'My classes transformed the way I think about human problems'

Adam Ziccardi

Religious studies

Why did you choose Cornell? 

As a high school student, I had a wide variety of academic and extracurricular interests. Cornell offered more types of classes and clubs than any other school I looked at, and is also located in one of the most beautiful places in New York State. Even now, I’m about to finish my major in religious studies, with minors in mechanical engineering and East Asian studies, all while taking french horn lessons, working a job, doing community service and living in the Chesterton House Living-Learning Community.

student outside monastery

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

My anthropology and religious studies classes transformed the way I think about human problems. I went into these classes, uncomfortable thinking that black and white don’t exist, but I came out really understanding what to be critical of everything means.  My classes about Mao, the state, Tibetan Buddhism and witchcraft opened my eyes to the vastness of ways to think in the world, which also sharpened my skills.

In an experimental seminar called “Food and Religion,” Professor Jane-Marie Law gave me and five others the rare opportunity to learn to cook while we mutually critiqued each other’s essays.  My writing has never gotten better than from that class.

What is your main extracurricular activity and why is it important to you? 

student getting instrument signed by Wynton Marsalis

My main extracurricular for all four years has been the wind symphony, though I also loved Big Red Marching Band! Band has always been a big part of my life, especially getting to make music with friends on a regular basis. Music is a meaningful source of inspiration and stability in my life, and the wind symphony even took me to Haiti to make music with new friends there too!  (Photo with Wynton Marsalis.)

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

Between my sophomore and junior years, I got to go to live in two Zen monasteries in Japan with Professor Law in what was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and then to go live in the Italian Dolomites for a month to perform in a student orchestra, which was recommended to me by my teacher Ilze Brink-Button. On these trips, I realized that being an engineer wasn’t the only way to be successful in life, and that compelled me to change my major halfway through my college career. Cornell has so much to offer and so many incredible people, and it’s truly been a blessing to come here!

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 2021.

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Adam Ziccardi