“If it was nice like this all the time, I would be such a waste of life,” a friend joked on a sunny day two weeks ago. Every time I talk to someone from L.A. about my alma mater I’m asked, “Why Cornell?” The weather is a key part of this schism between Cornell and L.A., but as with most conversations around campus, the ever-changing climate of Ithaca and the constant one of L.A. is mostly reserved for small talk rather than a 900-word column.
To my friends and readers, Happy Slope Day! One plus of going to print today is that you might read my column twice unknowingly. As Alonzo Harris says in Training Day, “This is a newspaper. It’s 90 percent bullshit, but it’s entertaining.” I hope you’ve found my arts articles and columns entertaining, but know that it wouldn’t have been possible to “keep an Eye on L.A. like Chuck Henry” without your support and feedback. Thank you.
Senioritis aside, I came to Cornell looking to break out of the Los Angeles Daze.
My column takes its name from “Los Angeles Daze,” the 12th track off The Next Step, debut album of Los Angeles underground hip-hop group People Under the Stairs. The ethereal keyboards and hard hitting drum kicks make for a perfect soundtrack to the city. I still remember the first time I heard it while sitting on the banister of my friend’s porch, devouring Mulberry St. pizza, staring at the endless stream of cars on the 101 Freeway. It reminds me of entire days spent chilling with my friends, and not doing much else.
“Los Angeles Daze” samples James Brown, who asks his trombonist James Wesley, “Hey man, where you from?” Wesley responds, “L.A.,” to which the band members say “Uh oh!” and laugh. While I discovered later that Wesley really meant “Lower Alabama” when he said L.A., the sample makes it seem like outsiders might view being from L.A. as a bad thing.
Los Angeles, and to a great extent the State of California, is more of a state of mind. I’ve outlined the good aspects of it, but by the time I left L.A., I had relaxed to the point of general apathy. I term this the Los Angeles Daze. “Eminence Front” by the The Who explains this “L.A. Daze.” I love L.A., but I can see now after four years at Cornell where James Brown might have been coming from.
People who live in L.A. look at the East Coast as if it’s a different country; while Angelenos value their lifestyle of leisure, those from the East Coast are motivated to work hard. My friends from L.A. couldn’t understand why I would want to give this lifestyle up, even temporarily.
Cornell embodies the Protestant work ethic. Students here are willing to work towards the promise of a great career and a fulfilling life, and have fun while doing it. “Work hard, play harder” is oft repeated, but it’s no less true. As a high school senior, I figured that forcing myself into an environment in which I would be committed to learn had long-term payoffs.
However, my Class of 2012 has the dubious distinction of being the only class to go through college during the entirety of The Great Recession. As impressionable freshmen, we witnessed the near-collapse of the world financial system less than a month into school. All of a sudden, MBSs and CDOs became part of the introductory economics curriculum. While the University struggled with budget cuts and austerity, students looked to bushwhack their own path out of Cornell and into the frightening “real world” of work.
Whether you have three weeks or three years left in Ithaca, let the chimes serve as a reminder to not waste a minute of your time. Those fleeting moments spent with friends lounging on the Arts Quad, talking world politics in the Ivy Room, or sitting on a Collegetown porch have not been wasted; they are unique Cornell experiences that balance out the work we do. My friends and I have helped one another find jobs we’re truly passionate about, but we’ve also made each other better people.
Regardless of whether you find truth in an equation (e^i(π) + 1 = 0) or in letters (“above all nations is humanity”), Cornell has put it within your reach. All you have to do is reach out and touch it yourself. It is a challenge set in stone on the Eddy Gate, the original entrance to Cornell: “So depart, that thou mayest become more useful to thy country and to mankind.”
Taking off from Ithaca after bidding farewell to my wonderful friends won’t be easy, but the sense of possibilities still ahead brings me back to Los Angeles for a while. It’s the same sense that brought me to Cornell, the same feeling expressed in the final Calvin & Hobbes, where Calvin points his sled down a snow-covered slope and says to his pal, “It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy ... Let’s go exploring!”