April 30, 2009

To the Class of 2009: An Open Letter

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To the Class of 2009:

Three years ago at a friend’s Collegetown party, I was sitting on a couch next to a guy holding a beer the way a child clutches a security blanket. Amidst the dark atmosphere and loud music, he turned to me and urged me to enjoy myself while I was at college. “The world”, he told me, “says these are the best years of our life.”

Whether you have felt that way or not throughout your time at Cornell, you will almost certainly feel it in the next few days as your Cornell undergraduate experience draws to a close. As you experience your last Slope Day. As you leave your extracurriculars. As you entrust your leadership positions to other people. As you bid farewell to your friends on Graduation Day.

I was in your position two years ago. The realization that I was done with undergraduate life only kicked in at the beginning of fall–the time I would normally return to Cayuga’s waters. Then, I began to notice how life was different. My friends no longer lived in the same proximity as they had when we were in college. Jobs and schedules made late nights less frequent. Spontaneous outings also decreased, as I found I often had to schedule hangout times with friends. And if I wanted to find a fun event or performance, I had to scour several newspapers and websites instead of heading to Ho Plaza.

I do not know what you will be doing after graduation. There are a variety of options: jobs, graduate school, the military, or even taking a break to figure out what’s next. But I suspect you will also experience some of the same things I did and wonder if life can be as exciting anymore.

I am reminded of another man who struggled with what he was told would happen to him: Thomas Anderton, from Steven Spielberg’s film “Minority Report”. In the film, three “pre-cog” humans that the goverment uses to see the future predict Anderton will murder a certain man at a certain time. Minutes from that moment, he finds himself in the room with the man the pre-cogs said he will kill. As the seconds tick by, Anderton struggles with the thought that perhaps what the pre-cogs have told him will happen to him will come true. Perhaps he cannot escape fate.

But in the background is one of those three pre-cogs, and she softly urgently and softly repeats three words over and over: “You can choose.”

It is those three words I leave to you. Who says you have to give in? The circumstances may be different and some things may have changed, but if you want, you can find ways to enjoy yourself in your new life. For me, it meant using the larger amounts of free time I had to make new friends, throw occasional parties, read the books I never had time for and watch a variety of old and new films. Life didn’t become boring by any means – it became more fun.

Even in the midst of hard times you’ll experience, you may be able to see how it grows and develops you. You may even find a way to use it to do something incredible, like our fellow alumnus Christopher Reeves did after his paralysis by funding research and lobbying for others with spinal cord injuries. Where one person sees an obstacle, another can see an opportunity.

So, Class of 2009, enjoy the next few weeks. You’ve worked hard for several years, and now it is time to celebrate. But when the ceremony is over and the fanfare has died, never forget that you can choose.