'Theater has taught me how to move comfortably through various spaces'

Sara Pistono

Psychology and Performing and Media Arts
Shenzhen, Guangdong, China

Why did you choose Cornell?

As someone who had grown up overseas in an expat community, one reason I was drawn to Cornell was because of its sizable international community. I knew that I could find a wide variety of people with whom to relate. Cornell’s message of "Any person, any study" spoke to me, and as a freshman entering undecided, I knew that I would have both the options and resources available to me to make an informed choice about my major. I was drawn to the idea of a prestigious school with a liberal arts education, and wanted the best of both worlds from the experience: the elite reputation of an Ivy, with the deep connections and communities of a liberal arts school. 

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

My main extracurricular activity was my participation in theater here at the performing arts department. As an actor, director, writer and producer, I truly was able to explore each and every role, and through them, gained experience I would never have had a chance to gain otherwise. Participating in theater at Cornell has directed my aspirations post-graduation. Through the theater, I’ve met lifelong friends and mentors, and discovered my own potential for art and creation. Additionally, theater has taught me how to move comfortably through various spaces. I suppose that might be why I’m so attracted to theater and performance: I find that acting is a sort of extension of my own circumstances as a mixed-race multi-cultural person -— moving from one space to another, adapting to new environments and searching for a sort of harmony in the context of my own multi-faceted identity. 

girl by waterfall

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?

There are so many things that we all consider "quintessentially Cornell" — sipping coffee in the library while listening to the clock tower chimes and smiling when you realize you recognize the song, or picnicking on the slope with your friends as you watch the sun set. It is perhaps not a singular Cornell memory I treasure most, but rather an amalgamation of small moments. It’s the pesto pizza CTB bagel, the quiet chaos of Olin Library after 1 a.m., the frenzied anticipation of Slope Day, the kind Appel chef who made me and my roommate 番茄炒蛋 [tomato scrambled eggs] after we expressed our homesickness for China. Taken together, it is these snapshots of memories that form my impression of Cornell as not only a wonderful place to learn and grow, but as my second home. 

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

I had the distinct privilege of being able to produce and co-direct a filmed stage show at Cornell, "Asiamnesia," which is an exploration of the stereotypes that plague Asian/Asian American actresses throughout their careers, as well as a celebration of their versatility and endurance. We staged this show at a point of reckoning for our country -— when anti-Asian violence is at a high, and the message of "Asiamnesia" is crucial. Cornell is full of talented and passionate AAPI artists and performers, and through this production, we managed to bring them all together. Actresses, set designers, choreographers and sound engineers -— all passionately united in our objectives, had the sheer joy of creating evocative art together. "Asiamnesia" is the climax of my college career — a project that I am more than passionate about, have a personal connection to and will carry with me for the rest of my career. I am extremely proud of the fantastic final film that emerged from our endeavors, and am truly gratified by the response it has received. I look forward to telling similar stories in the future. 

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

The best piece of advice I have to offer, by far, is that while you should give everything a try, once you find something you really enjoy, commit, and pursue your passion. The more you devote yourself to something, the more you’ll get out of it. If I hadn’t dived headfirst into theater at Cornell, I never would have had the opportunity to try out so many roles within the performing arts: actor, producer and director. Because I was so involved, not only did I make connections with my peers and professors that afforded me opportunities to participate in their own creative endeavors, but my commitment also made it easier for me to carve out and create my own opportunities. So, give everything a try, but if you find something you really like, grab onto it and don’t let go — you’ll be richly rewarded. 

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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Sara Pistono