April 29, 2010

Wacky Class Time Machine

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So I’m building a time machine. Who says I can’t? Who says? I will destroy them.

That’s an example of the confidence I’ve acquired here at Cornell, an attribute that sticks by me even when I’m completely out of my depth. Time machines are a particular specialty of mine, so no worries there. But for those of you less acquainted with that science, Cornell is exactly the sort of place to expand your knowledge into strange and uncharted areas.

Cornell may have been reimagined, but its outrageously diverse academic offerings have not been completely diminished. Our classes still run the gamut from whatever class  you would actually have to take to learn about time travel to magical mushrooms and molds.

I don’t need to extol the virtues of “any person, any study” (It’s great!). Instead, I call your attention to the “wacky class.” There’s no set definition of such a class. It’s different for everybody. For some, it might be a government class on the death penalty; for others, a seminar on Milton. It’s that weird class title that calls out to you from the course catalog, perhaps with words and phrases like: “debauchery,” “spores” or “God is Dead — or is he?” For you lucky ducklings sticking around for next year, take these classes. They are likely to be some of the best experiences you’ll have here at Cornell.

I remember a conversation I had at the beginning of sophomore year with a good friend from high school who attends a school in Boston (well not in Boston, but nearby … no, not Tufts … ). She was curious as to why I was a history major. First, I’m a history major because it’s straight up awesome. That stuff actually happened, you know. Second, I just loved the first history class I took here. It wasn’t a survey of Western Civ (whatever that is) or an “African History Class,” it was a 15 person seminar on the Blues of the Mississippi Delta. It was the kind of class that you left with a smile on your face. What had my nearby-Bostonian friend been subjected to: Survey of Western Civ. What a fine education.

We have the great privilege to attend a university that doesn’t force academic disciplines into set boxes. You might need to take a survey course; it won’t kill you. You probably have a ton of crazy requirements. Perhaps, you’re at work in Duffield building a giant laser. All of that may be true, but EVERYONE has time to take a wacky class, even those laser guys. There are giant laser guys, right? This is why you can take things pass/fail! Do not be afraid!

Sometimes that perfectly strange class isn’t being offered here. Thus, the independent study was birthed straight from Zeus’s head. (That’s definitely how the story goes). You can do an independent study in nearly any department, for any amount of credits, on any topic. Boom. Shockingly, there’s no catch or weird protocol. You need a form from your registrar and a department signature. Find a professor interested in your topic and you’re good to go. I am completing an independent study right now in a secret time machine project for the government Science Fiction and I can’t believe I did not do one before. Let me be quite plain: You can get credit for reading things you want to read, writing things you want to write and maybe even eating things you want to eat! In a post-reimagined Cornell, independent studies are a great way to study subjects that fell through the cracks. Can I interest you in a little comparative lit? How about a nice semester dose of Vonnegut? Independent studies are also a great way to get to know professors. Can I interest you in a recommendation? The world is truly your oyster. Somebody please do an independent study on the topic of idioms that don’t make any sense and get back to me. Thanks.

Unfortunately, my time machine is probably not going to be ready for another 20 years and I won’t be going back to 2006. I can’t do it all over again. When I discovered this cruel reality, I wept for myself — the opportunities lost, the good that once was and all who have had to leave this green and pleasant land. Too dramatic?

Even in tough times, Cornell will find a way to let you learn what you want. The professors here are dedicated, year after to year, to helping students carve out their own paths. Some of the greatest minds in every discipline are here on this campus. Go talk to them. I guarantee they’re not going to throw you out of their offices and call you an amateur or a rube.

I will be forever grateful to Cornell for its ability to simultaneously guide you and allow you to deviate from the norm. The obvious requirement is that you have to get out there and deviate. Therein lies the rub. Seriously, someone get on those idioms.

I don’t like the personal thank you in Oscar speeches so I’m not going to do any here. What if I thanked my favorite squirrel personally and forgot about the dog across the street? It would be a catastrophe, that’s what. I’ll say this: I wouldn’t be doing things that I love, writing stupid (awesome!) things in a newspaper, have sound opinions, continue to be funny, smile, eat, laugh, without the support of my professors, the sensational friends I’ve made here and, of course, the fine editors of The Sun that took a chance on an unknown kid (one who once wrote a piece about alien parasites living in the Seine).

Even if all the job-related benefits of a diverse education evaporated, I’d still be a dynamite cocktail party guest and Jeopardy player. I don’t want to boast, but I can tell you about a lot of things …

What’s that? You want to know what my moniker is? Google it for Pete’s sake. What do I look like, an answer machine?


Original Author: Rabia Muqaddam