Congratulations Class of 2016, you have thus far made it through dorm move-in, five days of orientation, nights in crowded Collegetown living rooms and, perhaps most impressively, your very first day of classes. As an old and wise senior, I can very clearly remember my first day of classes at this wonderful institution: I rushed into Uris auditorium at 9:04 a.m. for Bio 101 (after admittedly misreading my campus map and going to Uris library first, looking around for a classroom and quickly realizing I was that embarrassing freshman who didn’t know that there were multiple buildings with the same name). After finding the right lecture hall in the correct Uris, I slipped into a chair towards the back, spilling coffee on my shirt, wiped the sweat off my forehead and looked into a sea of students who, to me, seemed wide awake, well-adjusted to this “college” thing and not at all intimidated by the huge classroom, the Cornell University crest projected on the slide in front of us, or the twelve page syllabus that was being passed out. I had arrived. College.
But for me, starting college was less glitzy than I had fantasized. Rather, it was entirely overwhelming. I felt like I had been thrown into a pool and was expected to swim (oh wait, we actually do that to Cornell freshmen). For starters, we speak a different language at this school that was, at first, gibberish. What’s a “prelim?” Where’s this place “Mann” everyone keeps talking about, and why is Bear Necessities called “Nasty’s?” Why does every other girl have Greek letters on her book bag, and why don’t I know why it’s significant that she’s an Omega Delta (don’t worry Freshmen, it’s really not). This huge university, can, for newcomers, feel like a huge life-size maze through which everyone else moves easily, unaffected by the jargon, the anonymity, the disgusting aftertaste of Keystone Light and oh, those steep hills.
To any freshman reading this (although I imagine there are few as there are still books to be purchased, friends to be made and schedules to be sorted before any sort of recreational reading can be done), please rest assured: If you are, five days in, feeling over your head at the Ivy League institution you had always dreamed of attending, I promise you are in good company. Although Cornell prides itself on its diverse student body, we all share one thing in common: We identified as extraordinary in high school. Maybe you discovered new subatomic particles or won twelve state choir competitions. Or perhaps you’re that kid who broke your schools’ track record by fifteen seconds, or traveled the world feeding hungry children a new protein-rich powder you developed.
The secret is: Everyone in the community is extraordinary and you are too. But after a day of classes and less than a week on campus you may be overwhelmed and unsure of who you are, or even what you’re capable of doing. I certainly was. An exciting kind of overwhelmed, of course, but overwhelmed nonetheless. However, I can assure you — as can every other student who looks like they’ve got this place figured out — you will find your way through the maze. Wrong turns teach you which way to take next time, and sometimes, land you at that awesome coffee spot on campus you didn’t know existed. If you doubt yourself, fake it until you make it. Keep going, keep working, keep trying to make sense of this place because each of us not only deserves to be here, but also, and perhaps more importantly, makes this place what it is. If you doubt yourself — socially, academically, emotionally or athletically — fake it, at least for now. The truth is you have been thrown into this pool I now call home, but you are here because you have the skills to figure out how to swim (or at least tread for now). Soon enough, you will realize that you belong here, you have a niche here and you can make Cornell your home. Trust yourself, and understand that that girl in the front row of Bio 101 who you may believe by Day One has got this place wired is feeling the same panic that you are. You’re not alone, it gets better and you deserve this.
And, for those who conquered move-in, love your roommates, have found your “OMG amazing” college friends and feel confident about your course load: Just wait, prelims (and winter) are right around the corner. But to all of you — the overwhelmed, the excited and everyone in between, welcome home.
Hannah Deixler is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Shades of Grey appears alternate Thursdays this semester.