Sarah McDonald: 'The diversity and size of Cornell has expanded my worldview.'

April 28, 2017

Sarah McDonald

Music & English

Essex, CT

What is your main extracurricular activity? Why is it important to you?

My main extracurricular activity at Cornell has been my involvement in the Cornell Orchestras, my defining activity for these past four years. As a member of both the symphony and chamber orchestras, I have looked forward to the 4:45 pm rehearsals as a time to indulge in the joys of making music with such talented musicians. Through my time with the orchestra, I’ve not only grown as a musician and leader but found a place of comfort, belonging and family within the vastness of Cornell’s student body. The unique dedication of an orchestra made up of nearly entirely non-music majors continues to inspire me each week. I am very grateful for the endless opportunities to meet new composers, travel internationally as an orchestra, perform masterworks and make friendships with people as passionate as me about orchestral music.

How did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?

Over my four years at Cornell I feel I have grown as a person nearly as much as I’ve grown as a student and musician. The diversity and size of Cornell has expanded my worldview and introduced me to new knowledge and ways of thinking that are merely the start to a lifetime of learning. My interests have also changed as I grew to love English and literature more over the course of my four years, leading me to double major in both English and music. I also was introduced to the Baroque violin my freshman year, which expanded my interests and allowed me to explore an entirely new aspect of violin performance.

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

I would recommend taking chances and pushing forward if you start to feel overly comfortable where you are. There is such a wealth of opportunity at Cornell, from lectures to visiting scholars to extra-curriculars to concerts nearly every day put on by the music department. I would also highly encourage first-year students to get to know a professor, attend office hours, enroll in a seminar course — it can be easy for students to feel lost in large lecture halls when they first arrive. From a social perspective, try to find an extracurricular that fits you well from the start. Attend ClubFest if you aren’t sure what best suits you. Having a small community within this huge university from the start helps immensely with homesickness. And lastly, explore Ithaca. There are so many incredible things to do and eat in this town and just getting off campus can alleviate a lot of stress.

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