Coming home this past Monday to news that there had been a bombing in Boston, I experienced a wide range of emotions.
As a Bostonian at Cornell, I’ve always felt like something of an oddity. There are a fair number of us here, but having never lived outside of Massachusetts, Ithaca seemed like a far cry from the city I called home.
After the terrorist attacks this past week, I had to come to terms with the fact that the Boston Marathon’s finish line, which remains painted on the street year-round, will forever have the stench of terrorism on it. My favorite city in the whole world will, in some small way, never be the same. I looked at pictures of candlelight vigils and wished I could be there, wished that I could express the empathy I felt for my community.
Something special happened here, too.
Every Cornellian I had a conversation with over the past week, and many who just contacted me out of the blue, made sure everything was alright back home.
While I wanted to empathize with Bostonians back home, Cornellians wanted to empathize with me right here.
There is a popular (if frustratingly gendered) shirt I’ve seen around my city that reads, “Boston Is a Brotherhood.” Well if Boston is a brotherhood, then Cornell is, too.
Unfortunately, this is my final column. While I would like to use these final couple of hundred words to impart the totality of my experience at Cornell, it would be useless. That’s because my Cornell is really quite different from your Cornell. My Cornell was composed of ILR, The Sun, the Cornell International Affairs Review, Big Brother Big Sister, Catherine St. Growler Boys, a little bit of Greek life and so much more.
That’s how I imagine Cornell writ large. Thousands of different students, each one on a different path, intersecting here and there — always in flux, always connected, but none inherently better or worse than each other.
Any advice I could offer on Cornell specifics (like how I made the most of friends, activities, coursework) would also be useless. We are too diverse a population for advice like that to be valuable to more than a handful of people.
Yet, if you’ll allow me, I think there is one lesson I can impart. You see, while each one of us walks a distinct path, there is a common bond that connects each one of us to another. Empathy forever connects and supports us.
As Cornellians, we are a part of the same group, but just being a part of a group means little if we don’t empathize with one another. If we didn’t go out of our way to take care of each other, than being a Cornellian would mean very little outside of geographical convenience. When we do what we can to make each others’ lives just a little bit better, even if it means some inconvenience on our part, we truly become a community. Only then do we become greater than the sum of our parts.
When we reject our connections to each other, and refuse to empathize with each other, our community falls apart. This happens when we allow the minor differences between us (like whether or not you’re involved in greek life, sports, the Catherine St. Growler Boys, etc.) to separate and prevent us from feeling compassion toward one another.
As humans, we all too often fall into an “us” vs. “them” mindset. What is special about the Cornell community is that we have been able to make “us” include just about everyone we see everyday. We may not always get along, and there are certainly more than a few bad apples in our bushel, but my time here has taught me that our collective bond is strong.
So here is my final piece of advice. Connect with humanity in the same way that you connect with your fellow Cornellians. Recognize that differences like Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, Red Sox or Yankees fan, all pale in comparison to the common similarities of our collective humanity. While our country, and the world beyond it, is made up of people each on different paths, every one of us is a human being with feelings no less important than mine or yours.
Let it be some part of your life’s mission to recognize the humanity in others. Take some time to sit and think about how you would want to be treated if you were hurt and in need of help, and then think about how you treat those who are in fact hurt and need your help. Recognize that helping the homeless woman on the street because she’s a human being just like you is no different than helping a fellow Cornellian in his or her time of need.
There are more than a few bad apples in the world; Boston just had to deal with a pair of really rotten ones. But do not let the bad in this world prevent you from connecting to the good. Do not let those who aim to tear you apart prevent you from working toward a society predicated on compassion and respect for others. What I’m recommending is not easy, and it may not even be possible, but if my last week at Cornell has taught me anything, it’s that community matters — the bigger, the better.
Over and out.
Noah Karr-Kaitin is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Plain Hokum appears alternate Mondays this semester.
Original Author: Noah Karr-Kaitin