Everyone makes mistakes. Some are small, like forgetting to floss twice a day. Others can be monumental, like choosing Russell Westbrook over James Harden on your MVP ballot. My mistake fell somewhere in between these two examples. It was a medium mistake, kind of like when Brown rejected me. But, as with most mistakes, it’s never too late to admit you were wrong.
Last April I wrote a column criticizing the swim test requirement that Cornell and a couple other Ivies (not including Brown) continue to uphold. I didn’t really see a point in the whole thing. Was it a fitness test? I’m definitely not fit fam, but I was pretty sure I could do most land-based fitness assessments. The fitness gram taught me that. What was with Cornell’s aquatic obsession?
Out of genuine curiosity and a pressing need to fulfill graduation requirements, I enrolled in P.E. 1100: Intro to Swimming this semester. As a senior, I was hoping that I could just pass the course and talk my way into getting the instructor to check “pass” next to my name for the swim test as well. I assumed there was no way anyone would realistically stop a senior from graduating just because they couldn’t swim. I was wrong.
My instructor, Colleen, is simultaneously the kindest and most no-nonsense person I’ve ever met. I’m shocked she doesn’t work at Brown. She’s willing to work with anyone at any point in his or her journey to natation, but she definitely expects everyone to take and pass the swim test. With my first option now off the table, I accepted that I would actually have to learn how to swim.
From what I had heard from friends, swimming was easy and could realistically be mastered in one afternoon at the gorges. Let me just say that that could not be farther from the truth, at least in my case. My first time in the Helen Newman pool was strange. I felt like a fish out of water. It was like me and a fish switched places, except for some reason the fish was previously in an Olympic sized swimming pool. A part of me wonders why that fish was in the pool in the first place, but in my heart I know the fish was there trying to find her parents or save his son from a dentist. Or maybe the fish didn’t get into Brown.
Colleen began the course slowly, focusing on getting the class comfortable in and under the water, before moving on to different strokes. The first day was honestly the worst. As the youth say, it was brick as fuck out so no one was trying to be anywhere near the water. Colleen had us jump into the shallow end of the pool and bob our heads under the water like 8 times each throughout the first class. I’m not exactly sure what Navy Seals do to train, but I imagine it also involves water.
I left my first day of swim thinking it was going to be the worst class I had ever taken at Cornell. It was at 7:45 p.m. twice a week all the way on North Campus and I was no fish in the water. But in all honesty, swim has quickly become a class I look forward to. It turns out my friends might have been right. Swimming wasn’t all that bad.
After getting over the whole being underwater thing, swimming really just came down to moving my legs and arms in unison. I hate to sound like one of those annoying American Dream advocates, but it turns out anything really is possible if you work hard and believe! Just kidding, something something neoliberalism.
I passed my swim test in class on Monday, but I won’t be dropping the course as I had originally planned. I was wrong about the swim test requirement. Swimming, while definitely not an essential life skill, is genuinely fun. And with Spring Break right around a corner, there really wasn’t a better time for me to learn. Now I can swim with a thousand other Cornellians in Cancun! What more could anyone have asked for in a vacation from Cornell?
If you’re a Cornell student thinking about transferring to Brown to avoid the swim test, let me first tell you that you probably still won’t get accepted. But also, just take the P.E. class and let Colleen work her magic.
Akshay Jain is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com. College Stuff appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.