A few days ago, I experienced the nth-to-last first day of school. Cornell was stunning on that Tuesday, Ho Plaza was crowded and the clock tower immortalized, the sun shone and the green was so bright it seemed to defy any memory or expectation of snow and white ice. I have quite a taste for goodbyes, but others I like to keep short. And now I am writing about beginnings – mine started with an end.
I will have things to say when I look back on these years, I will have things still to check off from my list, and our campus will be giving back the light it is absorbing now. It will be trapped in the leaves changing colors and will be released along with everything that needs to be returned. But, somewhere along my study of dead languages, my summer research in timeless places and the long, lounging hours of bleaching Italian sun, dark skin and familiar faces, I learned that for the most part, one should look ahead.
And by that, I mean to say that the future is unknown, and elections are coming up and the world spins faster and more askew, but sometimes it will stay still. The week of August 10 is known for the meteor shower; in Italian we erroneously label those meteors as falling stars – I am pointing this out not because I strive for scientific or astronomical accuracy, but because knowing that stars do not, in fact, fall has changed a lot of things for me. It showed me which direction to look and to turn on artificial, distracting, blinding lights.
I’ve spent a lonely summer, but I had my stars. Some of them have names and noses and first names, others are typed black on white, others I couldn’t describe or define. It is with some gratitude that I claim I haven’t found myself. I didn’t know where to look, or why I should search – but what I found is a path within my ideas, studded with white light-bulbs in jars and fragments of novels.
My direction is only mine, but going back to what I wrote about looking up and ahead, I want to talk about what I see and how I see it, before the melancholy of The End blurs my vision and I move from my small room in Collegetown to a smaller one, and the tower gives back the excitement that novelty and beginnings inspire, and the snow is gone and again seems like it never existed.
Stay focused. Which is not to say: get things done; you are here at Cornell, so you already know how to do that. It means, follow your own stars — or meteors — because not everything is meant to stay still, and there is a relief sometimes in falling. Choose what matters, and turn off the other streetlights, the stroboscope or the floodlight on a game you’re not playing. Choose passion, over quantity; leave behind the dragging burdens if they aren’t helping you strengthen your muscles to move faster. Go to class every day, not because you’ll regret it if you don’t, but because there lives a grace in discipline and determination that cannot be found elsewhere. Keep reading until the last page and put your cell phone face down, or turn it off altogether, because there is fulfillment in acquiring riches nobody else can see. Don’t make choices under someone else’s demands, because there is freedom in pursuing a dreamlike ambition, and there is courage in not justifying oneself.
Finally, respect deadlines but do away with timelines: start with an evaluation of your journey, end with the new, start with an end.
Best of luck for the year; we’re incredibly lucky to be here.