June 9, 2010

To Reunion or Not to Reunion? What a Question!

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The Sun contacted two tenacious alumni, former Sun editor in chief Andy Guess ’05 and Matt Nagowski ’05, old buddies from the Hill and contributors to the Cornell alumni blog MetaEzra, to debate the merits of attending their first five year reunion. Skinny dipping, bar hopping and the misty Ithaca air were discussed and, in the end, no consensus was reached. The results of that chat follow:Andy:  I know you’ve had the dates circled on your calendar for months now, Matt, but I don’t think going to reunion is worth it, at least not this soon after graduation. Over the past few months, I’ve invited friends who are attending to dissuade me — to explain why I should travel up to Ithaca to relive our college days and immerse myself in nostalgia with people I haven’t seen or spoken with in close to five years. No one has successfully done so, but I’ll concede I may simply be set in my ways. So, what’s bringing you back on this weekend of all weekends? What am I, along with the countless others who can’t or won’t make it to Reunion Weekend this year, missing out on?Matt: Other than the pleasure of my company (and a late-night rendezvous with Hot Truck) I’m not entirely certain what you’ll be missing out on, Andy. But that’s the point. Ezra and Andy’s Big Red Experience is so big and varied that I can only start to guess at the types of serendipitous moments you’ll be missing out on this weekend.Maybe you will drunkenly sing the alma mater with your sophomore-year crush and rekindle an old flame. Perchance you’ll meet a recently hired professor with whom you will end up co-authoring your first peer-reviewed article. Or you could make friends with somebody from the Class of 1955 who worked for the Department of State in Romania and spend an afternoon reminiscing about all of your favorite Bucharest(-ian?) haunts.Of course, we might also just spend the entire weekend amongst old friends, rehashing inside jokes and our old debates. But would that really be such a waste of time, especially when we still don’t have to worry about our classmates sleeping toddlers in the next room over?What I do know is this: my Cornell education is far from over, and I’m certainly not going to pass up on an opportunity to pretend that I’m 19 and invincible again (complete with University-sanctioned revelry on the Arts Quad!) And while we probably did more on Ezra’s farm than most, there’s still a bunch of stuff that I never got around to doing that I can’t really do anywhere else, like sticking my hand inside the stomach of a cow, attending an Earth Sciences lecture on the mechanics behind the Haitian earthquake or taking shots with my bros at Johnny O’s. And, well, let’s just say that I’m hoping to cross at least two out of the above three off my list this weekend.What’s still on your list, Andy? And don’t tell me you’ve done everything, because I doubt you had the gall to slip down to the gorges for a late-night skinny dip way back when.Andy:  You know very well I haven’t done everything! And you assume correctly, Matt:  My adventurousness didn’t extend to airing my bare derrière to the waters of Fall Creek. But for the sake of preserving the sanctity of this undergraduate aspiration, let’s hope all the alumni seeking a thrill don’t all try on the same night. It might get crowded down there.I’ve surely told you about the most embarrassing item on my Cornell “bucket list”: never having attended a Big Red hockey game. I still hope to remedy that oversight, but going to reunion won’t help, unfortunately. What you’ve done is make an excellent case for the two of us spending a weekend in Ithaca. It’s been too long since we last had a chance to bicker about Cornelliana in person.In fact, I’ve already planned an excursion to Ithaca this summer. It’s just not on a weekend when all the restaurants will be booked. It, too, will be for a special occasion: A professor of mine is retiring. It will be a true opportunity to remember some cherished moments from the classroom and interact with over a generation of thankful students — the kind of reunion where no one will beg for donations. I bet the weather will be great. What are you doing later in June?Matt:  A late-June pilgrimage to Ithaca sounds lovely, Andy. Unfortunately I haven’t looked past Reunion Weekend on my calendar because there’s just too much to be excited about. Wine tours! Canoeing on Beebe Lake! A tour of the space sciences building! (Maybe I can even drive the Mars rover …) A reception with the Class of 1955! Cornelliana Night! And huge tents on the Arts Quad with free and unlimited beverages! Imagine that — all the Cornell Orchard cider you can drink!Still, I want to circle back to one of your other points about Uncle Ezra putting out his spare change cup for us this weekend. I don’t think that’s really the point. Especially as young alumni, we’re a lot of more useful to the University by engaging with it — interacting with older alumni, mentoring current students, supporting the student groups we were involved with, etc. — than we are by cutting a check. And that’s why we agreed to do this back and forth for The Sun, right?I’ll concede that emptying our pockets is probably the point of all of this in the long run. But I don’t think that’s a reason to be cynical. After all, Cornell was one of the best things to ever happen to me, and I know that I handsomely benefited from the generosity of others, including some of the members of the Class of 1955 who I’ll hopefully meet at our class reception with them over the weekend. And a big part of me would like to help ensure current students are provided with all of the same opportunities I had when I was a student. That, and it would be really cool if Cornell scientists found life on Mars and I could tell my grandchildren: “I funded that.”I think my broader point is that life is a chaotic combination of both purposeful and coincidental events, and that our times at Cornell could best be described in the same fashion. And it was largely coincidence that we ended up at Cornell, right? I decided on a last minute whim to bypass my dream school of Notre Dame for a much more unknown experience at Cornell, and, if my memory serves me correctly, you were taken off the wait list over the summer. Imagine the luck. But by attending reunion I think we’re able to engage with the broader University community and make it a bit more purposeful. Am I right, or am I just looking at things too idealistically?Andy: Wait a second … Isn’t the whole point of Cornell being a “transnational university” that the broader community can be found all over the world? When we both volunteered to interview applicants in our respective hometowns, didn’t we do so out of dedication to that larger, potential Cornell community — not solely the one of the past? I, for one, am more interested in creating new bonds with people who share an affinity for our alma mater. For example, there’s real serendipity to be found at the regular gatherings for young alumni around the country. As for the official Reunion up on the Hill, I truly wish my classmates fond memories. To those I missed, look me up in New York! We’ll talk about the good old days over drinks at the Cornell Club.Matt: Touche, Andy. But you won’t be able to deeply breathe the Cayuga-misted air, marvel at the rushing echoes of the gorges or enjoy the expansiveness of the view from Libe Slope. And that makes all the difference.

Andy Guess ’05 is a former editor in chief of The Sun and currently a PhD student in political science at Columbia University. Matthew Peter Nagowski ’05 is a former Sun staffer and the founder of MetaEzra, an alumni blog about Cornell. An extended version of this column can be found on MetaEzra.com.

Original Author: Matt Nagowski