Mai-Lee Picard

Class of 2016

Hometown: Mexico City, Mexico and New York City

What was your College Scholar project?
I wrote my senior thesis on Friedrich Hegel's and Arthur C. Danto's argument for the end of art. I explored this topic by focusing on experiential art, specifically the Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija. Tiravanija works primarily with food—his most famous work involved serving Thai curry at small art gallery openings. By using Tiravanija as a case study, I sought to explore how it could be that we had reached a so-called "end of art" in what appeared to be a particularly vibrant and innovative art world. I did so by examining how Tiravanija's work functioned on the art market as well as how experiential art or relational aesthetics, as coined by Nicolas Bourriaud, came about. Particularly helpful to the narrowing of my ideas was working with my thesis advisor, Peter Gilgen. Classes I have found particularly useful were Art of the Historical Avant-Garde, Modern Philosophy, Weimar Cinema and 18th Century Literature. I also benefitted extraordinarily benefitted from my semester abroad at University College London where I was able to specialize in the Philosophy of Art by taking such courses as Adorno: Art and Politics, Philosophy of Art and 19th and 20th Century Art in London Collections.

What were your most important extra-curricular activities?
My job at Engaged Learning + Research has really shaped my interest in public engagement and social justice, areas I am interested in pursuing in my career. My thesis is focused on philosophy and art, two passions of mine, but I hope to go to law school and work in social justice in some way in the future. Working at EL+R has gotten me involved in programming events to raise engagement at Cornell as well as getting me involved in a really wonderful course and summer program through the Cornell Urban Scholar Program. With CUSP, I took a course called Social Justice in the City and then interned at the Legal Aid Society during the summer. Pandora Dance troupe has also been an amazing part of my Cornell experience. I have danced 10-12 hours a week for as long as I can remember and being able to pursue that passion at Cornell was really important to me. Through Pandora I've been able to choreograph my own dances and be a part of dances choreographed by other members. It's been a really fun way to keep dance a part of my life and I'm excited to become more involved in the troupe as vice president next year. 

I enjoyed participating in a panel at the New Wave of Student Leaders Symposium held at Cornell and attending the Trustee Council Annual Meeting focused on Engaged Cornell’s Vision for Community-Engaged Learning and Research. This Spring, I was honored to receive a Community Engagement Student Trailblazer award.  

Talk about any summer internships or programs you’ve attended?
The summer after my sophomore year I worked at the Legal Aid Society in New York City. While there, I answered calls on the Access to Benefits Hotline; I took calls from people on topics such as healthcare, housing and employment benefits. I also took part in organizing outreach for a class action lawsuit my department was working on and got to sit in on client interviews and interact with community members. The Legal Aid Society is committed to providing legal services to people who could otherwise not afford them; this eye-opening experience has since motivated me to pursue more work in public service and social justice.  The summer after my junior year I worked at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office in Trial Bureau 50. While there, I worked on a variety of projects that included research for cases, participating in witness and defendant interviews, attending court dates and watching trials as well as conducting a mock appellate argument. Working there truly shaped my career goals and made me passionate about becoming a prosecutor.

What are you doing now, and what are your long-term plans?
For the next two years I will be working as a Paralegal in Business and Securities Fraud at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, after which I plan to attend law school. 

How do you think your experience as a College Scholar has shaped your life or your career? Are there ways that you have applied the skills/knowledge/life lessons you learned as a College Scholar throughout your life?
Being a College Scholar taught me the value of an interdisciplinary education.  I treasured the chance to pursue what I was passionate about and enjoyed the freedom to take many classes I would not have taken otherwise. More specifically, the program allowed me to combine my passion for philosophy and art with my interest in social justice and the law. The independence expected of students in the Program was also a real draw for me.  I know that the program has created a lot of opportunities for me and pushed me to challenge myself intellectually every semester.