'I am most proud of my intellectual growth at Cornell'

Olivia Breitkopf

Harrison College Scholar
Scarsdale, N.Y.

What was your favorite class and why?

I will carry what I learned in David Feldshuh’s “Acting in Public” course for the rest of my life. The basis of the class is that every moment in life is a performance imbued with truth and integrity, including small-scale interactions such as telling a story at dinner or making introductions. We learned performance techniques to release self-consciousness, connect with an audience and increase our magnetism through voice and gestures. Then we observed how these techniques became second nature and enhanced the way we interacted with people and spaces in everyday life. David and his teachings changed the course of who I am as a person and who I aspire to be, giving me the tools to be my own coach. I also took this class with my older sister, so we are lucky to be each other’s coaches too!

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?

person in front of clock tower at Cornell

I am lucky to have so many memories to treasure. My favorite recent memory was when I held a gathering on the slope by asking friends from different parts of my life on campus to bring friends they admire from clubs, classes, etc. More than 100 students filtered through! This was a moment to foster new friendships and enjoy conversation with people who have varied interests and might not otherwise cross paths.

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

By creating my own interdisciplinary major through the Harrison College Scholar Program, I got the opportunity to wholeheartedly explore my academic interests without being bound by traditional core requirements. I am fortunate to have taken a wide range of courses from Zen Buddhism to punk culture to screenwriting to critical theory. By exploring a breadth of interest, I reached new depths of understanding. Developing the ability to make connections between seemingly disparate subjects led me to my thesis topic, which is a performance studies explanation of why Democrats and Republicans do not understand each other. I am most proud of my intellectual growth at Cornell — all thanks to the opportunities I received through the Harrison College Scholar Program.

person smiling

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

Seek out courses that change your mind. Take the space Cornell can give you to reflect on, question and modify your deeply held beliefs. Although confronting difficult subject matter can be taxing at times, trust that you can build a stronger version of yourself. I would also tell an incoming student to attend student group events even if you do not have a friend involved and hike and drive around the beautiful countryside to reconnect to nature.


Every year, our faculty nominate graduating Arts & Sciences students to be featured as part of our Extraordinary Journeys series. Read more about the Class of 2023.

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Olivia Breitkopf