May 5, 2011

[Not] My Last Opinion

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We will all take with us a set number of tangible items when we leave Cornell. Given a box, I could cram in my diploma, hoards of photographs, numerous quarter cards and a few old graded assignments I have accumulated over the years. There are obviously also intangible items — journeys embarked on, lessons learned and memories acquired — that can’t be stored in the attic but that we have nonetheless compiled and will bury away to one day dust off and revisit. Each will have a different set of items, but as alumni we will all have left Cornell with something.

Though hopefully upon reflection you are satisfied with the collection of memories and memorabilia your time at Cornell has bought, an equally important question worth asking is what have you left behind? Again this can be answered with both concrete and conceptual responses. For some, their Cornell footprint may be an honors thesis, a proposal to the Student Assembly or maybe just a few inappropriate drawings on the wall at CTP. Others, however, may have made more of an impact volunteering, helping to sustain the environment or simply being a friend for a fellow student. It is virtually impossible to have been here and have made no impression at all.

I have spent a great deal of time lately contemplating these two questions. In my previous column, I discussed five of the more important lessons I have learned during college, pieces of knowledge that have already influenced and will continue to shape my life. In addition to what I will take with me, the thought of what I will have left behind — my “legacy” — has been much more elusive. Though there are numerous endeavors and worthy causes I missed out on, I am proud of the goals I have achieved here at Cornell. One of the things I am most proud of is this column.

I have written good columns and poor columns, short columns and long columns and columns that ranged from excessively dry to overwhelmingly sarcastic. Each and every column was a struggle. You may all know what it feels like to struggle with a paper for a class that you could care less about. My struggle with this column has been different. There are so many issues — economics, politics, campus events, Collegetown debauchery — that could all occupy 800 words on a page. Similarly, there are various established and more credible sources to get news or opinions from, so what could I write in The Sun that would be different? These are the issues I struggled with, and I thank those of you who read my articles for better and for worse. Throughout the entire process, there is one main justification that kept me writing. Regardless of their quality or content, my words were printed for all to see: I had a voice.

When I walk down Schoellkopf field in a few weeks, many things in my life will change. Having an opinion will not be one of them. College is a relatively nurturing environment, one where divergence of beliefs is encouraged and straying off the beaten path is accepted. The dominating institutions in our society — the government, the media and the workplace — are not so tolerant. Upon graduation, we are largely encouraged to acquiesce and conform to traditional standards and norms. This is not inherently negative, but poses a unique risk: failing to have a voice.

To both those who are graduating and those with time still remaining here at Cornell, my parting words are the same. Think about the issues that are important to you and make your beliefs known. If there is one thing that can never be taken away from us it is the power of opinion.

Shaun Werbelow is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be contacted at swerbelow@cornellsun.com. Second Opinion appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Shaun Werbelow