May 4, 2010

A Lasting Impression

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The burden of the last article has a peculiar way of suddenly turning one into a dreadful writer. With a tendency to read like premature obituaries of one’s short-lived youth, many columns of the past week have read as long and drawn out inside jokes among tight knit circles of friends, references to that significant other and gratitude towards parents for tuitions paid on time. Dedications and last undying words aside, as the final days of my thesis semester are quickly dwindling, all that remains on my mind is the liability of “the legacy” — be it through the last word, the last paper, the last review or the last outfit, what do we as individuals leave behind as we dramatically move onto the next stage of our lives?

In Casablanca, when Ingrid Bergman bids her final adieu to the irresistibly handsome Humphrey Bogart and disappears into the dense fog of the future, all I remember is the crisp white button down peeking out from her elegant skirt suit, the white gloves, the perfectly coiffed hair underneath the tilted hat that only she could pull off and that tear that flawlessly rolls down her porcelain face. The orchestration of this last scene down to the way Bergman tilts her head is how I remember the essence of the film — graceful and all too bittersweet. Though not as dramatic, I wonder what impression I will leave as I present my thesis project to a jury next Tuesday. A black structured dress and modest heels to let them know I am a strong, but feminine architecture student? A regular jeans and blouse combo to relay the sense that I am a nonchalant individual? Or, a J. Crew politically correct ensemble of knee length skirt and floral cardigan to show my earnest hardworking self? Regardless of clothing choice, I often question why these key moments in our lives truly define people’s memory of you.

As I absent-mindedly stare out my studio window these days, I often think back to the first day of my “senior” year — what I had anticipated (responsible romance with law student boyfriend while juggling schoolwork and regular exercise) and more importantly, what I expected myself to achieve by year’s end (perfect thesis project, a job waiting for me in a major metropolitan city, pretty loft space in that major metropolitan city). And as I sit and write this with neither of the above, I now think of how I have used too much energy these five years at Cornell to define myself for others to understand. So much of my personality has concerned how I am an architecture student, how I never sleep, how I work too hard, how I’d rather pull an all-nighter working than playing. And this self-inflicted kind of misery is what has made my college experience anything but a rendition of Animal House. Senior year and its “you only live once” mantra invites outrageous behavior and justifications for enjoying life and all too confuses me as well — what does this dramatic statement actually mean? Should I finally go out and grab the guy I have been eyeing and tell him my real feelings? Should I just walk the streets carefree in my birthday suit, fearless and proud of who I am? Shotgun that beer and do that keg stand I always promised I would do? Or should I continue to live my life without this bucket list of extremities?

When we said goodbye in middle school there was less responsibility involved as we awkwardly wrote the acronyms HAGS (Have a Great Summer) and SWAK (Sealed with a Kiss) in each other’s yearbooks without thinking we would never see each other again. Even while that horrible Vitamin C graduation song blared in the background with all its fear of changing, there was never a sense of sorrow because we were excited to grow up and evolve. And now that we are somewhat grown up, endings in college have become more severe, as the last year without responsibility, the last year before taxes and 401(k)s, the last year to mess up and the last year to say goodbye before we become full adults. But, what many do not realize is that life does not stop once bar crawls and parties on a Tuesday night cease to exist. And so, I leave you not with a farewell, but a simple see you later because as college ends, life goes on and so does the chance for reinvention. And that must be a truth universally acknowledged.

Original Author: Courtney Jiyun Song