April 29, 2013

WU: Confused, Poor and Blissfully Happy

Print More

“What are you doing after graduation?” is a loaded question, but one that I have fortunately perfected a response to. I shrug sheepishly, give a little sigh and say, “I wish I knew.” It’s a question that stirs my most deep-seated fears, but one that all seniors inevitably face. I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to evade it for the past couple of months.

Four years ago, Cornell opened its doors to a ragtag group of wide-eyed teenagers and accepted each one of us — quirks, warts and all. It was OK to be confused then; in fact, it was more than OK, because that confusion just made us more eager to try out new things. We ballroom danced, played the clocktower chimes, even took a class in decoupage — all in the hopes of finding a shoe that would fit. We wanted to do everything, but were qualified to do nothing. That was OK too; the jobs paid minimum wage, and we joked that dinner some nights might be tomato soup, made of ketchup steeped in boiling water. It didn’t matter ,because we were all equally starved for cash but stuffed with possibilities. It didn’t matter that our wallets were empty as long as our thirst for adventure was quenched.

Experience was the currency that we were all vying to collect. We were all Cornell students by name, but the only thing we shared was a penchant for exploration. It wasn’t unusual for the bookish engineering student to code computers by day, play in a rock band by night and squeeze in time for tennis matches on the weekends. Cornell students by nature wear a number of hats of all shapes and sizes, and we were no different.

But, in a few short weeks, the Class of 2013 will graduate, exchanging their Big Red caps and gowns for new identities. We’ll be taking our next steps, not as Cornell students, but as chemical engineers or human resource managers or research analysts. I’m afraid that choosing one of these paths means forgoing all of the other ones. As we become more comfortable in these newfound roles, do we leave behind the nomadic and scrappy lifestyles we’ve grown so accustomed to? Responsibilities will replace passions. Practicality will step in to overtake youthful idealism. Paychecks and material comforts will fill in the crevices we once left open for tomorrow’s surprises and secret ambitions.

If the purpose of a college education is to figure out what we’re good at and find a way to make money doing it, I’m afraid that choosing a career will trick us into thinking that we can only be good at one thing and that we should stick with it to ensure long-term financial stability. In truth, I’m still just as confused as I was in August 2009. I haven’t perfected any skills worthy of monetary compensation, and I’m not quite ready to give up the possibility of becoming a filmmaker, a mountain climber or an expert on polar bears.

To the Class of 2013, I hope you don’t forget this sense of hanging in the balance, this state of limbo where one foot is out the door but has yet to find solid ground. I hope you find the time to amble aimlessly and to stumble across exciting things that feed your soul, even if they don’t feed your bottom line. College is supposed to be a period of your life to figure things out, but I’ve had so much fun in the process of figuring things out that I forgot to arrive at a destination. I hope I never do.

Joyce Wu is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at jw637@cornell.edu. Catchy Sound Bite appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Joyce Wu