September 4, 2012

How To Make the Most of Summer

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“Trustee Viewpoint” is a bi-weekly column that allows your two student-elected members of the Cornell Board of Trustees to share their musings on matters relevant to campus life. Don’t be fooled! The trustees (the highest decision-making body at Cornell, and President David Skorton’s collective boss) deal with a lot of stuff that most students would deem “esoteric nonsense” at best. For example, debt financing, risk audits and capital development plans extending out 30 years.

Nevertheless, this group of 64 dedicated Cornell policy makers also crafts and enacts decisions that define the Cornell experience. We authorize new degree programs (e.g., everything happening at the new Cornell NYC Tech campus); we dictate what the physical campus looks like and how much construction you’ll need to contend with on your way to class; and we set your tuition rates. In short, we make sure that Cornell is using the resources it has to be the absolute best university we can be.

As one of your two student trustees, I come to you through the pages of The Sun once a month to share relevant insight about Cornell and your experience here (and, hopefully, to stay as far away as I can from the esoteric nonsense that is also part of my job). For my column today, I’ll assume that most of you returned to campus — or first arrived on the Cornell campus — about three weeks ago. You’ve been here long enough to acclimate a bit, but not so long that you’re swamped with essays, problem sets and lab experiments. You have already heard multiple people who are unprepared for our winters, or who can’t handle the truth of what it means to live in the north, lament the blizzards, ice, several feet of snow, cold, cold and more cold that will attend us in a few short months. This cheery (re)introduction to campus, your lack of huge pressing assignments and the impending onset of autumn has made you realize that you possess only a few more weeks to really enjoy being outside in Ithaca’s glorious summer beauty.

Now you are likely thinking, “Great, Nighthawk, but what does this have to do with the trustees?” Well, I promised to shelve the vapid and tiresome banter and to focus on matters related to the student experience in this column. The trustees are supposed to know the resources available at Cornell better than anyone else; so here’s some advice from one trustee on how to actively avoid wasting the last three weeks of summer at Cornell:

1. Visit the Plantations. If you still think that the Cornell Plantations is some sort of preserved historical artifact reminiscent of wealthy aristocrats growing cotton in the antebellum south, you need to wake up and take a stroll around campus. Stunning botanical gardens, a magnificent herb garden, the extensive tree garden (or arboretum for those of you who speak Latin), a serene wildflower garden and miles of trails throughout our 4,300 acres of natural areas await the Cornellian who is willing to take even 15-20 minutes during the lunch hour to wander off the sidewalks of central campus. Freshmen, learn to take the stone bridge at the east end of Beebe Lake to class. Just doing this will carry you past some of the Plantations’ great assets.

2.  Discover Cayuga. Last year, the Ithaca Times rated the middle of Cayuga Lake as the best place to be in Tompkins County. I couldn’t agree more. The moment life at Cornell starts to stress me out, I call up a friend (who owns a sailboat), make my way down the hill and hit the water. It is amazing how the dismal grind of endless work in the library is transformed into monumental allure when you view the clock tower from a distance out on Cayuga. Don’t know how to get out on the lake? Try making friends with a member of the sailing team. There are also boats for rent down in the Inlet.

3.  If you can’t make it to Cayuga, the next best getaway is staring you right in the face — Beebe Lake. Rent a canoe from Cornell Outdoor Education (COE) and take in the respite that accompanies floating across the lake and into Hemlock Gorge. Absorb the transcendent splendor around you. You will find it extremely hard to believe that you have not left campus as you enter this foreign world.

4.  If you are willing to venture a little farther from campus, check out the bogs, boardwalks, woodlands and avian paradise at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology. Shuttles to the Lab depart from Corson-Mudd Hall six times a day on weekdays.

5.  For those of you looking to spice up your weekends, or if you have an afternoon free, you will find the exodus from campus to the solace of a state park more than worth your effort. Robert Treman is my favorite, but Buttermilk and Taughannock also offer invigorating hikes, a chorus of nature that fills your ears and the capacity to take a deep breath that somehow makes you think more clearly.

Welcome back to campus. It is wonderful to be at Cornell, but please do not let your academics be the only thing that occupies your day. Experience the Ithaca summer before we start the long descent into our northern winter.

Original Author: Darrick Nighthawk Evensen