'Confront the awkward, the grim, the daunting, head on...'

Benjamin Velani

Religious Studies and Government
Minneapolis, Minn.

A&S Extraordinary Journeys: Benjamin Velani '22

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

I think the most valuable skill I developed is that of effective person-to-person communication across a variety of different fields. The ideas we learn are awesome, the writing and thinking we do is profound, but all of it is only as good as how far they travel beyond our ivory towers. This is the real work of change — spreading the works done at a place like Cornell with the rest of the world in accessible and targeted ways.

man in mountains with lake

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

My two main activities were rugby and The Cornell Daily Sun. The Cornell University Rugby Football Club (CURFC) was where I found my first community at Cornell. I knew I wanted to try out the sport after leaving high school, so when I saw them playing pick-up touch on Rawlings Green one sunny afternoon in the fall of 2018, I tossed on my cleats and joined them. The men in my year who joined have grown to become many of my best friends. 

Also during my fall freshman semester, I joined the dining department of The Sun, following interests developed late in high school. I loved the work and saw how journalism could have a tangible and immediate impact on the social institutions that govern life. I helped one of my staff writers on The Sun call for the end of Cornell Dining’s single-use plastic consumption. Her article, once published, prompted Cornell Dining to reach out and consult with her about sustainable changes that needed to be made on campus. Having worked with her closely through the editing process, and then seeing the actual impact it had, affirmed my resolve to become a journalist, for the change that it proffered by bringing to bear the power of public opinion.

man with city in background

What have you accomplished as a Cornell student that you are most proud of?

Since the fall of my sophomore year, I have been working on what has since developed into a 120-page thesis for the Humanities Scholars Program (HSP), wherein I cover the breadth of impacts that light pollution has on the natural world and human health and society. Thanks to funding through the HSP, in the early winter of 2022 I took a kind of pilgrimage, a road trip throughout America’s West and Southwest to visit international dark sky parks and Indigenous archaeo-astronomical sites. I explored the power of knowing through experience, wrote a blog (www.inthepursuitofdarkness.com), took photos of the stars and raised awareness about why it is imperative we regard the obliteration of dark skies by artificial light as an unacceptable loss.

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

Always speak and think honestly, to yourself and others, no matter how hard or painful it may be. Confront the awkward, the grim, the daunting head on because you can't solve your problems by running away from them.


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		man in mountains with lake