I wasn’t excited when I decided to come back to Cornell for grad school. When I visited Ithaca to check out the City Planning program I was hoping I would hate it. That way, I wouldn’t have to apply, and I wouldn’t have to make the choice of whether I wanted to come back and spend two more years in Ithaca. It’s not that I hated this place; that I loathed the isolation, or the weather, or the stress, or the small community. It’s that I loved it. I loved college, and I didn’t want to taint “my Cornell” with anything new that might tarnish the image that I bottled up when I moved out of here in 2007.
A year into my second stint in Ithaca, though, the two experiences are completely separate in my mind, due purely to the fact that I’m with a different group of people and studying something new.
However, when I venture out of Sibley I’m continuously reminded of the minutia that distinguish my undergrad Cornell from my grad Cornell.
Physically, Ithaca hasn’t changed that much in the past four years, but I will always think of the campus as being exactly the way it was when I left. Noyes will always be the “new Noyes,” even though they tore down the old one six years ago. I still call RPCC RPU, which is what all the cool kids were calling it my freshman year in 2003, even though it had officially been changed to a “Community Center” by then. Court and Mews still feel like they were just opened.
Spatially, the proximity of the Commons to Collegetown baffles me. In undergrad the Commons might as well have been Alaska. I took my car, every time. But now I live downtown and walk up to Collegetown on a weekly basis, and it takes me 10 minutes. This perceived microscale of Ithaca is comical. A few weeks ago The Sun published an article citing concerns that Loco, the new restaurant next to Chapter House, might have trouble operating because of its distance from Collegetown. It’s three blocks away.
Ivy Room used to give out rice and beans for free with the quesadillas. What the hell, man.
Two of the most prominent differences that have influenced the campus are technological ones. I joined Facebook in March of my freshman year. There were about ten schools that had it, and I estimate that the Cornellians who joined were probably some of the original 50,000 users. I want a T-shirt. Back then it was much more social than it was functional. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that they added photos, and it wasn’t until senior year that people started posting events on Facebook and the functionality that enabled Facebook to be a tool and not just a toy was developed. Birthday reminders are less salient now, though. I totally forgot that it’s Shamila’s birthday today. Also, you used to be able to post your classes, which was HUGE for stalking. Stalking is so much harder to do now, especially with whatever this “See who viewed your profile” stuff is that’s going around. I’m in trouble.
The second piece of technology that changed campus was the Smartphone. In the fall of my senior year a few kids had BlackBerrys, mostly people who had them leftover from an internship. Now, I take pictures of equations on the chalkboard instead of writing them down, and the majority of e-mails get answered faster than they used to. Fewer people carry actual cameras to parties, and a mobile upload album on Facebook actually has pictures worth seeing.
I used a film camera up until 2006. I was also probably the last person on campus to use a floppy disk to transfer files. That’s not indicative of the undergraduate climate in ’03-’07, that’s just me being the last adopter of any new technology.
This facet of my life is as true now as it was when I sent in my applications. In applying to undergrad, only a few schools gave you the option of an electronic application. I only sent in paper ones because I thought an electronic version would get lost in cyberspace somewhere. The grad school round, though, I only sent in electronic ones. I thought a paper application would’ve been lost in an office somewhere.
At the grad school level, Cornell is much more stereotypically Ithaca. I go to a lot of vegetarian potlucks, and there are many acoustic instruments. People talk about Marxism and go to random lectures, and the volume of textured soy protein consumed is much higher. Undergrad Cornell strives to be an extension of Westchester or a small block in mid-town, but grad student Cornell embraces Ithaca.
Also, girls’ skirts are way shorter than they were when I was an undergrad. Just pointing it out.
Overall, the weirdest thing about coming back for grad school was that it wasn’t weird to come back for grad school. I don’t miss my undergrad days or pine for their return. New friends replaced the old ones, and I learned that college is much more who you spend it with than where you spend it. I’m in the exact same location, but it’s a completely different place.
Which means that I’m bottling up a new Cornell right now. Not a better one, nor a worse one, just a new one.
Ben Koffel is a first-year grad student in the College of Architecture, Art & Planning. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Come Again? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.