I came to Cornell to learn lots of things. That’s what college is all about: learning shit. Among the things I’m most proud of learning are various intricacies of contemporary art history, how to roll my own cigarette and how to contract mono. The Ivy League education system is filled to the brim with diverse educational opportunities, some in the classroom and some outside. As a student in the College of Arts and Sciences, I have a bunch of specific requirements to complete so I can graduate. While some people find the requirements daunting and excessive, I’ve always kind of enjoyed them. Taking a foreign language gave me an excuse to potentially travel abroad. Taking that one class about Blaxploitation Film opened my eyes to institutional racism in Hollywood. That being said, one requirement makes absolutely no sense to me — the swim test.
Cornell is among three Ivies that require each student to swim two laps in an Olympic sized pool in order to graduate. Their reasoning can be found nowhere because the swim test has absolutely no purpose. It pretty much just tests if you had a “normal” childhood, which I had no idea I was lacking until I came to Cornell.
While I can’t speak for other non-swimming Cornellians, I know I have been in water before. As weird as it sounds, you don’t need to be in a 10-foot pool to hang out at a pool. Tons of my childhood friends had pools, but their pools transitioned slowly from one-foot to seven-feet in depth, as any other recreational pool would. I could literally just stand in the five-foot portion of the pool, while still fully enjoying the water or whatever the point of being in a pool is.
Though I understand that swimming is a useful skill to have, I don’t get why it has to be mandatory. There are just so many ways to not drown. For example, I only take showers so to avoid the potential dangers of a bath. While I can’t use bath bombs, I’ve watched enough Snapchat stories to understand the novelty. I can’t go into the middle of the ocean, but the fun of going to the beach is really just getting sand in your cheeks and achieving that perfect sun-kissed look. I probably won’t ever go gorge diving, but fuck all that townie garbage.
While I do want to graduate, I feel like the swim test shouldn’t be the thing that stops me from doing so. That’s just not the Cornell I know. Failing a class because you forgot attendance is mandatory would be a more Cornell way to not graduate. Switching your major as a senior because you realize you hate it would be pretty Cornell. Wanting to stay here one more semester because you realize you actually love it here would be very Cornell.
Maybe one day I will learn to swim. Maybe I’ll swim across the English Channel. Maybe I’ll end up becoming an Olympic swimmer. Maybe I’ll retire and live on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic. Maybe I’ll end up living in one of those caves in the gorges. Who knows what my life will end up like? One thing I do know is that I have to learn to swim to graduate for unnamed reasons. That’s definitely more than I bargained for. Maybe I’ll end up learning to swim. Maybe I won’t. Either way, I’m proud to say that all of Cornell exists on dry land, so I’ll be able to go to class regardless. If you’d like to talk to me directly about the swim test, you can find me far above Cayuga’s waters.
Akshay Jain is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. College Stuff appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.