May 29, 2012

Reading the Graffiti and Watching the Sunset

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Library stacks are my favorite places to study. There’s silence. There’s the smell of old books. You’re literally surrounded by the accumulated knowledge of humanity. But maybe best of all is the desk graffiti — the result of generations of Cornellians thinking, procrastinating or goofing off. Those notes written on the metal carrels in the Uris stacks, for instance, are conversations between students of the past, available for you to read right now, and maybe for another student to add to in the future. They might be preserved for years before the desk is freshly cleaned or painted.A typical series of scrawled notes goes like this:“When you hear hoofbeats, think horses.”“Why not zebras?”“Why not unicorns?”“Unicorns aren’t real, dumbass.”And at some point, someone draws a picture of a penis.Some of the graffiti is meaningless, or even offensive. Some is philosophical and deep. All of it is the mark of past students, whose thoughts are still seen by the students of today.I’m not suggesting you should go out and write all over University property. But the notes have a certain sentimental quality. For better or worse, students are literally leaving their marks on Cornell. Whatever schoolwork they were doing at the time may be long forgotten, but their graffiti still exists and is still read by the people sitting at those same desks.Some students strive to have a tangible effect on Cornell, one that will remain after their short undergraduate years. But some students — a few architects, engineers and pre-meds come to mind — are too busy with classes and grades to have much time to devote to activities outside the classroom. That’s no matter. Having a tangible effect on the community isn’t actually what’s important. That cliched goal — to “make a difference” — is, I think, just a stand-in for something deeper and more significant: be careful with the little time that you have.Many seniors this time of year bemoan how quickly their college years passed. For me, if it weren’t for the financial downside, I’d stay at Cornell for another four years. But unless you “forget” to take the swim test, you’ll have to leave when the time comes. The fact is that college goes by in a flash. None of us had time to do quite everything we wanted, or, at the very least, we didn’t take the time to really appreciate the things we did.And that’s the lesson of the library carrels. Stop for a second. Look at what’s around you. If you want to add to it, do it. Be the person who writes the philosophical message, or draws the penis, or just sits back and takes it all in.So if you’re still in Ithaca when you read this, go sit on the Slope. Watch the sunset. Walk to a street or a restaurant or an academic building you’ve never seen before.And if you’re no longer in Ithaca, do the same: Take some time. Look at the world around you. Think about what you want to be doing, and do it. College goes by fast, but the rest of life does, too.

Michael Linhorst is graduating from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and served as The Sun’s 129th Managing Editor. He may be reached at [email protected]

Original Author: Michael Linhorst