The past few weeks, I’ve talked to my friends about whether it’s possible to write a graduation column without cliches. The universal opinion is that it’s impossible. Cliches go hand in hand with beginnings and endings. It’s why every movie that ends with graduation feels corny (though I do admit, I half-wish my high school graduation was like High School Musical 3). College graduation represents one of the few opportunities for major change in a person’s life, the conclusion to a time where we’re expected to laugh, cry, learn and enjoy ourselves and finally become adults.
In two weeks time, I’ll finally experience the cliche for myself when I walk across the stage at Newman Arena wearing a drapey gown and a cardboard hat and holding that $200,000 piece of paper. Movies tell us that college is supposed to be the best four years of our lives — our last chance to go crazy, meet people from all around the world and uncover things about ourselves. It’s kind of an absurd amount of pressure, as if someone sent us to Mars and said we couldn’t come back to Earth until we had a major epiphany about our existence.
I never experienced that major epiphany. Sure, I definitely grew up, started wearing better clothes, gained and lost weight and matured as a person, but a lot of that is just the effects of time. I’d be lying if I said that college was the best time of my life. There have been times where I really struggled here. I’ve felt lonely and isolated being away from home. I’ve stared at empty scantron sheets, unsure of how to tackle an exam I should’ve studied more for. I’ve wanted to disassociate from my body as I walked up the slope through the brutal winds of Ithaca’s winter.
I don’t think college is supposed to be the best time of our lives. When I moved into my dorm the first day of college, I felt a sense of opportunity and optimism, a chance for a fresh start, and college took every opportunity to crush that feeling. Maybe you failed an intro course that was the foundation for the career you thought you wanted to pursue. Maybe people frequently questioned how you’ll turn your major into a career. It’s easy for that optimism to disappear and to feel lost. I’m half convinced that Ezra Cornell designed this time on the hill to break us down.
Especially at a place like Cornell, it’s easy to look around and see people who we think have everything figured out, people who make us feel like Joey Fatone to their Justin Timberlake. We brush shoulders every single day with some of the most brilliant young minds, people who will make great strides in their academic fields, participate in the Olympics or win awards for their achievements. And while being around brilliance can foster great intellectual discourse and curiosity, the natural tendency to compare ourselves to our peers can tear our minds and egos apart.
But here’s the thing: we’ve all felt like that. We’ve all struggled through an exam. We’ve all wanted a ski lift to take us to the top of the slope in the winter. We’ve all looked at another person’s accomplishments and wondered how anything we do could ever match up. We’ve all set impossibly high bars for ourselves. We’ve all been there.
We’re in this position, as potential lifelong Cornellians, because of how hard we’ve worked and where we came from. We’re here because someone out there believed that we could do something great. I know that I would not be in this position without so many wonderful people in my life.
Thanks to Aryn, whose middle school grades prompt mom to remind me how I was a bad student my entire life. Thank you for pulling my hair (literally and figuratively), kicking me in the shin and jumping on my back. Thank you for being a smiling face and becoming an amazing young woman who I get to call my sister.
Thanks to all of my friends on the 133rd and 134th editorial boards of The Sun. Thanks for being the best of friends, dealing with my late-night Spotify karaoke sessions and grabbing food with me at Shortstop. Thanks to Anna Fasman ’16, Adam Bronfin ’18, Zach Silver ’19, Scott Chiusano ’15 and the entire sports staff for being a great crew. Thanks to the football team, David Archer ’05, the men’s hockey team, Mike Schafer ’86, the baseball team, Andy Noel and Jeremy Hartigan for being a great group of people to cover. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to tell your stories.
Thanks to my freshman year pals at Boston University, Bryan Chambers, Keith Drucker, Dickchuck, Alex Siber, Jake Feigenbaum, Sarah Kirkpatrick, Conor Ryan, Andrew Battifarano, Tim Healey, Justin Pallenik and Greg Davis, for continuing to be my pals despite my jump over to the other side of the Red Hot Hockey rivalry.
Thanks to Alex Speier and Gordon Edes for being the best mentors and role models I could ever imagine. Thanks to Jacob Bogage, Megan McCrink, Rachel Podnar and LaVendrick Smith for being professional inspirations as fellow interns and the greatest group of pals. To Rachel Premack, who is always there to knock me down a peg or give me the best support when I need it.
And of course, thanks to my parents, who I can’t thank enough for being brave enough to move to this country with an infant and made things work. Mom, I can’t imagine how you raised a crazy child in the United States while not knowing any English. Dad, I can’t imagine having to move to another country and completely change career paths while supporting a family. Thank you for pushing me to follow my dreams into the massively lucrative and incredibly practical career of journalism. Everything you’ve taught me, both consciously and unconsciously has undoubtedly led me to where I am today.
My parents like to tell me that we’re still young, a reminder that’s useful when I feel anxious or daydream and get way ahead of myself. College may be the life-launching pad for some folks, but it doesn’t have to be. Graduation is not the bow-ending that leads us into happily ever after. We are in no rush to feel like we’ve figured everything out. We can make mistakes. If we fail, we still have time to start over. We don’t need to be in a position to achieve all of our life goals the second we leave campus.
College knocked me on my ass multiple times, but I’m grateful that it hasn’t dissolved my eagerness to try again. We can’t lose the feeling that we can change things for the better. We can’t lose our willingness to get back up and try again. We can’t lose that optimism. And that’s the cliche I want to end my graduation column.