August 26, 2013

TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT: On and Off The Midway

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Every year the Great New York State Fair punctuates my summer. As students arrive on campus, I head to Syracuse for several days to judge 4H exhibits. The range of fascinating displays, activities and entertainment, and the sheer amount of utter ridiculousness at the fair, makes this a wonderful way to bind this season of joy and relaxation.

This year I came to realize just how much the State Fair, in all its splendor, caprice and fancy, relates to the student experience at Cornell. Therefore, as one of your student-elected members of the Board of Trustees, I could not think of a better way to introduce you to our wonderful campus than through metaphors of the various vagaries of the State Fair. The following represent many experiences and aspects of life at Cornell that you will soon discover:

1. The pavilions: At the State Fair, you may find yourself wandering from the horticulture building through the arts and home center to the science and industry building, while stopping off in countless livestock pavilions in between. You often do not know how you got into a certain building, how to get out, or how to find the building you are truly looking for. This mirrors a typical academic trajectory at Cornell. You arrive on campus, start taking courses in one subject area, are distracted by something interesting elsewhere and often continue searching for a while before settling into a specific area of study. This liberal arts exposure is an essential aspect of college life. You would miss a great deal by only entering those pavilions you thought were interesting a priori.

2. The midway and the agricultural museum: These are perhaps the clearest bipolar manifestations of the schizophrenic State Fair. The museum is sedate, peaceful, learned, often replete with older folks and offers a window into an intriguing past. The midway is loud, crazy, crowded, brimming with the joyful screams of children and offers escape in many forms. Both are essential to an integrated fair. At Cornell, your experience will not be complete unless you find and indulge in experiences that epitomize both the museum and the midway. Yes, you are here to seek knowledge, to grow in your awareness of the world, and to challenge your assumptions. You are also here to have fun, to constantly remember your inner child and to be crazy and loud enough to remind you that you are indeed alive. Too much time on the midway or in the museum will diminish the value of your experience.

3. The 25¢ rainbow milk: The line at the fair’s Dairy Barn to purchase this eccentric item always puzzles me. The drink sounds disgusting, and yet, the queue wraps around the building and out into the blazing heat as people await their opportunity to indulge in it. This reminds me of the list of “161 Things to Do at Cornell.” Many of the items are insipid and/or non-sensible and yet, tradition makes Cornellians want to pursue these actions and experiences. I am not sure whether this is good or bad; it’s probably a little of both. While here, I encourage you to actively learn about classic Cornell traditions, and then think about whether the wait in the line is really worth your rainbow milk.

4. Fried food: In reality, it should not be called “fried food,”but rather just “fried.” There is nothing “food” about fried Oreos or fried Dr. Pepper. At the State Fair, “fried” becomes a noun. As a student at any college, you will encounter many things that are obviously horrible for you but that you simply cannot resist. Moderation in all things is the best advice I can offer. Believe me; the post-fried-Dr. Pepper stomach ache is not always worth it.

5. The massive butter sculpture: This year the life-size “masterpiece” is a cow, dressed in the attire of the statue of liberty, and yes, carved entirely from butter. Countless fairgoers gawk at this iconic statue each year. Impressive is not exactly the word I would use, but it’s certainly unique. Less observed practices at the fair are the constant behind the scenes food preparations and clean-ups after the livestock. There will be moments at Cornell when you shine and all eyes are on you, and moments when you are simply shoveling manure — doing what needs to be done. At all times you are doing important work, whether you bask in the light or not.

In summary, approach your experience at Cornell with the wide eyes and open heart of a fairgoer. Constantly reflect on your experiences here and consider how to use your time well. There is much to do at the fair; don’t miss out.

Darrick Nighthawk Evensen is a graduate student in the Department of Natural Resources and the graduate student-elected trustee. He may be reached at dte6@cornell.edu. Trustee Viewpoint appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Darrick Nighthawk Evensen

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