December 3, 2015

HERMAN | Senior Year Reflections

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My blog for The Daily Sun centers on activism. Responses from any degree of the spectrum, either support or disagreement, are equally rewarding because any stance sparks the conversation necessary to incite change – change in perspective and ultimately change in reality. We can’t usually rush out and enact immediate revisions, but maybe it’s enough if we at least begin talking about it.

After one year of writing about activism, now, as the semester draws to a close, I am turning inward. Cornell has been both extraordinary and challenging. While exploring prospects for life after college, a variety of concerns agitate me: financial independence, fulfilling a self-projected prophecy of pursuing a meaningful career and establishing a new home. Generally as I wallow in anxiety about leaving Cornell’s shelter, my concerns are self-centered. What will I do? Will I enjoy my career? How will I support myself? How will I pay taxes and bills?

These are legitimate concerns. Financial independence is serious, and moving away from a home of four years will be difficult. Cornell has been my home, but it is also the greatest launching pad we could have asked for. So, where are you going to launch yourself? Who can you bring up along the way?

While reflecting and wallowing some more, I stumbled upon some email exchanges from a few years ago with one of my high school history teachers who inspired me to make an effort to learn about important issues and commit to social justice. In one of our conversations three years ago, my naiveté as a freshman was evident: I wanted to change the world and I had just realized that was impossible. As a 17-year-old freshman, I felt nervous and impotent, which faded as I found my niche at Cornell, but is now beginning to return as I near the finish line.

At the time, he reminded me about the importance of connection, of working with others and working for others. Our lives are not vacuums of individual careers, trials and successes, but rather interwoven with our relationships and enriched by our actions to help others. He wrote something I will never forget:

“Connection is everything. Once we connect, we never go back to apathy. We become involved in the world. And, while it might seem to many, particularly in affluent America, that it’s more pleasurable to remain uninvolved, swaddled in a cocoon of wealth and comfort, that’s simply because they haven’t experienced the joy that love and collaboration with others. You might not believe me, but I feel quite sorry for those Americans who fight tooth and nail just to be left alone. They are impoverished beyond the scope of their imaginations.”

As students at Cornell University, we are incredibly well-educated and possess the tools to pay it forward. How will you pay it forward? After leaving this beautiful rural bubble, will you immerse yourself, connect to others from different backgrounds and take a stance on something you believe in? Plunging outside comfort zones is never easy but offers the most opportunity for growth.

One of my favorite actors, Jesse Williams, famous for his role as Dr. Jackson Avery on Grey’s Anatomy, is a prominent activist for racial equality. In an inspirational video compilation of a series of clips with his advice for teenagers and young adults, he encourages broadly, “You don’t have to know about all of the issues. Find a couple of issues that matter to you, that affect you or your children … and be about something.”

Not everything is about idealism, and I don’t want my recommendations to connect meaningfully and pay it forward to be mistaken for insistence that everyone hurl themselves into careers or lives dedicated to social justice (but that’d be fantastic if we all had the means and could solve homelessness and end animal cruelty). One of my friends has half-joked that she would love to have her own talk show despite having spent much of her time at Cornell on a pre-med track, but I think she would enrich the world so much with her humor.

As a famous author, philosopher and civil-rights leader, Howard Thuman committed his life to education and service for others, but primarily he urges others simply to follow their dreams:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

It’s time to start thinking outside the box and start pursuing things that set your heart on fire. Be a talk show host; make others laugh. Find your passion and fight for something. As we plan our futures, I hope we each remember to strive toward anything that will make this world a little brighter than when it was when we found it, even if for just one other person.

Heather Herman is a senior in the college of Human Ecology majoring in Human Biology, Health and Society. She’s a self-proclaimed animal whisperer and can often be found scooping up after the puppies in Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She also enjoys volunteering at a maximum-security prison and wants to live in South America after she graduates. Heather’s posts appear on alternate Thursdays this semester. She can be reached at [email protected].