By the time I entered my freshman year I was sick of receiving advice. Every adult in my life was either telling me that the next four years would fly by or that they would be the best four years of my life. Both of these phrases of wisdom were followed up by, “Enjoy every second of it!”
The idea of four years of my life flying by seemed like an exaggeration to me. As an 18-year-old, then future doctor-to-be, I was fairly certain that the next four years would feel exactly like it sounded — four years, which was 20 percent of my life at the time. And I was confused as to how every adult who spoke to me was under the impression that it would be the best four years of my life. Why did they all seem to know what my experience would be like before I actually experienced it?
By the time I entered sophomore year, I had gone from a pre-med Spanish major to a Communication major with a Marketing minor. I quickly realized that going through four years of organic chemistry, physics and the all-encompassing, slope-day consuming Genetics, wasn’t for me. Also like most students who decided to veer off of the straight and narrow path of medicine, I had a revelation when I realized I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
I never could have made the leap from pre-med to Communication without the advice of my family and friends. Throughout freshman year, I quickly began to comprehend that while I would continue hearing things like, “College is the best four years of your life — enjoy every second of it!,” people were also giving me some useful information. And I began realizing that I may have been interpreting the word “best” incorrectly.
Best doesn’t necessarily mean challenge-free. While college is an amazing experience, if done correctly, it won’t, and shouldn’t, be the best four years of your life. College is about reflection, taking risks and making mistakes, and those types of things can’t happen without bumps along the way. Of course, some of the decisions that you make will literally be life-altering. You’ll be deciding what organizations to join, and what classes to take, and these choices will eventually lead to and influence things like your friend group and future career path. But the fact that these choices are life altering shouldn’t scare you into never making a decision.
Cornell is referred to as a bubble for a reason. While Ithaca may be “ten square miles surrounded by reality,” it’s also a “safe-zone” for you to take risks. As you go through your time at Cornell you’ll develop a support network, and those individuals are the ones that you can fall back on and seek advice from when one of the leaps that you take doesn’t work out exactly like you expected.
The first big risk I ever took was when I switched my major to Communication, and my life path would have been very different if I hadn’t taken that leap. But taking a risk doesn’t necessarily have to be something as large as switching your major; it can be something smaller, like stepping out of your comfort zone to join an organization that you didn’t know anyone in, or running for a position that you didn’t necessarily know you would win.
While these risks that you take throughout your four years are often the most challenging moments, they are also the most memorable. These risks come with periods of reflection, and it is through the reflection and risk taking that you develop as an individual.
When I made the decision to switch my major I took the advice of my family and friends and began getting involved in extracurriculars. I joined Up ‘til Dawn — the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital organization at Cornell — because I wanted to stay involved with the medical world, but I also branched out and joined The Sun and Peer Review Board, because I wanted to explore every possible option that I had at Cornell. Each time I took a risk, large or small, I always sought the counsel of my support network. I finally understood how important it was to take advantage of the advice that I was receiving from those who had experienced these things before.
Each time I’ve taken a risk I’ve reminded myself that college is just one chapter, and while it may be one of the only times in my life when I have the opportunity to take risks and make mistakes relatively worry-free, it’s important to remember that this isn’t the end. Just because we’re going out into the world doesn’t mean that our career paths are set and there’s no wiggle room. I fully expect my career path to change throughout my life and recognize that what I do right after college may be completely different from what I’m doing ten years from now. The ability to be flexible and open to the idea of risk has been one of the most important skills that I have learned throughout my time at Cornell.
Congratulations to the Class of 2012! The day that our parents and their friends told us would come too quickly absolutely did. These four years really have flown by, and I hope you all agree that they were four of the best years of your lives — but I know there are more “best years” to come for all of us.
Chloe Gatta is graduating from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and served as the 129th Business Manager of The Sun. She may be reached at email@example.com .