Going Home to Cornell


Michelle Tuorto

SBP Assistant Headmaster for Academics Ms. Tuorto, third from left, joins friends at her Cornell University reunion in Ithaca, N.Y.

This is part of a continuing series on how members of the SBP community spent their summer

“Grab your things, I’ve come to take you home.”

I heard this line from Peter Gabriel’s song “Solsbury Hill” as I got out of my Dad’s car to move into the dorm for my freshman year of college.  It was on my mind when I said goodbye to my best friend, Amaliya, in the parking lot of our apartment complex the day after we graduated. After sharing our daily lives together for years, we had finally run out of days. When I got into my Oldsmobile to head back to New Jersey, and she pointed her barely-running VW towards New Hampshire, we were leaving our home. Our friendship has endured, but over a distance that was once as small as a wall between rooms.

When we got a postcard last year reminding us to register for our 20th reunion, there wasn’t a question — we were going to be there together. And if we were going, then Diana and Dominick were going too. If you come to my office, you’ll see a picture of the four of us right behind my desk, which was taken during our Senior Week in 1998. I was beyond excited at the thought of us being together, at Cornell, once again sharing the spaces and places we loved.

A lot has happened since we graduated. Diana married, had two children, and divorced; we met her new boyfriend at a wedding a couple summers ago and were glad to fold him into our group.  Dom is a tax attorney, which is a job only he could love. Amaliya and I were maids of honor in each other’s weddings, and her twins are my husband’s and my Godchildren. We may not see each other constantly as we did in college, but the threads of our lives are still connected, and every time we talk, it’s like we just saw each other yesterday.

The joy of reunion started before we even arrived in Ithaca. An email chain was started by Di, first to plan what we were doing, and then to engage in the same lowbrow humor we’ve been slinging at each other for over 20 years. The list of things we wanted to do started to coalesce, and then grew exponentially – eat at Collegetown Bagels, have a picnic by the waterfalls at Treman Park, see the band perform on the Arts Quad, buy copious amounts of overpriced swag at the campus store (remember, a lot of our Cornell gear is pretty old by now). Even though we were going to have the kids with us to care for, we were still going to get to taste college life again for a few precious days.  

We all refer to going back to Cornell as going home. It’s something that upset my parents when I used to say it while still in college; after all, wasn’t home where they were, where I grew up? Home is a place where you can be who you are, for better and for worse. It’s where you find your people, who take care of you when you’re sick, call you on your nonsense when you need it, alternately force you to do your work or dangle distractions in your face, and just be with you.  Home is safe, beautiful, affirming, and protective. While Cornell challenged all of us to grow in ways that were often painful, we never felt for a second that we weren’t where we belonged.

Reunion kicked off, and we immediately began running into classmates we knew. I caught up with one of my sorority sisters while on a line to look at planets at the observatory, and chatted with a band friend at the starting line of the reunion 5K. It was as I remembered; people were happy for you, whatever you were doing in life, if you were happy doing it. I heard alumni of all ages talking about their farms, businesses, classrooms, medical practices, galleries, children, pets, hobbies, and a million more interesting things, all of which were spoken about with passion. It’s simply not that way “out in the world;” there, even as adults, we are losers to like the things we like if they don’t conform with the current acceptable standard (Benedict’s notwithstanding!). Not – never – at Cornell. You live on a commune with underwater basket weavers? It’s cool.

Our crew decided to rest awhile atop Libe Slope, overlooking Cayuga Lake. The kids were tired of walking endlessly, and I’m sure of hearing our stories and inside jokes as well. The sun was lowering in the sky, and we anticipated hearing the chimes ring out from the clock tower right behind us. We sat on a bench inscribed with the words “Love to thee, our fair Cornell,” which is a lyric from the Evening Song (something like a second Alma Mater). A phone came out, and someone snapped a picture. Now, when you come to my office, you’ll see the four of us in 2018, next to the younger versions of ourselves in 1998. What I see in that photo is the gift of enduring friendship, the ability to evolve without losing connections, and the powerful bond that comes when you share a common home.

Michelle Tuorto is the Assistant Headmaster for Academics at SBP