May 3, 2010

One Last Time: Everyone Choose Sides

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After three-plus years — and more than 60 published bylines, a stint as Arts editor and countless poorly designed carry-pages — these are the last words I’ll ever see printed in The Cornell Daily Sun. I’ve been grappling with what to write about for weeks. Then yesterday afternoon, I spotted a student blogging project that gave me the perfect conceit: Sum up Cornell in six words.

The idea appealed to me for its simplicity. Anyone who so chose was free to exploit the communal nature of the blogging platform to encapsulate their Cornell experiences in brief bursts of meaning-laden text. Reading through the list of submissions, I was struck by how many of them felt relatable. While, of course, condensing down to six words tends to simplify complicated ideas, it’s still reassuring to see such familiar sentiments. Even as I prepare to graduate, there’s some tangible link between my own experiences in Ithaca these past four years, and those of others.

Without further adieu, a (non-exhaustive) slice of my Cornell career, as expressed with the help of anonymous bloggers:

“Four years went by so fast”

Yes, for sure. But consider: Four years ago, Pluto was still a planet. Lost still ostensibly made sense. Four years ago, Hank Aaron was the all-time homerun king, and Zinedine Zidane had not yet head-butted anyone in the chest. Or query this: Four years ago, Larry Craig was still playing “urinal footsie” with impunity, while Barack Obama was just a fledgling junior senator from Illinois. The time from orientation to commencement only seems short until you actually step back and remember how much has actually changed.

“Feel dumb for a smart person”

College is about learning. For me, learning was about learning my limitations.

Nothing is ever so humbling  — especially to someone who always thought of himself as the smartest guy in the room — as the realization that you just got intellectually out-classed. That happened to me about five minutes in at Cornell. I learned very quickly that there are probably a dozen people in any given vicinity who could run circles around me with their powers of reason. And that’s the way it should be. This is an Ivy League institution after all.

Don’t pass up the opportunity to pick the brains of those around you who literally know everything. (Munier Salem, for example, taught me more in five minutes about quantum theory than I otherwise would have learned in a lifetime.) People that smart are like great white buffalo — uncommon under the best circumstances, damn near impossible to find in the real world. Take advantage while you can.

“Find your place, enjoy the ride.”

Cornell is too big to meander through idly for four years. Institutions like Greek life are huge in part because of the sheer magnitude of the environment we inhabit. The only way this place is manageable is if you’ve found your niche. So find one.

“Experiences that change your entire life”

College is a great, big playground for budding adults to figure out who they are and who they want to be. When I first registered as a student here in August ’06, I was a meek, awkward cornball; 135 lbs. and easily confused for a visiting pre-frosh’s younger sibling. In the intervening years, I’ve put on some muscle and gained a little bit of confidence. I’ve interviewed Bill Maher and tried to flirt with Ke$ha. (Mixed results.) I grew as a student, as a writer and as a person. It’s been a trip.

“Not what I thought it’d be.”

Was it what I expected? No. But sometimes you have to just take the plunge. Write the column. Run for editor. Kiss the pretty girl with the crazy small feet. Take chances — even if sometimes you end up in jail — and learn from your mistakes. (Especially if you end up in jail.)

Could Not Have Done It Without … (My six words, and the requisite “goodbye column” shoutouts.)

To Steve and Ian, my CSH compadres: Though our paths diverged wildly at times, I have always — and will always — think of us as the three amigos. There aren’t two guys in the world I would have rather made the transition from high school to college with.

To Julie, my Arts & Entertainment co-editor: I don’t think many people realize this, but you were the only reason I survived my first editorial compet; your confidence and poise got me through the gauntlet. And, while the subsequent year wasn’t always easy, I think it’s fair to say we made a damn fine team.

To Ted and Ann, who I wish I could call protégés: The truth is, you two knew exactly what you were doing from day one. It really isn’t any exaggeration to say you were the best Arts editors in the history of this newspaper. Mad pride.

To Cory, Weiss and Singer, my Sun mentors; to Sammy and Tony, my editors; to Irene, design sensei and snack-master; to Emily and Ben, who always kept The Sun rising; to Keenan, a brother in arms; and to Statford, the next Woodward; to Deb, the best friend I made at 139 W. State Street — or anywhere — these past four years; and to all the members of the 126th and 127th Editorial Boards, with whom I’ve shared enough memories of sleepless, stress-filled nights and glorious, debauched bar tabs to last a lifetime …

Finally, and foremost, to The Cornell Daily Sun, the Pi Chapter of Delta Phi and Cornell University, the three places I’ve been lucky enough to call “home” these past four years. I’ll never forget the newspaper, the fraternity or the school that defined my college experience.

Original Author: Peter Finocchiaro