September 2, 2014

BYRNE | The Best Years of Our Lives

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Dear freshmen,

Welcome. Judging by your general activities and attitudes, which I’ve observed extensively through many visits to Helen Newman, you are mostly enjoying college so far, and a lot of you even think Cornell is super fun. It’s really cute.

Dear upperclassmen,

Hello again. Based on my inability to get a table in Olin last Tuesday (the first day of classes), you are under no such illusions. I find it hard to believe that every year at this time I’m somehow already behind on readings, but it is some comfort to know that we all are. This does lead to the question of why so many readings are beings assigned, and why we all pretend we have done them all, but that’s a separate issue.

When people ask me if I like Cornell, it’s getting harder and harder for me to say yes without some sort of qualifier. Yes, but I’ve never worked so hard in my life. Yes, but I’ve already cried four times today, and one of them was in class. Yes, and I especially love walking a mile uphill to class. Honestly, I usually just say no, because it’s so much easier; as soon as I describe the reasons I don’t like it here, 100 percent of people nod in agreement and sympathize with my cause. Objectively, it’s hard to convince a non-Cornellian that “making great friends!” and “learning to work hard!” outweigh sleeping four hours total in one week, or having to trek to class when the temperature is 30 degrees below zero. After all, they say, don’t most American college students work hard? Can’t you make friends pretty much anywhere?

If someone is asking these questions, they don’t understand. Cornell is one of the weirdest places I’ve ever been, and I mean that in the best possible way. I am a crazy, neurotic person, but somehow, I’m still less crazy and not as neurotic as the majority of people here. This is not at all an insult; you are my people! Most of my friends who go to other schools go to a party with their friends, or go out to dinner with their friends. At Cornell, even my casual friends know more about me than my best friends in high school, because we are in this insane, extreme stress environment. Here, we don’t make friends out of convenience; we make them to escape these four years with our souls intact.

Over the summer, I was talking to some of my high school friends, most of whom attend small local colleges. One person, who I didn’t know that well, asked me how I felt about Cornell. I gave one of my standard “Yes, but…” responses, but, for some reason, this bothered him. “You go to Cornell. Did you think it would be easy?!” he responded. To this, quite frankly, I thought, yes. I did expect it to be easy, because I thought that things were easy for me; that was who I was. And maybe the reason we bond so closely here is that deep down, we all thought that. Despite all the assurances that we would no longer be the smartest person in class, we all secretly thought we would be. And you know what? Some of us are. Congratulations to those people. But what I’ve learned from Cornell through my closest friends is that, believe it or not, we all have worth that stems not from our SAT scores or job offers, but from just ourselves.

Who is the first person you cried to about your life falling apart? When you dramatically failed at something for the first time, who showed up at your apartment with ice cream? Who told you honestly that your skirt was too short before you left the house? My bet is that all of these people are your Cornell people. In an environment where everything is speeding past us and prelims are speeding toward us, our friends are there beside us, holding us as tightly as possible as we hurtle straight for the rest of our lives.

Dear freshmen,

Don’t be discouraged. All such advice will prove to be useless to you, because you inevitably will be discouraged. Don’t be discouraged by that. Just know that it’s okay, and that life as you know it is not coming to an end. Or maybe it is. Either way, enjoy the journey.

All my love,


Sarah Byrne is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She be reached at [email protected]. Let It Byrne appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.