March 17, 2010

With Spirits Raised, A Time for Reflection

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The national media flocking to the hill — hoping for photos of gray skies and blue students — must have been disappointed yesterday. The dour Cornell of last weekend bore little resemblance to yesterday’s bright, optimistic atmosphere. But despite the cotton candy and a cappella lightening the mood at the Raise Your Spirits event on the Arts Quad, one could not help but feel some dissonance amidst the smiling faces. The event was a success — a positive, forward-looking moment for Cornellians to take a much-needed breath — but it was undeniably borne of tragic circumstances.

Events such as yesterday’s are valuable because they brighten spirits and raise awareness, but they are not the ultimate answer. The real issues must be faced on a day-to-day basis within our community, and they must be faced proactively. When the snow is piled on the ground and such sunny festivities are impossible, the real work must be done by students and administrators alike. There must be a culture of Cornellians supporting Cornellians that is consistent the entire year round.

Much of the onus falls to the administration, which has responded quickly and admirably to last week’s events. But it does not end here — the rest of the effort must come from the students. The leaders of the student body have the tools, and therefore the obligation, to reach out to their constituents. From the Student Assembly to the class councils, from the Greek governing bodies to religious service leaders, to every club and committee on campus, much effort has been put into providing students with the information and support they need. But while student leaders can organize events and send informative e-mails, sometimes those most in need will not be their listservs. This is where the responsibility falls on each and every student.

We must be one another’s support system. We have to be vigilant for those we do not know: They live near us in Collegetown and on campus, they sit next to us in class, they wait in line behind us at Libe Cafe and they share many of the same difficulties that Cornellians overcome on a daily basis.

As Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67 noted yesterday, the intense nature of academics at Cornell is both a positive and a negative force. It creates capable students ready to enter the workforce and it gives Cornell its reputation as one of the premier universities in the world. But it also creates stress and places tremendous pressure on students. The key is to use the academic pressure as motivation, while maintaining a supportive atmosphere for all. By watching out for each other — on an institutional level, on a group level and on an individual level — we can keep up with Cornell’s rigorous academics while keeping a balanced mindset and a positive attitude.

It is true that we can reach only those who want to be reached, but we cannot reach anyone if we do not extend a hand. If individuals regularly attempted to raise each other’s spirits, perhaps the next Raise Your Spirits event could be held under less grim circumstances.