For a period of time in my childhood, I thought Cornell was the only college.
I didn’t understand the concept of a University, but I had also been conditioned well. I was shaking an upside-down newspaper at a hockey game when I was in elementary school. Most of my role models, family, family friends, and others I met along the way, had gone to Cornell. I had heard fascinating stories, met inspiring alumni, and knew I wanted to be a part of the tradition. Throughout high school, all I cared about was getting into Cornell. Period.
My grandfather, a Cornell grad himself, passed away a few weeks before my application was due. I vividly remember calling my grandmother one particular night in December, and sharing my acceptance news with her. She reiterated one of grandpa’s favorite quotes to me then: “Don’t let school get in the way of your education”. I would like to say I have lived up to that expectation. And, as I leave, I have two objectives: to both thank this institution and reflect on my time here.
Part of being a Cornell student is obviously the prestige of studying at a leading academic institution, and of course that is part of the reason I wanted to pursue higher education here. The classroom has taught me more about such a broad variety of subjects than I ever would have expected. I truly learned how to study here. I have been academically challenged in ways never before experienced. I have serious interests in areas that I wasn’t even aware of when I first came here. Of course, I am thankful for that. The Cornell classroom teaches a great deal, but it does not teach everything. The Cornell experience is much deeper than academics. It is a change of thought, change of principle, and a purposeful, problem-solving mindset.
Once I got my feet wet (or covered in snow), I finally realized that, to me, college is not meant to solely provide instruction in your desired field. It is meant to make you grow up, toughen up, and have fun before the real world starts. I wish Cornell sat us down for an entrance and exit interview because, to be honest, I would not recognize the girl that eagerly moved into Dickson 4590 on that first day. I have found that it took me at least 3 semesters to really hit a stride and realize why I was at Cornell in the first place. Once I could understand the gravity of our University and the important role it plays, I could truly start to explore what it can offer not only me as an individual, but the world as a whole.
My program and my major is truly a tight-knit group of people that I have been fortunate to not only study under, and beside, but also to develop lifelong relationships with. This group has seen me at my best, and at my absolute worst. I have walked three different continents with some of them, spent countless hours on the road, been completely outside of my comfort zone, and fallen back into it again. These people and experiences have taught me what it means to be a good classmate, student, and friend. The classroom cannot teach that. That portion of my Cornell experience is something I am most grateful for.
However, I certainly have a few regrets about my time here. I wish I would have studied more, taken more classes, asked deeper questions, gone to a few more office hours, and tried a little harder. I wish I would have hiked more Gorges, gone to more campus seminars, and eaten at a few more Commons restaurants. I wish I had written a few more pieces for the Sun. I wish I had spent less time with people who weren’t important, and more time with the ones who I will talk to for the rest of my life. I wish I had met more people, though, too. I wish I would have slowed down and appreciated the good moments, and learned not to dwell so heavily on the bad ones. If I could do it all over again, I would change a few things, but not many, because my personal growth was a result of those mistakes and missteps.
People have asked me what I will miss the most. And honestly, I thought it would just be my friends, classmates, professors, and co-workers; the people. Truth be told, I will miss the whole experience. The quads, the buildlings. Waking up to the clocktower playing. Watching the sun set over Cayuga. Enjoying the TWO snow days we had. Trucking it from north campus to Morrison Hall 20 minutes through the woods at 8AM. Working at eHub until the sun rose. Running after a Domino’s delivery man down College Ave. Waking up early for course pre-enroll and only getting into one of my required classes. Closing down Hideaway (maybe a few nights in a row). Riding school buses to date nights and wine tours. Spending overnights in a barn watching cows. A Sage Chapel Christmas concert. Stomping my feet on a table to a Shania Twain song. Long days during prelim and finals season in the second floor of Mann, ordering takeout. Dairy bar ice cream. Plum Tree sushi and sake bombing. Taco Truck. Huddling up and strategizing a case study. Taping a rainbow trout to myself and throwing it at a Harvard hockey player (#LGR!). Sweating and singing it out on the Slope. Laughing until I fell asleep with my roommates. Furiously typing out an article or a paper in the basement of Olin. Having a beer with my advisor while trying to solve the world’s problems. Watching my friends’ faces as we walked together for the final time from the Arts Quad to Schoelkopf, moments before graduation. Tearful goodbyes and hugs around a campfire. I will miss the entire thing.
It has taken me months to come to terms with my graduation. I ignored it. I ordered my cap and gown at the last possible second. I reflect on the fact that I came into college with a bit of an identity crisis. The day I left my hometown, the place where I had graduated high school, I left it for good. I was moving, I wouldn’t see my high school friends for some time, and my parents were relocating closer to family. I honestly did not know what to tell people when they posed the ever-popular “where are you from?” question. Cornell has been such a large part of my identity for a long time that I struggle with the question of how things will be when it is not my entire identity. What I have come to realize is that Cornell will be a large part of my identity for the rest of my life. It has shaped me. It has made me curious. It has both challenged and excited me. It has made me incredibly grateful for the opportunity I was granted upon my acceptance, and the life-altering experiences that I had because of it.
I write this partially as a reflection and a thank you to my favorite place in the world, but also for a sense of closure. This reflection is late, and I am writing it as I sit at home, trying to decide what to do next. But hey, if I can procrastinate my way through four years, I can certainly do it now, too.
My least favorite interview question has always been “Where will you be in five years?”. Who am I to say? How can I identify that? I cannot even confidently identify where I will be in five weeks or five months! My mind is continually changing and evolving, and everyday I find something new to be interested in. In many ways, Cornell pressures us to have plans and answers to that question. In other ways, it prepares us to adapt and go where we can effect the most change in the world. Our university does not always teach us reality, but it does teach us how to manage it.
The inscription on Eddy Gate, the original entrance to campus that is now a part of Collegetown, reads: “So enter that daily thou mayest become more learned and thoughtful. So depart that daily thou mayest become more useful to thy country and to mankind.”. No matter what I do, what path I take, which diversions I make, or where I end up, I can wholeheartedly say that Cornell has prepared me to be of better service to my community, my industry, my country, and my world.
So yes, I am going to miss the miserable weather, the late nights and early mornings, the people and places. However, I know now that my Cornell experience is ongoing. I know now that what you do during your time at Cornell is important, but what you do with those experiences and your degree after you leave – that is really the point of the whole thing. My education will extend far outside of Ithaca. I find solace in the fact that I will never truly have to say goodbye to my favorite place in the world, because I was not meant to stay there forever. It is finally time to lift the chorus, speed it onward, and make a Big Red mark on the world. Thank you, Cornell.
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