The night of May 30, 2013, I sat in my kitchen holding a dirty quarter. The postmark deadline to claim my spot as a transfer student at Brown was the next day. If the coin landed on heads, I’d transfer; tails, I’d stay at Cornell — a place where I had been deeply unhappy the year before.
I don’t remember what the coin actually landed on. While it was in the air I found myself hoping ever so slightly for tails, and I took it as a sign I should give Cornell another shot. Frankly, my sophomore year wasn’t much better and I thought for a while I had made the wrong decision. But sitting here writing my final column — a task I always thought about but never truly accepted would come — I’m beyond confident I made the right choice that night. Through the power of hindsight, I now know that my time at Cornell has been more rewarding and transformative than I ever thought possible.
What I’ve come to learn, possibly too little too late, is how much of Cornell’s transformation in my eyes (or, more accurately, my transformation at Cornell) was a matter of optics. My freshman self thought he was better, smarter, more interesting than everyone else, but I was really just a bitter asshole. I thought no friends in Ithaca could ever compare to my friends at home, but I was too self-absorbed to realize how tight-knit the community of caring people surrounding me was — and that network has quadrupled or quintupled in size ever since. No new experiences, activities or communities roped me in as a freshman because I closed myself off to them, thinking involvement would interfere with the absurd media-fueled ideal of college happiness fed to incoming students. (Meaning parties mainly, which I don’t even enjoy that much.) A ton of immensely fulfilling opportunities and friendships were right in the palm of my hand, but I was too stupid to know they were there.
A huge part of why I stayed in Ithaca is actually the same reason I’m justifying writing my love letter to the school in this space: The Sun is truly the foundation of my Cornell career. The Sun Arts section is honestly the only thing that has remained constant over the last few years.
By the end of my freshman year, the only thing I did besides wallow was write self-indulgent music reviews for Arts. As lame as it may sound, I liked writing my music reviews in peace, and didn’t want to have to go through the rigmarole of getting a spot at another (lesser) college paper at a different school. This reasoning is particularly strange when I consider the fact that I didn’t even have friends at The Sun at that time, but staying at Cornell to keep writing for Arts felt right.
I’m glad to say that last point couldn’t be farther from the truth anymore. In addition to the wonderful people I see at the Sun office and the talented crew of Arts staff writers, I want to quickly thank some specific people who have made writing for The Sun so special. First, I want to thank my former editors — Arielle Cruz ’15, Sam Bromer ’16, Kaitlyn Tiffany ’15 and Sean Doolittle ’16 — for putting up with my antics, pushing my writing to be halfway decent and giving me something important to work towards. I also want to shout out the section’s current editors, Troy Sherman ’18 and Shay Collins ’18, for working tirelessly to improve the Arts section and being infinitely more skilled editors and managers than I ever was. Next, huge thanks to Jael Goldfine ’17, my former co-editor, for doing the most draining job I’ve ever had alongside me, bearing through our periods of disagreement and still being a friend after all the stress. Finally, cheers to the role models and mentors who didn’t even know it, stellar former Arts writers whom I looked up to and continue to look up to: Zach Zahos ’15, James Rainis ’14, Gina Cargas ’14 and many others.
If Sun A&E was the biggest constant during my time at Cornell, then Electric Buffalo Records was the seed of my biggest transformation. It seemed simple at the time: Jacob Grossfeld ’17 and I decided on somewhat of a whim that we should start a record label. We had no idea it would still be around now, let alone that we’d be releasing music by a host of talented Cornellian artists and hosting shows that people actually attended. Electric Buffalo started to blossom just as I was coming around to loving Cornell, and I know that having such a daunting — yet immensely rewarding — project to work towards was a massive reason for that change of heart. It exposed me to a side of campus I had previously ignored, and introduced me both to a host of brilliant people and a whole new side of myself.
It’s through both the Sun and Electric Buffalo Records that I learned Cornell is so, so much more than a collection of lecture halls, dorms and dining halls with an accreditation, or four years of homework, papers and prelims with a degree at the end. Cornell, more than anything else, is the community of incredible people doing fascinating, inspiring things — both inside and outside the classroom — that constantly pushes me to be at the top of my game. Sure, Cornell isn’t without its (many, huge) flaws, and it wears all of us down from time to time, but it doesn’t need to be perfect to be great. I wish I had listened as all sorts of people around me tried to tell me this over the last three years: Cornell is a truly special place, imperfections and all. If it weren’t for the many rough patches that seemed interminable, I never would have grown like I did. It was not-so-simply a matter of finding my place on the Hill, and it’s a shame it took me almost three years to do it.
Even though I now know I’ll look back on my time here with the utmost fondness, that’s not to say I don’t have any regrets. Yes, there are a few “Cornell things” I still haven’t done: climb the clocktower, go to the Dairy Bar and swim in the gorges to name a few. I’ve got a couple weeks left to check those off (and I’ll try!) but they won’t be the missed opportunities that will eat at me one, five, ten years down the road. All my real regrets will be (and already are) related to people.
Part of the personal growth I mentioned has been baby steps at chipping away my super-thick shell. Opening up to people doesn’t come quickly or easily to me, and I know I’ve missed out on a bunch of potential friendships as a result. I’m scarily good at convincing myself to say “no” to things, whether it be one last group therapy at Dunbar’s (RIP), supporting someone’s event on campus or following up with friends-to-be.
It’s in persuading myself out of so many experiences and recounting them as I write this column that I found a theme — a recipe for happiness that would have come in handy. I need to force myself to say “yes” instead of “no” as much as possible, and to stop closing doors before they open. My Cornell experience was just a couple important missed “no’s” away from being very different: I almost said no to writing an honors thesis that’s been so fulfilling, and, as I was recently reminded by Matt Harkins ’16, I was dangerously close to convincing myself out of starting Electric Buffalo. Had the devil on my shoulder been a tiny bit more persuasive, this final column would have had a vastly different tone.
So here’s my one-liner of advice: say yes to all sorts of experiences while you’re here on the Hill because there are so many to be had. It’s really fucking cool that there are this many amazing people in one tiny dot in Upstate New York. Once you find your Sun/EBR, you’ll realize that Cornell is a radically different place than you ever thought it was. “Cornell” as a singular experience, place or institution doesn’t really exist; it’s you at Cornell that really matters. The fact that “Cornell” means something so different for everyone speaks volumes to the vast opportunities that exist here.
And with that bit of totally unsolicited advice, I conclude my column for the last time. All this was only possible because of you: the people who thought reading my self-indulgent writing was worth a damn at all. Thanks for your help on this crazy journey. It has been quite a wild ride.
Mike Sosnick is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected] 40 Percent Papier Mâché appeared alternate Thursdays this semester. This is its final installment.