November 19, 2013

ELIOT: The Pursuit of Your Boozy, Galactic Dream

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For those of you that did not hear, on Monday, NASA successfully launched the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) space probe into a heliocentric transit orbit on its way to Mars. The goal of MAVEN is to study the atmosphere of Mars and determine how the planet lost its atmosphere and water (If you are reading this and confused because you thought NASA no longer existed, write a letter to your congressman asking why you haven’t seen any astronaut applications). The probe is expected to begin its study of the Martian atmosphere in September 2014. That might seem like it is really far off, but consider two things: First, Mars is roughly 140 million miles away from earth, so cut the engineers some slack about the ETA; and second, the fall semester is already almost over …

Thanksgiving break begins in a week, and the threat of finals is again looming. This point in the semester brings a lot of change — pumpkins join their Cucurbitan friends as another decorative gourd; the beautiful yellow, orange, and red leaves fall from the trees and mix with the occasional snow, constant rain and foot traffic to make it look like Cornell threw a party and just never cleaned up; and “what chapter of orgo are you on?” goes from being an awesome pick-up line to a question steeped in paranoia about falling on the tail-end of the final exam bell curve. This time of year also highlights two types of people: Those who had a little bit too much fun during the semester because they either a) did not have a single school assignment all semester, or b) they just skipped the first week of classes and decided that turning O-week into a 16-week long bender sounded pretty neat; and the kids who have had their blinders on all semester and are just now realizing that while they were running in their rat race (there, I said it) for grades and internships, time kept on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future and the semester happened.

More than likely, if you are reading this, you fall into neither of those categories (because you’re probably a literary critic reviewing my work for an award). But you probably can relate at least a little bit to both. Maybe you just went to your first “Introduction to Controlled Fusion: Principles and Technology” lecture since the first prelim and felt a little overwhelmed. (Side note: If you see yourself as the type of person who might miss two-thirds of a semester’s worth of classes, I wouldn’t recommend taking a course on nuclear fusion.) Maybe you spent a few too many Friday and Saturday (and Tuesday) nights in the library taking care of academic business and wish you had a little more time for business. Regardless of whether you feel like this or not, you certainly had plans or ideas for what the semester would hold that never came to be (I still have not met either of the Sex on Thursday columnists.)

Kurt Vonnegut once said of our lovely institution, “Cornell was a boozy dream, partly because of the booze itself, and partly because I was enrolled in courses I had no talent for.” My recommendation is that you find a nice, healthy balance — a boozy dream. Vonnegut may not have been qualified for the classes he took, but he at least attended (right?). Additionally, if you read between the lines, you can infer that he found some non-academic outlets as well. There are always going to be the kids who never show up to class, and there are always going to be the kids who read the textbook over the summer and tattoo the notes on their ribcages to show their commitment to reactions of aromatic compounds. Understand that you will probably fall somewhere between the two on the normal distribution and you can still have your boozy dream.

When MAVEN reaches its endpoint, 140 million miles away, the Earth will look like a nothing more than a tiny marble floating in space — like in the images captured by the Voyager 2 space probe. Seeing the earth that small accentuates how insignificant the world is in the grand scheme of things. Carl Sagan said this “Pale Blue Dot … underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we have ever known.” Right now, college is our pale blue dot, and at the end of our days, college will make up just a fraction of our lives.