'The orchestra program was the first home I found in college'

Tairan Zhang

Information Science, Government
Dayton, Ohio

What was your favorite class and why?  

person jumping with tennis racket

The best choice I made as a freshman was enrolling in “Choices and Consequences in Computing,” taught by Professor Jon Kleinberg and Professor Karen Levy. At its core, the course critically examines societal issues in computing — including content moderation, algorithmic fairness, and workplace surveillance — and provides students with the mathematical fundamentals they need to understand these topics. More so than any other course I’ve taken, I believe that it exemplifies the Arts & Sciences ethos of interdisciplinary study. Coming into the course, I knew I was interested in computing and law as discrete fields, but I couldn’t quite see the depth of their intersection (or how much I’d fall in love with it). Through incredible lectures and fun problem sets, this class single-handedly convinced me to major in information science and to pursue a career in public interest technology after graduation.

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

The Cornell Orchestras have been the beating heart of my extracurricular experience for the past four years. As a longtime violinist, I decided to join the orchestra program within minutes of my college acceptance. I’ve loved classical music for as long as I can remember, so joining such a talented program was an easy decision. In the years since I joined, though, I’ve come to appreciate that the program’s talent isn’t even the most exceptional thing about it. Rather, the warmth of its community is what has resonated with me most. The Cornell Orchestras are unique among university orchestras because the majority of its members aren’t music majors — we are Cornellians with beautifully diverse academic interests united by a shared love of classical music. Within this community of passionate members, I’ve met my kindest peer mentors and made my closest friends. In short, I’m grateful for all the ways in which my orchestra directors and peers have helped me grow at Cornell, from improving my musicianship as an orchestral violinist to teaching me to lead as the orchestras’ president. The orchestra program was the first “home” I found in college, and I can’t imagine my time at Cornell without it.

group of people with instruments

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?         

Performing in the Cornell Chamber Orchestra’s May 2022 concert was a magical experience. Under Dr. Michelle Di Russo’s baton, the orchestra rehearsed Argentinian tango music for three months to prepare for a concert featuring bandoneonist JP Jofre. Few of the orchestra members had played tango music at a high level before — the concert’s repertoire was fresh, innovative and different from the Western art music we had been trained on before college. Yet, over the course of three months, we learned to play tango music faithfully and passionately, and the results were incredible. So incredible, in fact, that our performance won the American Prize in Orchestral Performance. I’ll never forget the orchestral power and soul that we tapped into that day, and I’ll treasure that experience of making transcendent music with my peers forever.

How have your beliefs or perspectives changed since you first arrived at Cornell? 

person with some sheet music

Coming into Cornell as a freshman, I worried about all the details of my time here — how I’d make friends, what clubs I’d join, when I’d fulfill my distribution requirements, where I’d eat, and so much more. Meticulous planning was a core personality trait of mine, so the transition to college was intimidating. However, my freshman year at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t quite allow for such planning — the Cornell community was pushed to adapt together, and this formative experience kickstarted my journey of learning to live in the moment. In the years since, I’ve found that some of my favorite courses were the ones I chose spontaneously and that some of my greatest friends came from activities that I didn’t quite plan for. Cornell offers so many opportunities for learning both inside and outside the classroom that I felt inspired to focus less on logistics and minutiae and to simply find joy in the things I do.

What are your plans for next year? 

Next year, I’ll join the Teach For America corps as a math teacher in Philadelphia, Pa. Working as a teaching assistant at Cornell’s Bowers CIS helped me find my love for teaching, and I believe that I can make an impact in underserved public schools.

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 2024.

More news

View all news
		person smiling