I remember Ivy Day when I was a high school senior, even though I wasn’t implicated. I had heard back from Cornell early decision, and I was coasting through whatever high school I had left. But I remember the quiet from the kids who were hearing back, or the boasting, depending on who they were and what they heard. In hindsight, it feels silly — something like homecoming or spirit week. However, for a day, that felt like our whole lives. Submitting applications, hearing back, picking a place… It was all part of this grand scheme of impossibly important choices.
As I’m writing this, I don’t know where my little brother is going to college. I don’t know what his options are, and I don’t know what little pieces of advice I can hand down to him. All of this not knowing gives me an uncomfortable knot in my stomach. I love knowing things for certain. I think that’s a big part of why I chose early decision in the first place. There was an anxious part of me that just needed to know where I was going to college — needed the decision to be made for me.
As I sit down to scribble some talking points for when I can finally catch my baby brother, with his busy schedule, for a phone call, I wonder if I knew what I was getting myself into. I wonder if I have any way to help him know what he’s getting himself into. The most important decision that I’ve ever made was made almost blindly. I mean, I saw the campus, I took a tour, I browsed the website ritualistically, I caught a student on the footbridge who exclaimed, maybe a little too emphatically, “I love it here!” But what could all of that have really taught me? I didn’t even really expect to get accepted here, so when people ask me how I chose Cornell, it’s hard to give a full and right answer. I usually just say something along the lines of, “I have no idea, but I’m glad I did.”
And for the most part, I think that’s the best I could hope for. Most days, if a shy high school senior caught my arm on University Ave., I would tell her that I love it here. There are some days when I’m so sleepy, I might not even see her. There are other days when any questions could likely make me cry. What I mean to say is that you get such a small snapshot of a school when you’re still in the process of searching. You get half of a page out of a whole book. There are things that I have done in my last three years at Cornell that no one would’ve, or could’ve, predicted for me.
Like that one day I’d overdraft my bank account, trying to buy soup from Zeus, or that I’d sit in Vladimir Nabokov’s office, discussing masters programs with a poet I really admire, or that I’d fall down the stairs in a frat house, or that I’d try (and fail) to mosey a co-op, or that I’d join a sorority, or that I’d deactivate from my sorority, or that I’d have a radio show, or write a column, or be on an executive board, or cry in Olin (so much, so much), or go to a Young Thug concert.
This experience is at once more than I could have ever asked for and nothing like what I expected. I feel so beyond lucky to be at Cornell, through its best and worst days. How I ended up here is still a bit of a mystery to me, and where my brother will end up is still a mystery to both of us. I think there’s no way to know if you will be a good fit at a school until you really get into it, so my only advice is to find a place that has a 1,000,001 ways and places to find out how you belong. Even though “choosing” to apply to Cornell early decision seemed like the biggest decision of my life, what ended up being the best decisions were those where I pushed myself to take advantage of everything that this school has to offer. So, it’s not just about what the Admissions Office decides, but what you do with that decision afterward. I think that’s what I’m going to tell my little brother, and I hope it’s what you tell to yours, too.
Sarah Lieberman is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Blueberries for Sal appears alternate Thursdays this semester.