding Scholar-Leader;
- Men of Color Council: Club Brasileiro, Award for Outstanding Organization (accepted by Khalafalla Khalafalla ’17 and Antoine Saint-Victor ’16);
- Xing “Sherry” Zhang, doctoral candidate: Toni Morrison Award for Graduate Mentorship;
- Gretchen Ryan ’97: Tomas Bautista Mapúa Award for Outstanding OADI Staff Partner; and
- Professor Kimberly O’Brien: Estevan Fuertes Award for Outstanding OADI Faculty Partner.
Misha Inniss-Thompson ’16, who last year received the Jerome Holland Award and will attend graduate school at Vanderbilt University in the fall, gave closing remarks, crediting OADI for the support to help her pursue her professional goals.
“Get to know the people in your cohorts – the people you see at OADI, the people you see around campus, because those are your networks,” she said. “The staff at OADI have always been my biggest supporters – not only them, but the community they helped me build in my time here.”