May 5, 2014

HENRY | See You on the Flip Side: Another Goodbye Column

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I sat down to write this column on Sunday night and found my brain emptier than it has been in my time at The Sun. What to say in conclusion to a community from which I’ve received so much? My work with the paper has corresponded with my Cornell experience — every heartbreak, every excitement. I’ve never had a shortage of things to say, and yet this time I felt lost for words.

After completing a first draft, my computer died and I lost the file. Even my computer doesn’t want to be done.

Since reflections on my past at Cornell ran dry between versions one and two of this column, I’m going to instead convey something I want to take into my future. I want to graduate and take the diversity of experience we all get here in our wintery, overworked college life into my real life. I think I’ll have to work harder to find it, but I know that I can.  That’s because Cornell has shown me how many types of people, communities and places there are to experience and learn from.

In my experience, most people don’t tend towards diversity of experience. People go through life with others who are similar to them. We normalize with people like us. We adopt each others’ speech; we mimic each others’ clothing style. Neighborhoods become segregated by socioeconomic quintile, by background, oppression and choice.

We normalize according to the people around us and, in turn, the homogeneity of experience becomes a homogeneity of reality. We don’t just choose to be around people like us — we are around people who are like us.

Trending towards an increasingly similar community scares me as much as becoming more close-minded with age. It scares me as much as becoming bitter or jaded. In many ways, being around a limited set of people might be a root cause of those pernicious personality traits that I now abhor.

When we control our neighborhood choice, our workplace, who we talk to on a daily basis, so many of us choose things we know and people who are like us. In college, on the other hand, we are exposed to so much more than we are in the real world.

For the last four diverse, glorious years, we’ve been in a place where the reality of homogeneity is suspended. Where even if we don’t choose to experience things we never have before, we do by default. Where even if we don’t create social relationships with others from different backgrounds, we are together in classes, gyms, libraries and in our home.

I’m not scared of college being the best time of my life, but I am scared of it being the only time in my life when I was consciously trying new things, meeting new people and having new experiences. I’m scared to graduate and have the potential predicted by my experiences in this time of life quashed by my passivity in the working world.

Instead, I want to take chances to experience new things and learn from people who are different from me and keep converting these experiences into a more open-minded perspective post-graduation. I don’t want graduation to be a slow slide into “sameness,” even if sameness is easy and content. I want to keep the Cornell spirit — the college spirit, in many ways — alive in my everyday.

I kept this column short (for me) not because I don’t care about this subject, but because the script of this topic has yet to be written. I hope that at reunions and in newsletters and when we meet face-to-face from time to time, this little piece of Cornell pops up in our stories and catch-ups. I hope that we have been bold and stuck toes outside of the line. I hope we have tried to experience differences and diversity.

I don’t hope this because I have any pretense of having taken advantage of every opportunity at Cornell to meet new people and try new things. I hope it because Cornell — and my amazing, outrageous Cornellians — have shown me it’s always possible to try more. I hope to be more like you all, and I hope we all become better at realizing the ideal of interaction and diversity that community can be.

So for all the institutional flaws and community strife, thank you, Cornell. I’ll see you on the flip side.