April 28, 2013

JIN: Leave Cornell Redefined

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Two months ago, I stood onstage at Bailey Hall in front of a sold-out audience to perform in the Vagina Monologues with 50 other bright and beautiful vaginas and our fearless publicity manager, Doug. I’ve been back in Bailey Hall three times in the past three days to see Base in Yo Face, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and the BreakFree Showcase, so I’ve had ample opportunity to look around the place.

There are a lot of seats: 1,326 to be exact. Today, I wonder how I was not paralyzed by stage fright on the night of the show. When I played piano in middle and high school, my performance anxiety was so severe that I would completely blank on pieces partway through or not be able to pedal with a shaking leg. I was gripped by stage fright even when there was only a judge in the room. If I hadn’t been able to perform in front of an audience of one, what business did I have performing in front of an audience of 1,326?

Yet, I don’t remember that crippling fear when I look back on the experience. What I do remember is feeling overjoyed that we raised more than $10,000 for Ithaca’s Advocacy Center and that we did it through telling real women’s hilarious and heartbreaking stories of sex, sexuality and gender. No doubt, what made this performance different was that I was not alone onstage. Through the inspiration I found in the play, the movement surrounding it and the passion of the cast members, I gained the confidence to take the stage.

I’ve always wanted to be a part of the Cornell Women’s Resource Center’s Vagina Monologues production, and it became one of the things I did for the first time because it would be my last chance to do so. Senior year is also full of my “last times” doing things I’ve done countless times before — running around Beebe Lake, watching the sunset on Cayuga Lake and sitting on the CTB patio (all, sadly, weather permitting).

This is how we say goodbye — checking items off our bucket lists and cementing the traditions that we’ve made. One month before graduation, I’m as in need of advice as ever before, but if I can make a parting wish, it is for you to find your passions and the confidence to pursue them.

When it was my turn to sit in the audience, I could feel the passion that Base Productions and the BreakFree Crew had for movement, aesthetics and performance. What I’ve seen in so many people at Cornell is that they truly believe in the importance and value of what they love to do — be it design projects, research interests or social justice campaigns. My peers care deeply about the things they’re involved in, and through following their passions, they find confidence in their abilities and character.

This description may not sound like the Cornell you know. I’ll admit, it’s tempting for a senior to think only rosy thoughts under the influence of porch drinking weather. In reality, there is an indecent amount of bullshit that some students face from certain professors, administrators and other students with some hold on power. I won’t elaborate on what that bullshit looks like because it is often so painfully individual. Bullshit is a fine reason to feel disaffection with our institution, but disaffection is no excuse for apathy. If you don’t agree with this institution’s definition of intellectual rigor or leadership or some other value you believe in, you can redefine it. Values and identities are not passively received, but rather actively constructed.

In the end, which is where I sadly find myself, it’s people who bring passions, traditions and values alive, so I’d like to thank some of my favorite people at Cornell.

Thank you, to my editors Ruby and Liz for the random conversations about vintage watches and for taking what I have to say so seriously. To the other faerie scholar in apartment five, to the circus troupe who roamed around the Yucatan, to my traveling companions through Europe and thesis mania, to the band of tree huggers who made it through April, to all the girls who love Wendy’s cooking (especially Madame President), to the many professors and staff who see themselves first as champions and caretakers of students: Thank you. Thank you for the friendships that formed here but that will surely survive distances in time and space. To borrow a line from a Karen O song: “When we leave, can we leave goodbyes behind?”

Jing Jin is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at jingjin@cornellsun.com. Ringing True appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Jing Jin