April 29, 2004

The A Spot

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My freshman writing seminar was a personal essay class, and the TA gave me a B- on every single thing I turned in. About halfway through the semester, since I couldn’t seem to do anything right, I started turning in intentionally incoherent and stupid essays just to see what would happen: B-, B-, B-. It didn’t matter.

College was the worst thing for my self-esteem since puberty. Cornell is not a lovey-dovey place. It does not want to hug you and nurture you. It wants you to go to twelve different offices to track down one particular form that you have to drop off at yet another office, never to hear about it again. It doesn’t seem to care whether you succeed or not, and ignores you unless you secure yourself some kind of campus position.

For me, college was an exercise in understanding my lack of intellectual prowess. Instead of making me want to try harder and do my best, the hyper-competitive academic atmosphere made me want to die. Anything I did seemed brutally unrewarding. The one A any professor was willing to give out in a given class of 50 students never went to me because there was always someone smarter than me to scoop up the coveted thing. I gave up creative writing because in my third semester of it, I had a fellow student actually raise his voice to me, telling me that my poem didn’t make sense and that there was nothing I could do to fix it. I’m not saying the University should have patted me on the back after every prelim — we all know how we pride ourselves on being the Ivy that doesn’t hold students’ hands for four years. But being left in the dark isn’t such a great option either.

I’m sure my ill feelings toward college aren’t the norm. I’m sure if I were on the hockey team I’d think life was peachy. As it is, I don’t think I’m going to miss Cornell. I will, however, probably miss Ithaca. It’s a lovely town. There are plenty of things every student should do before they graduate and leave Ithaca, and none of them involve Cornell:

Do not climb up to the top of the clock tower to view your alma mater from the sky. We’ve all seen the University from every angle — it will not change between now and graduation. Instead, climb up a trail in the Six Mile Creek Preserve. If you follow the paths far enough south, you’ll end up at Potter’s Falls. If you ever wished you’d seen more nudity in your college years, this is the place to meet your quota.

Absolutely do not attend a chimes concert. For four years you’ve heard Aaron Copeland’s “Hoe Down” along with renditions of every single Disney song ever produced. Also, do not attend an a cappella concert. This should be a given. Instead, go see some live music at Castaway’s or ABC or See Spot. See a real band, drink a beer, and injure your eardrums a little. Note: Johnny O’s does not count.

Do not attend a Senior Week “brunch” at Ruloff’s. Instead, spend at least three consecutive hours in Wegman’s. You’ll never again have access to such a place, or if you do, you’ll never again have the free time to hang out in a grocery store for three hours. If you have to get drunk or stoned to do this, so be it.

Don’t take a nostalgic tour of campus. Save that for your reunions when you’ll have a youthful tour guide to whom you can explain all about what Cornell used to be like: That building is new, and that over there is where I used to have math class! Instead of walking around campus for the ten millionth time, walk around town. If you need something from the Commons, walk there. If you need something from Wegman’s, walk there. And walk back up the hill when you’re done.

Don’t go to your “dorm reunion.” You hated your freshman roommate. Instead, introduce yourself to one person who is in no way affiliated with Cornell. Just stop someone on the street if you have to. Ask them what they like about living here.

Do not play Frisbee on the Arts Quad. Too many trees, too many people, no grills. Instead, pick up some tofu dogs and have a barbeque at Stewart Park. The lake is a much more scenic Frisbee backdrop than Olin Library.

Don’t watch the sun set on campus, watch it set at Sunset Park in Cayuga Heights. The view is better –there aren’t all those buildings to get in the way.

And no matter what, at graduation do not cry for Cornell. Cry for your friends, or cry for your lost youth. But don’t cry for the University — it’s not crying for you.

Archived article by Thea Brown