I think it says somewhere in the Old Testament that before the great and dreadful day of commencement, the hearts of the seniors will turn to the freshmen, and the freshmen to the seniors. And it’s true! In these final days and weeks I find myself uncontrollably concerned with the future, especially the classes of 2013 and 2014. I wonder what they’ll find, and how, on their four-year sojourn. It is a journey, you know, in every sense but geography. So let’s consider the journey’s duration, and what it’s good for: change.
A decent journey should take seven years — a tragically long time to spend as an undergrad in Ithaca. Brad Pitt’s character, Tristen, needed that long to quiet the grizzly within after Samuel’s death in Legends of the Fall. But most of us don’t have any bears inside, so four years is sufficiently epic for radical reinvention (or revision) of self. In fact, it’s long enough for a lot of things including, but not limited to, finally deciding to shave.
Four years is long enough to meet, love and leave behind so many places, friends, lovers, subjects and mentors that they and their inevitable replacements begin to appear as waves of the sea that roll out in all directions to an infinite horizon, coming and going in perfect irregularity.
Four years is just long enough to get nothing done and feel bad about it. College isn’t a lazy Sunday. After all that time and money has passed, your mom might cry out of pride as you’re handed a diploma, but you’ll know the staggering number of hours you spent in front of a liquid crystal display watching a panda sneeze.
Four years is long enough to become strong or weak. In that time you can terribly misunderstand and internalize a core feature of our education — critical analysis. You can emerge into the world after a degree’s worth of debates with so many compelling arguments and counterarguments swirling in your mind that you are paralyzed to come down on any issue, and vengeful against anyone who does. After so many sentences starting with, “one could argue,” you can forget what it is that you would argue, and should argue. But you have enough time to do just the opposite — to find and support and argue for those principles you take to be right, problems and counterarguments be damned. And there’s certainly enough time (it only takes a second) to refuse to argue against your conscience, no matter if such an exercise is sold to you as a necessary part of an education or a job. You can learn to just say “no,” while recognizing opposing views and the weaknesses of your own. Because a part of you is weakened — a really important part that only has old-fashioned names like character and integrity — each time you do otherwise.
Four years is just long enough to forget why you began the journey in the first place. Whereas college was chalked up as a moral, intellectual, creative and, yes, sexual journey, somehow it tends to become just one of those. And that’s a big waste as they’re not mutually exclusive.
Four years is long enough to make one really good friend, someone removed from your circle who gets you and puts up with you and desires your success on this journey as a good in itself. And this friend’s advice can become so important, and yet not compulsory, over the years that you’ll fear the day or event that separates you from it — in my case, graduation.
Last of all, if you’ve been here for four years you probably learned that you need another four to figure things out — to understand where you’re headed and with whom. Now this statement does not cover everybody. Some lucky people have it all sorted out. But others are prone to say, as a prophet once did, “I am a rough stone rolling. The sound of hammer and chisel were never heard on me, nor ever will be.” These are the wild ones who no amount of schooling could ever teach to settle down and do things the normal way, let alone predict their own collision course. Cornell could not and would not sculpt them, only provide them an incline to build speed and momentum — four years’ worth — towards a spectacular meeting with a world that is so often harsh and unimpressed.
So thank you to Cornell for introducing me to some of the wild ones, past and present, who I will watch with anticipation. Thank you to Sammy and Tony for the space, for the time and for good humor. Thank you to my one really good friend.
Andrew Daines is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Right Stuff appears alternate Wednesdays this semester. Since last fall Andrew Daines has written on topics from Cornell EMS to Resolution 44, here is a brief survey of his work: