Christine Abiyou: 'We must always consider our impact on humanity as a whole'

Christine Abiyou
Los Angeles, Ca

Why did you choose Cornell?

When my mother and father moved to the United States from Ethiopia, they did so with the dream that their children would benefit from greater access to education. "The one thing that no one can take away from you is your mind," my mother always used to say, and that lesson stayed with me. I chose Cornell because I believe that education has the capacity to awaken and embolden the human spirit and allow people access to the greatest versions of themselves. Cornell is a place that is both challenging and enriching; I knew that it would be a place that could introduce me to the parts of myself that I would need in the future, and be the answer to all of my parents’ dreams. 

What are the most valuable skills you gained from your Arts & Sciences education?

The most valuable skill I learned from being a student in Arts & Sciences is how to infuse human and philosophical considerations as an immovable aspect of every practical decision. As a government major, I have learned that discussions of war, public policy or funding do not exist in a vacuum. With every decision that is made, we must always consider our impact on humanity as a whole. 

What have you accomplished as a Cornell student that you are most proud of, either inside the classroom or otherwise?

During my time at Cornell, the accomplishment that I am most proud of is the work that I am doing with Innocence Project New Orleans to release an inmate who has been in jail for 50 years. The case is ongoing and the work has been hard, and as with most civil rights cases, progress has been slow as well as consistent. Although this work took place outside of the classroom, it is a direct reflection of the knowledge I gained through my Cornell professors. I learned of the injustices taking place in the Angola prison in Louisiana in Crime & Punishment a course taught by Professor Joseph Margulies. And I took the initiative to carry the lessons I learned outside of the classroom, resulting in one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. 

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

I would tell incoming freshman that the one mistake that I regret the most about my college experience is my fixation on the “end goal.” There were many times that I did not spend time with friends because I buried myself in the library, or that I did not allow myself the grace of having a moment’s break because I was convinced that all that mattered was being at the top of my class. But here we are at the end of the semester, and we are all in our homes, graduation has been canceled, and all that we are left with are our memories of Cornell. While I encourage every student to work hard, I implore you to remember that life is the thing that happens in between meeting all of your goals. So, in the midst of it all, do not forget to stop, breathe and build the memories that will stay with you much longer than any award, accolade or diploma. 

Where do you dream to be in 10 years?

In ten years, I hope that I am working to help represent the poor and disadvantaged who are often abused by the carceral state. I also hope that I am continuing to work to increase access to education for girls and the poor in Ethiopia. Lastly, I hope that I am continuing to write and develop talents that have nothing to do with my career but help to make me who I am. 

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 Christine Abiyou