During my first attempts to begin my final column of the semester, I could not shake the feeling that I wasn’t doing it right. Maybe that’s because I’m in the midst of writing three papers at once, and the thought of yet another thesis statement made me nauseous. Or maybe it’s because I don’t need a sappy farewell address — I’ll be back in the fall! — but anything short of that seems irrelevant this week. None of us are in the mood to tackle a brand-new campus issue; we’re too busy squeezing out every last ounce of enchantment Cornell has to offer: Festivals on the Arts Quad, wine tours on Lake Cayuga, a final run (or six) to CTB. Even the late-night study sessions have a charm all of their own as the end of the year approaches.
As we careen towards yet another Slope Day, the world on the far side of Kendrick Lamar and Hoodie Allen beckons to us. It seems unfair that, as we skip and stumble through our college years, the “real world” does not pause for us to catch up. This year especially, it seems, the world around us has tossed and turned so much that I feel almost powerless watching it from my Facebook newsfeed in Olin Library.
Yes, groups within the University make countless and sincere efforts to help us stay engaged. Just this past week, Herman Cain serenaded a Cornell audience with a hymn and — I’m sure — one or two mentions of his “9-9-9” tax plan. Two luminary Middle Eastern analysts addressed an audience in Goldwin Smith Hall about the intractable Israeli-Palestinian crisis. But a former presidential candidate who seemed to be running for a seat at the Fox News studio rather than the Oval Office, and a rehashed Oslo Accords that was met with predictable reactions from all sides, seems less like true engagement with the real world and more like a selective desire to feel engaged.
The University, as an institution, cannot provide the organic experience necessary to immerse oneself in unfolding history. However many talks are sponsored on the Syrian Civil War or on the aftermath of the sequester, they will all seem fairly hollow when compared to the moments of history that resonate with us. Our eyes may be opened, our minds enriched, but that sense of academic enhancement cannot be matched by the raw emotion of the events themselves. Any university, in its efforts to become a prism through which its students can view the world surrounding them, inevitably keeps them from grasping it clearly.
Cornell as an institution cannot bind us to the “real world,” but Cornell as a family can. I cannot say that I will remember any professor-led talks about the implications of the 2012 elections, but I will never forget watching TV in a room crowded with my best friends as President Obama drowsed through his first debate and delivered his electrifying victory speech a month later. Cornell as an institution did not help us grieve for the victims of the Boston bombings — nor did it help us cope with the reminder that our modern lifestyles are perhaps more fragile than any in history — but who will ever forget surreptitiously checking for news updates during that afternoon lecture? Or quietly conferring with friends whose lives were rocked so violently by terror?
We return to an outside world drastically altered from when we left it last August. Massacres at schools and at marathons have, perhaps, broken through our collective thick skin that had been calloused for much of the past decade. Our political system has been tested, reaffirmed, and tested once again. The globe still rocks with bloody revolutions, still churns with financial unrest. It’s tempting for us to sit here in Ithaca and attend our lectures, never fully grappling with the issues crippling our planet but feeling only vaguely guilty for ignoring them. It’s college, after all. We have plenty of time to deal with the real world, don’t we?
But if the last year at Cornell has taught me anything, it’s that life on the Hill does not exempt us from experiencing history. We live it every day, and we live it with our friends. As we change and grow within the University, the world changes beyond it. It’s not productive to denounce Cornell as a “bubble” that deprives us of anything more than an ivory-tower view of current events. Yes, the institution of the University does shield us from the relentless chaos of the world, and may take too clinical an approach to events whose true significance lies in emotion. But the Big Red family that comes along with that institution allows us to observe history through personal moments more unforgettable than any lecture or panel discussion. By observing history in such a remarkable place, we edge ever closer to being a part of it. That’s what college is.
I look forward to living the next two years of history on the Hill.
Jacob Glick is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Glickin’ It appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.
Original Author: Jacob Glick