Willard Straight Hall was dedicated on the day before Thanksgiving, November 25, 1925, by his widow, Dorothy Straight Elmhirst. Willard Straight Hall would be one of the first student unions in the country, and Dorothy Elmhirst articulated a growing feeling among Americans that a University education represented social as well as academic and professional learning. Americans over the next 80 years have come to expect the college experience to include social connections and friendships facilitated by the activities and services provided by a student union.
During Willard Straight Hall’s dedication, Dorothy Straight Elmhirst, expressed many of the ideas that are embraced today by the staff of the Dean of Students Office and Willard Straight Hall. The following are excerpts from her dedication speech.
“Willard Straight cared deeply about Cornell. In drawing his will, he asked, or rather suggested, that a portion of his estate be devoted to the cause he had at heart—the enrichment of the human contacts of student life…”
“Willard Straight saw individual life assuming significance and importance through vital relations with other human beings. The great formative factor in his own life was his contact with people—a group of relationships through which his personality progressively expanded. It was characteristic of him that whatever he did he built around each of his activities a little society of friends. In drawing his will and requesting that, if possible, a contribution be made to Cornell, it seems probably that he had in mind the desire to see University life opened to more opportunities for the sort of human contacts which had beautified and enriched his own life. Those of us who were privileged to carry our his bequest for Cornell, saw in the project of a student Union, the possibility of creating such a community – a community which would exist solely for the purpose of bringing out human relationships.”
“It is our hope that Willard Straight Hall may play a part in cementing really great friendships – friendships between men and women, between faculty and students, between men of all groups, races and nationalities. Friendship assumes nobility as it is founded upon something vital – mutual interests in intellectual ideas, common aims and pursuits, the impact of vivid personalities upon one another. The union can offer only a home, a field for such experiences, but it does at least present the environment in which spiritual realities can grow…”
“So because human relationships opened new worlds to Willard Straight, it is our hope that the Union may in some measure recreate life in these terms for others. In that faith, President Farrand, we present the building to the University, to be guided and governed by the students, and made by them through their own adventures of spirit here, into an instrument for the illumination and enhancement of personal and social living.”