In an interview she gave in 1981, Toni Morrison described teenagers as something not completely human. She was worried about a deficiency she saw in American adolescence. The nation had tried to ease its children into adulthood, and give them the chance to consciously decide the person they wanted to be. It placed them in an ecosystem made of adult professionals whose job it was to support their pursuit. These teens could keep busy with the vocation of becoming.
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.
An adult film star is trying to take down the President of the United States. This is the latest iteration of the comical absurdity to which, in the Trump era, we’ve become accustomed. We no longer feel moral outrage for more than a day or two because we are perpetually inundated by scandal. But this offense, unlike the others, persists. It remains in the public consciousness not because it is exceptionally shocking, but because it feels like the third act of the story.
We, the undersigned, as members of the Cornell community and as faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences, are alarmed by the proposed changes to the language requirement for the College of Arts and Sciences suggested by the Curriculum Committee. These changes are wide-ranging and, in our opinion, dramatically antithetical to the mission of the College. For this reason, we believe that further discussion must be held that include the opinions of the many members of the faculty who oppose the proposed changes. We are unsettled not only by the changes themselves, but by the distinct lack of familiarity demonstrated in the document with the global mission of our classes. For as long as we have been teaching at Cornell, our classes reflect the dynamic interplay between language and culture.
Two weeks ago, a friend texted me that she wasn’t feeling very well. I immediately wrote back, asking if she was safe and needed someone to talk to. And, of course, I counseled that she should call Cornell Health if she needed professional help. I remembered the number, 607-255-5155, so I typed it in the chat box. Cornell Health’s number glowed light blue, signaling that she can literally just press on the link and her phone will dial for her.
I used to be really shy. I don’t mean that “kind of timid and not very talkative” type of shy. I’m talking painfully, paralyzingly shy. I remember coming home from elementary school with my throat dry because I hadn’t spoken a single word all day. My teachers used to pull me aside just to ask if I was okay.
Economists often talk of the metaphorical pie that keeps growing with every passing year. Economy has been in fact steadily multiplying for more than a century now: for example, our GDP per capita now is 5 times what it has been in the 1950s; we are collectively producing 5 times more stuff per person. But, when I take a look around, I do not see people kicking back to enjoy the prosperity our ancestors couldn’t have imagined. Even in the somewhat elitist bubble I inhabit people worry an awful lot about the money and the jobs. This mismatch between the numbers and felt reality puzzles me a great deal, in a way that an NFL star is puzzled when he discovers the millions he earned through sweat and trauma have somehow vaporized between the lines of contracts and the fees of lawyers.
I am now 22 years old and I can drink legally but, for much of my Cornell career, I was underage. I came into college with the I.D. of a friend of a friend who looked kind of like me and whose name was “Yelena.” That got taken at a liquor store and then I used a string of fakes before I turned 21. Being underage in Collegetown is more of an obstacle than a barrier. The bar scene here is always changing but there will forever be three or four places that 18 and 19 and 20 year olds can get into if they know the right tricks. Some of these bars don’t care at all.
A couple years ago, a former English professor at Yale published an article in the New Republic entitled, “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League.” The title reflected a growing sense of hostility towards elitist institutions of higher education across the nation. Over the last few years, there has been a sort of a backlash against Ivy League-type schools — from President Trump’s attacks on university endowments, to the assaults from conservative media groups that label the Ivy League as a harbor for radical snowflakes. At the risk of sounding elitist and out-of-touch, I argue that the Ivy League — from its hyper-competitive admissions process, to its rigorous academics, to its army of loyal alumni — is actually good for society. Though there are certainly problems with the sort of elitism that emerges from these top schools, the Ivy League nevertheless has produced brilliant thinkers and powerful innovations that have pushed the human race forward. Among the first criticisms leveled at elite schools is the admissions process.
Cornhell. This is the nickname I hear as I cross the Arts Quad every morning, fifty students shivering under parkas with a ring of fur around their face, their L.L. Bean boots dragging through dirty slush. Some clutch cups of mediocre coffee from Libe. All bear an expression of death on their faces. Reality is uncertain and terrifying right now, ridden with countless events startling Cornellians over the past few months — the discovery of a weapon stockpile in Collegetown, an atrocious pig roast, a string of racial and sexual violence.