“Look, this is the Bill and Melinda Gates building,” my dad said to my mom for the fifth time as we drove past Gates Hall on our way to East Hill Plaza. My parents don’t get to visit often, and I don’t blame them, since they live 2,000 miles away. My dad works as an IT, so he will always feel compelled to tell the whole family where Gates Hall is the few times they visit me. Again, I don’t blame him. I’m a first-generation student and I know my parents did not get the opportunity that I’m getting right now to study Computer Science. I’m extremely proud of what I’m doing, and I know my parents are too. However, this makes me feel that my failures are immensely heavier than they actually are, and in a major that’s mostly made up of students with loads of prior coding experience, shortcomings are common to me.
I got to Cornell as a biology major, then decided to switch to biological engineering after my first semester, which required that I take CS 1110 over the summer. For the first time in my life, I felt like I genuinely understood something. I was able to explain things to others the way I had always wanted to. Once I was introduced to Python and all of coding’s possibilities and realized that I understood something for once, I decided that I wanted to switch to CS.
Once the first semester of my sophomore year started, however, everything felt different. Maybe it was the fact that campus was being fully occupied once more and my classes were much bigger, but I felt helpless. Even though I was taking a class that followed the introductory course I took over the summer, it seemed that everyone had been coding for years, while I once more understood nothing of what I had been coding for two months. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. My dad knows a lot about computers. He’s proud of me and I’m supposed to keep making him proud. How could I not understand right after taking the first class over the summer? What am I supposed to be doing? My parents didn’t get this opportunity, so I’m on my own as I try to figure out what I’m doing and how.
This is my parents’ dream, which is why I’m trying so hard to keep it intact, wherever it is that I keep it hidden. I know this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, but I really haven’t found anything else that’s worth keeping alive to me. Some days it does better than others, but I can’t say it’s every truly doing good. Some days it hangs by a thread and I feel it. Some days I can see everyone in the lecture hall understand what’s happening except for me, even if 30 percent of those people are shopping online. Some nights I feel like a massive disappointment and out of place. Some nights I feel that there is no major that is right for me. How am I supposed to have been doing something for years before pursuing it here when my high school didn’t have the money to offer more than a “computer science” class that consisted of following printed instructions on how to use Microsoft Office?
I’m aware that office hours exist. I go to them and get ignored every time because other people have “real” questions that consist of computer words I don’t understand. I stay for my parents. Everything I do is for them because they deserve to have had the chance to be here. I know that when I’m tired of the snow, they’d love to see it because it snows every 12 years in south Texas. I know that when I sit in lecture, my dad would love to listen too. Cornell has not only taught me to be grateful, but that I’ll never take another CS class I’ll be good at because I haven’t been coding for years like everyone else.
I know I’m not the only who feels that this majority of experienced coders makes things immensely more difficult. Maybe honors CS classes should be larger, or new ones should be created. No one else deserves to feel frustrated every day due to something out of their control that hinders their capacity to understand programming. Not everyone who barely has coding experience has the necessary motivation to keep struggling onwards either. I’m tired of CS making me feel like I’m terrible at everything I do, but the dream I carry somehow continues to outweigh these thoughts.
Sometimes I still enjoy CS. I can’t say I hate it by now because there’s something that keeps me from switching majors again. I don’t understand the concepts being taught a lot of the time and keeping my head above water gets harder every day. CS has become the abusive boyfriend I stay with because he is financially secure, and my parents like him. I have convinced myself that eventually I will like him the way I used to when we first started dating because he guarantees me a stable future. I will stay with CS so I can hear my dad point out Gates Hall five times whenever my family visits.
Viri Garcia is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.