Welcome to the spring semester. I hope you had some opportunity over the break to decompress and spend time with friends and family. I spent most of that time in Ithaca, enjoying our community and the surrounding beauty. By now, though, most of us are a bit tired of the cold and the snow and I’ve noticed that many of you regard a day above freezing as an occasion for wearing shorts and celebrating!
Many of us are starting to feel guilty about all the New Year’s resolutions that have been falling by the wayside. I know I am. And many of us are wondering what we can do now, despite all the cold and the snow, to keep ourselves moving forward in ways we can feel good about. Each of us will answer this question a bit differently, I suspect, but here are a couple of suggestions. First, go easy on yourself and know that we are all in this together. Most of us at Cornell — whether we are students, faculty, or staff — are driven by the need to achieve. We set goals, some very achievable and some unrealistic, and often feel badly when we don’t measure up to our own expectations. If we keep only one resolution this year, let’s make it a resolution to do our best, but to forgive ourselves if we don’t always hit the mark.
Some students are already feeling stressed out, because study as they might, they know that not everyone will score above the mean on the first prelim. You may be surprised to hear that the faculty also start the semester with at least a bit of apprehension about how the semester will unfold. Will our lectures be perceived as interesting? Will students actually learn something or just give us back what they think we want to see on the exam? Will that grant application — or that promotion to full professor — be approved? Staff form a critical support network in their partnerships with faculty and students. Their jobs are multifaceted and can be challenging and stressful in their own way. But, if we — students, faculty, and staff — can truly say that we gave it our all, that we did the very best we could, we can feel free to let go of the anxiety while perhaps resolving to find ways to be more successful the next time around.
Second, one mark of a caring community is that we recognize and respond to those who are feeling stressed, depressed or just having a bad day with offers of help and support and that we also find creative ways to rediscover the things that make life enjoyable. Last Friday, I attended an event in the Memorial Room at Willard Straight Hall called “Dining with Diverse Minds.” It was sponsored by the student group Cornell Minds Matter, with help from the African, Latino, Asian, Native American Students Programming Board (ALANA), the Ordinary People theatre troupe and funding from the Student Assembly. Cornell Minds Matter is part of a network of people and programs that is the backbone of our efforts to be a caring community. And while this group focuses on mental health, it approaches the topic more broadly, promoting healthy lifestyles and stress relief. Cornell Minds Matter has come up with creative ways to relieve stress and puts on events like “Procrastinate at the Straight” that can help students unwind. And its “Random Acts of Kindness” initiative — giving out candy and hugs before prelims — has reinforced the idea that we in the Cornell community care about each other’s welfare and act on our convictions.
Third, even though it’s snowy and feels a long way from spring and an eternity from summer, there are things we can do now to put ourselves in a better position to accomplish our goals. I have found that planning is the best antidote for anxiety. And so, if you’re worried about what you’ll do next summer in the face of a job market that still has not fully rebounded, act now to lay the groundwork for a job or internship.
The Cornell Career Services website http://www.career.cornell.edu/ has a timeline for taking steps that can increase your chances of finding a good summer job, or internship, as well as links to a variety of internship opportunities and other summer programs that may be a good fit with what you would like to be doing four months from now. The Cornell Career Services office in 103 Barnes Hall and the individual college career offices are effective resources, not only for finding something to do next summer, but also for helping you develop your job search skills and working with you to formulate your plans for graduate or professional school.
No need to wait until the clocks change to move ahead. Let’s harness the ability, the energy and the determination that we have in such abundance at Cornell to jump into the new semester with optimism and a commitment to making our Cornell community an even more caring and transformative place.