February 24, 2016

MALPASS | The Local Experience

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If you’re like me, then you’ve spent the last few weeks agonizing over what you’re going to do this summer professionally. And if you’re really like me, you’ve done nothing about it. It’s hard, man. I can barely summon the willpower to make it to grocery store to keep myself from starving, let alone make decisions regarding my future employment. While I can’t solve your internship problems, I can offer a rewarding alternative: spend the summer in Ithaca.

Am I speaking from experience? Yes, because I live here. More accurately, I’ve been spending it in my hometown of Trumansburg, but it’s in the TCAT range so I still consider myself a townie (regardless of what my Ithacan friends say). I know upstate New York doesn’t seem like the most happening place (hell, sometimes even I get a bit of a Deliverance vibe living around here), but there’s a surprising lot to do. Talk to some of the older locals, feel uncomfortable interacting local cult or tell the street magician that yes, you would like to see some magic. There’s a whole world of exciting weirdness down in the valley. Rent a car, or better yet a bike, and just explore. Get a feel for Ithaca, beyond just the student-dominated parts. I’m sorry, but that CTB sticker you have stuck to the back of your computer does not mean a whole lot (other than a testament to how much you’ve spent there).

And if you want a real local experience, take the 21 line over to Trumansburg mid-July for the annual Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance. While it’s no Ultra (many of the acts are obscure or local), I guarantee you’ll find something entertaining in the 70-odd performers, multicultural food selection and 20,000 attendees that come through every year. Grassroots is our own private Woodstock, a celebration of music, environmental and social activism and the festival goers themselves. If that sounds sappy, rest assured, Grassroots is also a celebration of how much alcohol the body can handle, physically and emotionally.

It’s no secret that town-gown relations haven’t always been the best. Face it; we have an air about us. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Cornellians look down their noses on locals. Not only is this obnoxious, it’s an unhealthy disposition to have, regardless of how much time you spend in Ithaca. We’re not better than anyone else just because we attend an Ivy League school. There’s no harm in being proud of going here, so long as it’s tempered by humility. Staying the summer and getting a feel for the area will contribute to a more humble mindset. It’ll make you realize that Ithaca is more than two universities. Perhaps you’ll find yourself calling yourself not just a Cornellian, but an Ithacan too. Who knows, maybe you’ll even think about staying. You’d be following in the footsteps of our beloved mayor.

Because when you stay for the summer, you’re not just keeping the local restaurants and shops stocked with customers; you’re getting a real feel for the area in its most vibrant months. I don’t blame anyone for spending their semesters holed up in Olin studying while the weather imitates a grayscale paint swatch, but it can make it easy to forget that there’s a whole other world beyond the campus. Take a break this summer, and spend some time experiencing the town and countryside that, if only for a little while, you call home.

Maybe it’s not something you can specifically put on your résumé, but I guarantee it’ll be a valuable experience. Still not convinced? I’ll give you an example. Last summer, my friends and I went sailing along the eastern shore of Cayuga. After climbing up a waterfall and walking along the railroad tracks Stand By Me style (sans the body), we pushed back out into the water only to lose the wind. The sun was out and I was with friends, so I didn’t care. As we drifted idly back, I caught a glimpse of Cornell at the very end of the lake. If you weren’t a student, you may not have even recognized it, the buildings merged so seamlessly into downtown Ithaca. Our University, for all its grandeur, appeared as just another part of a little upstate New York community. And that’s exactly the perspective we should have.

Soren Malpass is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Sorenity Now appears alternate Thursdays this semester.