Dear Freshman Mel,
There are so many beautiful days, so many amazing people, and so many incredible opportunities at this school. Over the next four years, you’ll meet your best friends and live some of the best days of your life. But this letter is not for those days. This is the letter for the bad days, the times when it seems like exactly nothing is working out. These are the things I wish I knew earlier that carried me through the best and the worst:
1. Their negativity is not your emergency. Cornell is an extremely high-strung environment. Weeks go by when everyone around you feels rushed, stressed, and on edge. The competition to see who has the most work, the most all-nighters, the most demanding professors is never-ending. Choose not to participate. Cornell is frustrating and difficult and there is no end to the bitterness of the student body. Again, you have the choice to not participate. Group projects and student organizations will sweep away any remaining time and energy with the demanding emotions and unrelenting egos of their participants. You do not have to let them. It’s easier said than done, but always take the time to step back to evaluate how you are participating or opting out of the negative lifestyles and mentalities of those around you. Remember that the way you react to a situation can fundamentally change the situation itself.
2. When you believe you are at your weakest you are actually becoming your most strong. When you believe you are completely alone, when you are certain of your failure, when you cannot go on, things are not at their worst. You are still fighting. And even when that fight feels like less of a battle than an outright surrender, your ability to make it through another hour, another class, another day is a victory in itself. And when you look back at the days you felt the most broken, perhaps you will see that these were the days you were the most resilient, the most whole, the most strong.
3. “As you continue, which you will do, the way to proceed will become apparent.” This last one is a quote by the artist and musician John Cage. (Hint from the future: look him up now, his work is good shit). This quote also became my mantra as I stared down my future. When I arrived at Cornell, I thought I had it all figured out. I knew the trajectory of my life—my major, my classes, my future career, where I would live, everything. Within a year, it all fell apart—I discovered I just loved too many things. So my advice to you, young fresh-mint, is to have a little faith. To run wildly forward, chasing everything you’ve ever loved and maybe a few things you never did, and at the end of the day things will fall into place. And the next day, they may not make sense again, and then you will try again, try more, explore more, live more. There’s a lot of pressure to “find your calling” or “find yourself,” but the truth is that you already are yourself and for most, there is no singular calling. And that’s ok, in fact, that’s kind of great. Go out and be whatever you want to be. And if you want to be something different tomorrow, you can do that too.
So if I boil these three random tidbits into a singular theme, it’s that while life is short, it’s also pretty long, and if you live it passionately and honestly, with a little luck, it will be just long enough.
Now go run along and drink the rest of that shitty vodka.
To the rest of our lives,
xx Melody Stein