Trinity College has renamed the recently renovated building previously known as Vernon Social in honor of Cornelia “Cornie” Parsons Thornburgh ’80, H’22, longtime volunteer and stalwart supporter of the college. Trinity’s first female board chair (2014–21), Thornburgh served as a trustee for 17 years and has been a major philanthropist and leader at the college for the past four decades. The building, which was dedicated at a campus ceremony on May 9, 2022, will be known as the Cornelia Parsons ’80 Center, or, for short, the “Cornelia Center.” It is among the first buildings on campus to be named for a woman. 

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Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney speaks at the dedication ceremony. In the photo at the top of the page, Board of Trustees Chair Lisa G. Bisaccia ’78, Cornelia Parsons Thornburgh ’80, H’22, and Berger-Sweeney cut the ribbon at the Cornelia Center. Photos by Nick Caito.

Thanks to the Thornburgh family’s most recent contributions, the renovated student center is a state-of-the-art facility that provides students more flexibility for multiple uses, including hybrid learning and meetings. The building is home to the Career and Life Design Center, formerly known as the Center for Student Success and Career Development. A new open floor plan accommodates a range of activities and student groups, creating a home for student government and other student organizations.

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Cornelia Parsons Thornburgh ’80, H’22 in front of the center that now bears her name.

Thornburgh also was honored by another announcement, that of a significant gift from many of her friends and classmates to create a new endowed fund, the Cornelia Parsons Thornburgh ’80 Women’s Leadership Fund. The gift recognizes Thornburgh’s extensive work at Trinity and elsewhere on behalf of women’s leadership and will support a range of activities at Trinity related to women’s professional development and growth as leaders.

Together, the gifts to support the building renovation and the new endowed fund totaled more than $2.3 million.

Thornburgh, known to most as “Cornie,” has long been recognized as one of Trinity’s most significant leaders. In 2010, she was the first alumna to receive The Eigenbrodt Cup, one of the top honors that can be bestowed upon a Trinity graduate. She also co-chaired the Presidential Search Committee that brought Joanne Berger-Sweeney to Trinity in 2014. In addition, Thornburgh co-chaired Trinity’s last comprehensive fundraising campaign raising more than $350 million, co-chaired the Charter Committee for Building Community, and served on Trinity’s Board of Fellows.

This year, Thornburgh received an honorary degree at Commencement on May 22.

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Board of Trustees Chair Lisa Bisaccia ’78 honors Cornelia Parsons Thornburgh ’80, H’22 at the dedication ceremony for the Cornelia Center.

At the Cornelia Center dedication, current Board of Trustees Chair Lisa Bisaccia ’78 said that her predecessor had established a blueprint for women’s leadership at Trinity. “I know there are many of us who have seen her deft leadership of the board as a signal of the bright future of the college and a fulfillment of the promise made with the first coeducational class more than 50 years ago,” she said.

“In her time on Trinity’s board, [Thornburgh] helped navigate the changing face of higher education, increasing commitment to social justice, a pandemic, more than one ambitious fundraising campaign, and countless other challenges and opportunities for the college to grow,” Bisaccia added. “As a leader, she met each moment with grace and purposeful attention to how her decision-making would improve the experience of students at Trinity.”

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Cornelia Parsons Thornburgh ’80, H’22 tours the new offices in the Cornelia Center.

Berger-Sweeney thanked Thornburgh for being “a beacon for so many of us.” She continued, “Cornie, you have served Trinity not only with your time, your talents, and yes, through your own generous philanthropy, you have also served Trinity by inspiring so many others. That is what I see in this building and why we name it after you today. You embody what we hope all Bantams will do—inspire, motivate, uplift others. And that is what our graduates do in the world and what the Cornelia Center is here to foster. We are so grateful to you and so fortunate to have you among our alumnae.”

The dedication capped off a spring marked with major milestones in philanthropy. The community joined members of the Class of 1963 to dedicate the Class of 1963 Chapel of the Perfect Friendship on April 4, celebrating the renovation of the Chapel within the Chapel. Additionally, the names of nine families and donors were added to the Wall of Honor, which sits within Fuller Arch and recognizes a lifetime of philanthropy—such as that of Thornburgh and her husband, Richard E. Thornburgh, whose names were inscribed on the wall in 2013.