August 28, 2011

Who Do I Think I Am?

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When writing an email to someone I haven’t yet met, I’m never quite sure how to start. You must know what I mean.“Dear Mrs. Madam, My name is Sebastian Deri and I am a Junior at Cornell.” Then I think: Junior? At Cornell? I didn’t consent to my age — nor even my name. They don’t say very much about who I am. Cornell may say something, but most people here are nothing like me and they’re Cornellians too.So, there is much more to me than just that, but what do I write to describe who I really am?I could say a bunch of things. I could say I’m a student, a scholar and that sometimes I convince myself I’m an intellectual. I could say I’m a person who has had knee surgery. I’m five foot eleven. I’m a consumer of raspberries and a fan of basketball. I’m definitely a man, sometimes I’m even the man, but other times I’m not man enough. I am all of these things and other things and unsure of how to capture my existence within any reasonable bounds. It changes as soon as I do something new, anyway — because at the end of this sentence, I will be someone who used the word cornucopia to prove a point.I can even be a different person to different people. I can be a cousin, a co-worker and a coward depending on whether you’re my cousin, co-worker or that kid at the curb currently being cornered by a crook. Sometimes I can be a feeling, like pleased to meet you. And to you right now, I am mostly a columnist. As such, I think I owe you an introduction. A proper one — one that I always ponder and want to include in those emails but never do. So:Hello!Like you, I am a human being. Like you, I have ambitions. And like you, depending on the day, week and situation, I find life alternatively mysterious, invigorating and frustrating. I happened to born a male and my parents happened to name me Sebastian. It’s all kind of arbitrary though. But, you might find it interesting that my parents were born in Hungary. That’s not who I am, but I’ve come to believe that in some way that does define me. I also feel that my schooling and, more accurately, my teachers have defined me. There are times I think they have taught me about marginal utility and Malcom X but other times I think they have opened my eyes to the world.I’ve read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and loved it. I’ve read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and hated it. I like reading The New York Times, Slate and The Atlantic — especially because Wikipedia tells me The Atlantic is “aimed at a target audience of ‘thought leaders,’” which makes me feel like I’m a thought leader. (If you haven’t realized, I’m a bit of a sucker for the idea of thought as power.)I’m also a sucker for improv, stand-up and sailing. I think Louis C.K. is hilarious, Emma Watson is gorgeous and Nancy Grace is a raving lunatic. My friends tell me I’m too competitive, my parents tell me I’m disrespectful and busy pedestrians tell me I’m in the way.Some days I’m convinced I’m brilliant, some days I feel like an idiot and some days I wake up at 2 p.m. and realize that I’m wasting my life. Then there are days when I sit down to define who I am but all I get is an incoherent list of my experiences and opinions.Really though, that’s it.You and I are, above all else, our experiences and opinions. More than our names and ages, that’s what really defines us. So beginning today, and continuing every other Monday, let me start to tell you who I am; it might even change who you are.By this, I do not mean that I intend to tell you about the minutia of my personal life nor presume that I can alter your personality, but rather that, once in a while, I can change your mind. If you accept this premise we can have an honest and fair but unsparing discussion about what it is to be a student at this school. We can examine — or at least think about a little more deeply — our confused conflicts with the bureaucracy that Cornell can be, its social hierarchy and its mechanisms for recognizing and rewarding merit.In thought we are unbounded and through it we can achieve clarity. Without it, we are doomed.

Sebastian Deri is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at sderi@cornellsun.com. Thought Crimes appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Sebastian Deri