Creativity Flourishes at Student-Run Milstein Salon

On the last night of November at A.D. White House, Milstein Program students hosted their first Milstein Fall Salon.  The evening offered visitors an array of their creative talents: a cello ensemble playing a ragtime tune, a fashion shoot spread to be featured in Cornell’s Thread magazine, a series of poetry and prose readings and, of course, plenty of custom mocktails.  

Originally the brainchild of Milstein student Finley Williams '25, the Salon became the first student-conceived, student-run event for the Milstein Program.  Led by Williams, Milstein Program student staff collaborated logistics, arranged catering, gathered performers and iterated promotional posters.  

Milstein student Pareesay Afzal '24 performs an original song on guitar at the Milstein Salon.
Milstein student Pareesay Afzal '24 performs an original song at the Salon. Simon Wheeler

Mary Kolbas '24 helped plan and run the Salon with other Milstein Program student staff.  “I had the opportunity to talk with so many students about their artistic talents,” she said.  “My opinions and suggestions were taken seriously, and everyone kept focused on creating a successful and rewarding event.”  

As guests arrived, they were encouraged to tour each room for different activities: the Parlor for conversation and games, the Gallery for artwork displays and readings, the Dining Room for finger foods, the Conservatory with a “Milstein Mocktail” bar, and the main Guerlac Room set up for performances.

Milstein students play tabletop games with a Salon guest.
Milstein students Rhema Onyia, Ming DeMers and Peyton Johnson play Bananagrams with a Salon guest. Simon Wheeler

In the Parlor, Milstein students and friends joined Interim Director Malte Ziewitz for a tabletop session of classic party games like Bananagrams and Jenga.

Milstein student with painted sneaker art.
Milstein student Andrew Murillo–Gonzalez '24 displays his hand-painted Adidas shoes. Simon Wheeler

The Gallery featured needle felted wool art, student photography prints, framed needle felt, hand-painted Adidas sneakers, and an exploratory project based on the Sims game.  Milstein artists James Koga '25, Ming Demers '25, Camila Orr '24, Meredith Hu '23, Julia Beitel '24, and Andres Murillo-Gonzalez '24 were all present to engage with guests and share the details of their creative processes.  

In the Guerlac Room, Milstein student and Salon MC Krystal Ohuabunwa '25 introduced student performers to a full audience.  

Calling the Salon a judgment-free zone, Ohuabunwa noted, “at other Cornell events, you’re always competing with someone or trying to obtain some achievement or award.  At the Salon, you can simply express yourself and know you’re not being criticized or competing with anyone.”  

Student songwriters Pareesay Afzal '24 and Finley Williams each performed original songs on guitar.  Iman Kiio '25 sang with a recorded accompaniment, and Luke Ellis '24 played an improvisational piece on the piano.  

Milstein student Camila Orr '24 serves custom Mocktails to Salon students and guests.
Milstein student Camila Orr '24 serves custom mocktails to Salon students and guests. Simon Wheeler

Students in the dining room maintained a spread of fresh pizzas, sushi rolls, and finger foods in the Dining Room, while Camila Orr offered guests Milstein Lemonade mocktails.  

In the Reading Room students and staff sat on the floor and crowded the doorways to listen to Milstein students Gabe Levin '26, Max Nam '26, and Afzal give intimate readings of their work.  After the readings, Tanvi Namjoshi '24 shared a video of her Cornell Nazaqat dance troupe’s Kathak performance.  

Kolbas felt the Salon differed from typical Cornell events thanks to the supportive Milstein community.  “People often attend Cornell events only for food or to see their friends’ performances,” she said.  “Salon attendees were interested in seeing everyone’s presentations, readings and artwork.”

Milstein Salon Audience sits on the floor and applauds during a student reading in the Gallery.
The Milstein Salon audience enjoys a student reading in the Gallery. Simon Wheeler

The evening ended with ”open-mic” performances that ranged from karaoke from Koga and DeMers accompanied by Ellis, Calvin Smith '24 and Gordi Tenev '24, to a character study written and read by Milstein V. Smith '23.    

With their first Salon successfully completed, Milstein workers have already begun planning new student-run events for 2023.  Ohuabunwa felt inspired to share her own personal work at next year’s Salon.  “I love being around my fellow Milstein Students,” she said.  “They’re all so creative!”

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Milstein -- Salon -- Luke Ellis and Gordi Tenev play Piano
Milstein students Luke Ellis and Gordi Tenev perform at the First Milstein Fall Salon.