June 6, 2011

Five Years Off The Hill, Some Perspective on Life at College

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Editors note: The following column appeared in The Sun’s Reunion Edition issue which was published June 10th, 2011 for Reunion Weekend.

The Class of 2006’s fifth-year college reunion is finally here, and I could not be more excited to return to Cornell, see familiar faces, and enjoy the beauty that is Ithaca in June. I’ve got to admit though that this is not the first time that I have been to a Cornell reunion weekend. Those who know me well are probably not surprised by that statement, given my inordinate love for all things Big Red. But my reason for attending Reunion Weekend 2005 during the summer between my junior and senior years was not to crash another class’s celebration because I couldn’t tear myself away from The Hill. It was to report the sudden resignation of then-University President Jeffrey Lehman during what was supposed to be a state-of-the-University-type address to alumni.

The Lehman resignation quickly became the biggest story during my tenure at The Sun, and coverage of the subsequent fall-out dominated much of my time through the winter of my senior year. For a 21-year-old college journalist with aspirations of becoming the next Katharine Graham, it was incredibly exciting and fraught with questions that kept me up at night. Were our reporters digging deep enough? Should our coverage be more extensive? Would The Sun get sued for the sensitive information we published? I think that time has revealed that our managing editor, news editors and reporters did an excellent job handling that story, and fortunately, The Sun avoided any lawsuits over the coverage.

I bring up this anecdote to highlight that while some things seem so important at the time, years later their impact may decrease. What had been a chaotic moment in Cornell history does not appear to have had much of a long-term effect. If anything, University leadership appears stronger than ever. As a proud alum, I am so happy to see that.

This got me thinking about other aspects of the college experience that seemed crucial at one time and are now just an afterthought. How many of us spent so much time worrying about grades? Or which major to declare? Or which fraternity or sorority to join? Or whether to join the Greek system at all? Five years after graduation, the immediate importance of those issues has faded away. That is not to say that those grades or decisions did not merit attention at the time, or that they did not have any lasting significance. Of course, they may have affected your graduate school or post-college job opportunities, as well as the friends you made during your time here. However, it seems to me that the weight of such discrete decisions has dwindled for many people, leaving behind just the shared experience of being Cornellians. Celebrating this shared experience is what makes reunion so much fun.

Whether or not you agree that the significance of some of your college decisions has diminished, it is still true that many things have changed over the past five years globally and, for many of us, personally. We graduated in the pre-Great Recession era when jobs for college seniors were plentiful. In a lot of ways, that feels like a lifetime ago. On a happier note, many members of our class have returned to Ithaca married or engaged, some to other Cornellians. And all of those eager students who went straight to medical or law school have come back as doctors and lawyers, respectively.

This weekend is a great time to take a few moments to reflect on the path your life has taken over the past five years — to appreciate the successes and recognize the pitfalls. Personally, my post-college path has taken me far from where I predicted I would be five years out. But as I think back on the passions that Cornell helped me cultivate and the friends I made here, I realize that maybe less has changed than I would have thought at first glance. I couldn’t tell you today what grades I got in American Constitutional Development or American Political Thought from Madison to Malcolm X, but I do know that those classes awakened my budding interest in the law. I may not be a journalist anymore, but I still love to write and hold in the highest regard those who do it for a living. Some of my closest friends were in a different sorority than I was in, but today we just remember the fun times we had cavorting around Collegetown. And when I was asked to write a column for this reunion issue, I immediately turned to the same people I used to bounce ideas off of when I was briefly a Sun columnist. For all of those things, I am forever indebted to Cornell.

Welcome back, Class of 2006! I look forward to seeing you again in another five years.

Erica Temel ’06 was editor in chief of The Sun’s 123rd editorial board. She is currently pursuing a law degree at Fordham University. She may be reached via the associate editor at associate-editor@cornellsun.com.

Original Author: Erica Temel