September 7, 2018

SONG | Cornell: A School of Rejects Who Are Still Somehow Better Than You

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Ah, the classic Cornellian scenario — a group of wannabe Ivy-Leaguers who just barely managed to make mommy and daddy happy, desperate to convince ourselves that we “matter” in the college ranking system by memorizing all the Andy Bernard lines in The Office.

You’d think we’re all in the same boat together — a group of self-depricating mediocre students, gathered in a campus where you can participate in slightly elevated conversation about Yeats and poetry, while still convincing ourselves we’re “standout” enough to toss in tidbits of our own BS too.

But Cornell has this magical phenomenon where all the laws of gravity and physics and calculus disappear, and you find yourself in a very intriguing, yet depressing paradox. Hopeful freshmen and depressed juniors, gather close:

Cornell, in condensed terms, is the annoying younger brother of the Ivy League who always tried to get the parents’ attention, yet perpetually remained the runt of the litter behind the favorite siblings. And as students we will always believe ourselves to be perfectly mediocre, just like our spot in the Ivies. We’re the ones who tossed random toys off the table just to get attention, preaching things like cold-pressed apple cider and watching Bill Nye the Science Guy until our eyes bled, just to convince ourselves we’re “special.” We will call Ruth Bader Ginsburg mama and Vladimir Nabokov daddy until the day we die.

Every person here was probably rejected from their dream school. You know this perfectly well. I know this perfectly well. Most wanted to go to a better Ivy League, only to have their hopes and dreams crushed, and probably still stash that Stanford pennant somewhere in the closet.

Yet somehow, by some ungodly force, by some law defying nature, you will find that every person around you still seems to be better at everything than you. Every. Single. Fucking. Thing.

You will quickly find that, despite promises of mediocrity and a slight feeling of superiority, everyone will be better than you in class. Everyone will be better than you than maintaining a Google Calendar. Everyone will be better than you at finding a table at Temple of Zeus. Everyone will be better than you at everything. Anything. This fact is immutable, and unfortunately, stubbornly unchanging.

And soon, you’ll wonder the inevitable question that every Cornellian eventually wonders: How that Harvard rejection letter brought you this place, where every kid is simultaneously similar to you (chances are, an off-suburb resident with a profound love for sitting in grassy fields), yet always better than you. It defies all theory and logic.

And you will quickly realize there is no solution or explanation to this paradox. Because no matter how hard you try, everyone around you will always be better at navigating Stack Overflow and WikiHow, getting into clubs with six recruitment rounds and a severe preference for “peppiness,” and faking something on the spot when their English professor calls on them during seminar.

You’ll ask yourself amidst a 2.0 GPA, “It can’t be possible that every other student in school is working this hard too, right?” Yes, wounded and deeply misinformed soul, yes. The answer to any self-deprecating question uttered on campus is always yes.

 

Some schools joke about that one kid who sets the test curve at a ridiculous score; at Cornell, every kid sets the curve, and every kid simultaneously fails. The rest who float in the grey zone are left denouncing why a curve even exists, while cursing themselves for not taking the middle-tier college route.

 

And the epidemic doesn’t just end at academics — people will be better at absurd things, like stealing a table at making the sangria for a house party, because they’re better at being responsible enough to pick a wholesome hangout over a frat party. And they’re better at signing a housing lease so absurdly early that when August rolls around, everything half decent around Collegetown is already gone for the next eleven months.

At this point, young traumatized freshman (or any other Cornell student here for their daily dose of pessimism), you’re probably wondering why we stick around.

Admittedly, we might have mixed feelings about Cornell, as you probably saw in the influx of beginning-of-the-year columns in the Sun; most of these columns were playing a balancing act over a glittery, fruity welcome of hopes and dreams, or a cynical, utterly pessimistic eye roll. That’s the Cornellian approach to life.

There’s something oddly satisfying about collectively complaining about a homework assignment together in Uris cocktail lounge and whining about how we’ve developed a caffeine addiction as a result. There’s something Cornell students, whom I’ve concluded are all masochists, enjoy about being reminded of how we’ll never be good enough. We say we’ll die in this snowstormy, sunless hellhole of a place. Yet we’ll still go to the Farmer’s Market and enjoy ourselves. It’s confusing to watch at first, but you’ll soon realize it’s our kind of collective tribal call, a hoot and holler to establish our place with the rest of our kind.

So don’t lose hope, collective band of desperate students and potentially traumatized freshmen. We still stick around for some reason or another. And I have a suspicion it doesn’t stray far from a mix of school pride, a slight dash of cynicism and the realization that we’re all in this together.
Kelly Song is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. The Songbird Sings runs every other Thursday this semester. She can be reached at ksong@cornellsun.com