August 24, 2014

COURT | It’s Ok to Not Be Ok

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By EMMA COURT

As we’ve grown older, back to school has come to mean more than new boxes of No. 2 pencils and agonizing over that crucial first day of school outfit. For returning upperclassmen, it means joyous reunions with old friends and favorite CTB bagels. For new students, it’ll be an initial blur of new people, new places, the pangs of homesickness and the joys of all-you-can-eat dining halls. New and old students alike, though, are all subject to the same set of expectations about college: the best four years of your life. Where you make your best friends, learn a lot, discover yourself and understand the world better. Party. Have fun. Change your opinions. Meet your life partner.

Yes, you will stay up with friends on a couch until 5 a.m. eating Insomnia cookies and debating which characters on Sex and the City you all are. Yes, you will skip class to question the purpose of the Oxford comma and linger on the Arts Quad discussing Romantic poetry. Yes, you will have crazy, rowdy, unbelievable nights where nothing makes sense until everything does. Yes, there will be access to world-class research materials, professors who are top in their fields, and friends who are top in your heart. And yes, you will learn about the world and about yourself in such a way that one day, you will understand that these ideas are not just vague platitudes.

Everyone will tell you that these things are true. But they will not insert that key word: usually. Fresh off of O-week, with golden light bathing campus, the grand old academic buildings more like temples of wisdom than the homes of all-nighters and all your friends more carefree and stress-free than you’ve ever seen them, life seems a lot like the glossy college brochures that stacked up on your living room coffee table. It is a version of reality as carefully filtered and scripted as college tours, as self-selected as our Facebook and Instagram feeds, and as cast in the idealized light of nostalgia as the college memories of our elders.

Cornell is a place with a tremendous amount of opportunities for growth, learning and happiness. But is also a place you can get lost and where you can feel like you shouldn’t feel the way you do. To believe that college is a glossy, Photoshopped brochure is to set you – really, all of us — up for failure. It is okay not to be okay, and it’s something we need to say much earlier to each other and much more often than we’re saying it now.

This isn’t about being a caring community — though that’s certainly part of it — but about a more open and honest development of the idea of college itself. It’s about acknowledging that being here means we have access to some tremendous things, but that we can’t always be tremendous ourselves, nor should we try. We cannot compare ourselves to the utopian version of college we had in high school. Not every day will be the best day of your life, where you make a new best friend, where you learn a lot, discover yourself, understand the world better, party, have fun, change your opinions and meet your life partner. There will be some days that don’t have any of those things.

It took until pretty late in my college career for my friends and I to start sharing with each other the not-so-good times of college. And anyone who’s been to college has had these experiences, though they’re not part of our collective college consciousness: falling asleep crying. Feeling like you didn’t fit in, or like you were unable to live up to your, or other peoples’ expectations. Feeling like different parts of your identity couldn’t coexist peacefully. Like you made wrong decisions, didn’t take enough risks, took too many.

The blunt, hard truth of it is that while college is a good time, it’s not always a good time. For every night you stay up until 5 a.m. eating Insomnia cookies on a couch and giggling with your friends, there will be as many — or more — that are miserable and sleep deprived. Cornell is a wonderful place to be challenged. That is why we are all here. And if you’ve done something right in your four years, you will feel challenged — a lot.

Being upfront about college as enriching and exciting and also really hard may not have the peppy generic sheen of a well-practiced tour guide, and may not inspire the kinds of reactions that are, well, really fun to inspire. But it is the only way for us to ensure future generations are fully taking advantage of Cornell in a way that doesn’t put them over the edge. When you’re not okay, say it. When you are okay, say it too. Either way, it’s okay.

Emma Court is a senior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at ec598@cornell.edu. Order in the Court appears alternate Mondays this semester.