May 4, 2014

NG | Moving On

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This decade’s best college newspaper opinion column appeared in the Yale Daily News, written by Marina Keegan, who tragically left this world too soon. “The Opposite of Loneliness” is part confessional, part pep-talk, and Keegan eloquently blends personal fears and tepid, anxious excitement for what comes after graduation. “We won’t live on the same block as all our friends. We won’t have a bunch of group texts. This scares me. More than finding the right job or city or spouse — I’m scared of losing this web we’re in. This elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness.”

But “We’re so young. We’re 22 years old. We have so much time … What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over … We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.”

It is slowly dawning on me, as I quote Keegan, that this is my last column for The Daily Sun. This is how I am bookending three years of writing here. This won’t be the last thing I do at Cornell, but it certainly is the most visible. The last thing you will read from me as a Cornell student. The one that appears in Google search results. I had anticipated, three years ago, that writing this last column would be a struggle, but writing this has been surprisingly easy to do. Every columnist has a last column. Every columnist reminisces and historicizes their college careers in 900 words or less. Every columnist moves on.

In the most literal sense, I’ve only moved two times in my life: from Macau to Canada when I was three, and from Canada to the States when I was eight. This technically makes me a 1.5 generation immigrant, but I feel more like a first-generation one. One of my earliest memories came around my fourth birthday, shortly after we moved to Canada, walking with my dad through blowing snow in night-filled Toronto, searching for a birthday cake. Google Maps didn’t exist then, and since we couldn’t find a store open so late, we settled for an Entenmann’s-like apple pie at a convenience store. It was the best pie I ever had.

On the cusp of moving to the U.S., I had a community in Canada. It had seemed like the end point, full of friends, teachers and playmates I liked, and my parents’ decision to move to the U.S. meant giving up all those things. Immigration is like doing a complete reset on your phone without a backup: You pack up the pieces you want and reassemble them by memory, always imperfectly. As the movers unloaded the last box into our cramped and dirty American apartment, I had told my mom that I wanted to move back. Years later, she told me that this sank her heart a little.

My parents’ decision to move again depended on that clichéd “American Dream,” that they were giving us a better life, that they better positioned us for college. Graduating, here and now, is the end goal for all those sacrifices. Cornell, of course, means different things to everybody — a better job, an intellectual environment, a place of expression, a weather phenomenon — but when I consider what Cornell means to me I feel funny. Cornell is a culmination of 21 years. Of immigrating — twice. Of dropping everything — twice. Of monumental parental sacrifice. Of scrimping and saving. Of bouncing between apartments in New York City. Of two-hour commutes to high school — in one way. Of rushed homework. Of rolling my eyes at every drunkenly dropped racial slur at Penn Station. Of not fully understanding and communicating my parents’ language. Of mediating between cultural and language barriers. Of loneliness. Of the opposite of loneliness.

We have moved so far and done so much to reach this point. And yet, Cornell is not the endpoint. We move on.

After graduation, I will join a four-year teacher residency program in Washington, D.C. Four years is a big commitment, but for the first time I feel confident, not insecure, about making such a choice. In an age of ultra-competitive college admissions and career-focused academics, we have concretized and limited our potential the minute we step foot in a networking event. It feels so strange to call ourselves “Pre-Med” or “Pre-Law” or pre-future-anything, for within that logic we are all “Pre-Retirement” and “Pre-Death.” I came to Cornell with a vague idea of “something in law and economics,” and I am leaving as an elementary and special education teacher — hopefully for life. We must remember that only four years separate us from the tepid high school seniors that wrote awkward admissions essays about who we were. We must remember that, if we were faced with the same prompt to describe ourselves today, we would still not know what to write. We know so little about the world and about ourselves. And if we still face this problem when we’re 70, that’s okay.

If we are on the verge of losing the opposite of loneliness, then it is up to us to create that opposite. To live and grow with that opposite. To surround ourselves in that opposite. I don’t know what the opposite of loneliness looks like outside Cornell, but we have so much time. We are so young. We move on, because this is not the end.