Peter Biedenweg: 'Speak openly, to learn how to be an effective speaker while still in an educational setting.'

May 1, 2017

Peter Biedenweg

History

Torrance, CA

What accomplishments/activities are you most proud of while at Cornell?

One of the great things about Cornell is how easy it is to find things to get involved in. I’m proud of the one time I volunteered to help set up Cornell’s speech and debate tournament. After carrying water and setting up tables, the club needed an extra debate team, and with no one else available, I ended up serving as an alternate with no prior experience. Within the next hour, through the help of my partner, we successfully debated three other teams and I learned the joy of speech and debate. A major accomplishment of mine was my senior thesis, which is a three-semester process in the history department. My paper was on three Cornell professors, an entomologist, a forester, and a horticulturalist, and their contributions to the American Conservation Movement. The process not only taught me how to research and write a 60-page paper, but also gave me a chance to discover Cornell’s influence on the debate over America’s resource usage at the end of the 19th century.

Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most? How or why?

The biggest influence on my time at Cornell has been living in co-operative housing. When I was able to move into a place where I had more autonomy, I was very excited. Living in a co-op has provided me with a great community. It has taught me how to cook for 40 people, and also how to balance my own needs with the needs of the community. All the co-ops on campus do a great job hosting music concerts, educational events, and much more, and because of them, I know I can always find something to do on weekends.

If you were to offer advice to an incoming first year student, what would you say?

I would offer a few pieces of advice: First, four years is not that long, and you should speak openly, to learn how to be an effective speaker while still in an educational setting. Teachers and students on this campus are extremely well spoken, and you will learn how to defend your beliefs by opening up. As well, this university is huge, but if you want it to feel more personal, you should study its history. Knowing who buildings are named after and recognizing that others have been through their own challenges can put things into perspective. To give an example, in Cornell’s earliest days students had to wake up at 6 in the morning for military drills. Finally, to quote Cornell historian Carl Becker, “be friendly and charitable, good-humored but not cynical, slow to take offense, but [regard] life as profoundly serious.” Just don’t take yourself too seriously.

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