March 7, 2017

JEONG | Seeking Emersonian Fulfillment at a Corporate Cornell

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When I was first applying to college, I fell in love with the idea of going to a school where I could see the stars at night. Having been born in a city and raised in suburbia, I imagined something idyllic and romantic about living in a rural city completely removed from the rest of the world and from the noisy humdrum of daily life. It wasn’t just about being out in the nature; it was a symbol for the education and intellectual environment I wanted — an oasis of thought and individuality.

However, the truth is that Cornell is a neoliberal, corporate institution designed to churn out human capital in the form of polished, Ivy League-educated graduates ready to tackle the toughest models Wall Street has to throw at them. The stream of freshmen walking down the bridge from North Campus before 11:40 classes resembles an industrial assembly line — we walk from class to class, and each class serves as a mechanical arm preparing student after student for assimilation into the corporate world. After four years, once we are deemed ready, we are packaged and sealed with our diplomas, which certify to the outside world that we are ready to be bought by whichever Fortune 500 company will have us. We are no longer scholars or individuals, but commodities for the labor market.

That is the ultimate irony of this campus. We claim to be stalwart liberals. We will march for gay marriage and fight for a woman’s right to choose, but we accept the fact that the capitalistic nature of this school dehumanizes us, reducing us to numbers — the number on our grade reports, the number of students we send to top graduate programs or the number of dollars we will donate to the school in 20 years.

But we, the students, are just as culpable. We wholly subscribe to the idea that this is the natural order; that life right now may be stressful and difficult, but it is a necessity for the careers that we want in the future. But by doing so, we are sacrificing our most sacred possession and most personal offering to our community — our individualism. And a sinister reality of Cornell is that our individuality is exploited for the advantage of the institution. Every year, the school releases a report celebrating how the class of “20XX” is the “most diverse in the school’s history.” Our myriad of origins, creeds and thoughts are trivialized into a mere press release, which serve as a lure for the next batch of potential freshmen who will surely fall into the same vicious cycle.

In our constant need to succeed academically and professionally, we forget the more human aspects of life. We forget that we are humans with free will, instead convincing ourselves that our obligations to our classes and extracurricular involvements prevent us from immersing ourselves into the world around us. We only take a minute to enjoy the sunset on the first warm day of spring; we never end up going on that hike around Fall Creek Gorge that we said we would Freshman year; and in our sleepy stupor, we forget to marvel at the stars during our 2 A.M. walks back home from the library. Walt Whitman wrote about this daily oblivion in his poem “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer.” He writes of listening to a lecture from a renowned astronomer, who recites facts and traces charts to explain the patterns of the universe. However, when he walks outside into the mystical moist night-air, he realizes that there is far more meaning and beauty gazing upon the “perfect silence of the stars.”

This isn’t an issue independent of Cornell; it is a fundamental reality of the education system that our capitalist society has deemed worthiest. However, it is imperative that we break away from becoming mindless pawns in the neoliberal, corporate schema that Cornell and previous students have laid out for us. So many students fixate over jobs in finance, law and medicine because that they are told that these traditional paths are what constitutes success by the labor markets. However, we need to shatter the sepulchres of the fathers and seek fulfillment outside this realm. The constant competition among peers and push from our professors deludes us into thinking that we are always busy and do not have time for this. But given the natural beauty of Ithaca and the Cornell campus, let it be an omnipresent reminder of the transience of life and wholeheartedly embracing the moment.
To quote my favorite New York Times piece by Jonathan Safran Foer, “We live in a world made up more of story than stuff. We are creatures of memory more than reminders, of love more than likes… It can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die.”


Jason Jeong is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences studying government and economics. Marx and Jeongles appears alternating Wednesdays this semester.