Part I: The Drive Up
I remember quite clearly my drive up to Cornell in the summer of 2016. It was a lovely day on both ends of my trip—the Upper West Side wishing me good luck in the coming year with a warm, blue sky and Ithaca welcoming me with open arms as its sky held in its bladder to save rain for those driving up from New Jersey.
It had been a wonderful summer. I worked as a counselor for five year olds. I went to dinner with my family. I turned 19. Most importantly, the suffocating avalanche of work Cornell had dumped on me my freshman year finally let up. I was free.
So while on the road that summer of 2016, like an oblivious college-age student about to be hacked to death in a horror film, I watched my hand undulate in the wind as the car sped down the highway, listening to happy-go-lucky music, sunglasses resting on my head, as the camera panned out and…
There it was! Or at least I knew it was there, somewhere in the distance; our collective Jason, Freddy, and Hannibal all rolled into one. The Bingalee Dingalee stood tall, penetrating the Cornell sky with its 161 stairs, the bells carrying deceptively pleasant rings across campus. While on the highway, I did not see it with my eyes, I saw it with my heart. The heart of an incoming sophomore, excited for the new year.
This year will be better! I convinced myself. This year I am living with my best friend! This year I will not make the same mistakes I made last year! Yes, summer had done the trick—I was high on sunlight, healthy eating habits, and absolutely no work. Here’s a non-comprehensive list of things that I knew would be better about my second year:
- Eating breakfast every day
- Making new friends and keeping all my old ones
- Better time management
- Better drink management
- Stronger campus involvement
- More extracurricular activities 😉
I truly believed these would come true. My soul was dedicated to turn these wishes into reality, and with this optimism, I strode into my North Baker double with the level of confidence Trump exhibited in that summer’s primaries.
Part II: The Way Down
It was O-week and I was having fun. Then the first two weeks of classes went by. In shorts and tanks under the blazing sun, I studied outside Goldwin Smith. I strolled down the slope in the evening as the sun speckled the sky with pink and purple. School had started, but it was still summertime.
With the fall came many things. Sweaters. Turtlenecks. Pants. Crisp air. Orange trees. More homework. Less sleep. And most importantly, prelims. Yes, with the autumn season came prelim season. With prelim season came nights of only homework and no sleep. All work and no play made me a typical Cornell student: always tired and stressed. The worst part was—once it started, it never stopped.
I went from prelim season to finals. Thanksgiving was but meager relief for my insatiable hunger for a real break. I returned to school reenergized by mashed potatoes, stuffing, and turkey only to realize that it was barely enough to get me through my final exams. Who knew Cornell could be this draining?
I knew it from my previous year in the ring. Cornell threw the same punches, the same combos as it did my freshman fall, and I could have dodged them if I saw them. But I had chosen not to see. I had chosen not to prepare for the year over the summer. I had chosen, quite unlike myself, to let my optimism cloud my judgment, and to let false hopes lead the way.
The spring semester passed much the same way—with an ebb at the beginning that turned into a tsunami once late February hit. No number of coffees from Zeus or smiles from Happy Dave could relieve my stress. Cornell, like the ruthless swing states, swung red and red and red again, becoming a Big Red that left me like Hillary on election night, wondering how all my confidence could be wiped out so completely.
Part III: The Path Ahead
So, my fellow Cornellians, let us remember together, and accurately, the struggles Cornell has put us through. Perhaps I have described a vignette that focuses only on the bad. Now come look with me at that which makes Cornell already great.
We have the third best food in the nation, and the Dairy Farm and Apple Orchards to push us even further in the future! We are an Agricultural school as well as Engineering and Arts schools. This means we have the chance to learn and to teach others about every subject under the sun, and to become the light that drives our generation forward.
For the slope exists not to weaken us, but to make our legs stronger. After all, it does not kill us to walk up and down that fearsome beast each and every day. It is each and every Cornellian’s tenacity to push through the work and to find joy at school that makes me hopeful for myself and for all of us.
So as we move into the coming year, let us pick up our pens and our heads. Let us not forget that Cornell will drop feet of snow and miles of work upon our heads. Let us not forget that we will feel down more often than not. But in recognizing this before our year begins, perhaps this year really will be better.
Thank you, and God Bless.