May 4, 2017

LEUNG | The Era of Not Knowing

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I know enough about myself, and what I tend to write, that this final, end-of-the-semester piece will be reminiscent of this school year. I’m no longer the freshman who can write about the conflicting feelings of dorm life and the realization that everyone struggles, but never wants to leave Cornell. And I’m not a senior, who can look back on their entire college experience and find something insightful to say about those four years that — although everyone tells you shouldn’t be the best four years of your life— have to be pretty darn close. I write as a sophomore, who is in a tricky situation of finding myself halfway through my college experience. I don’t have the excuse of entirely not knowing what I’m doing, but I’m free from the intense pressure of becoming a real person in the real world. It’s a strange place to find myself. Looking ahead, I see one semester in Ithaca, another abroad, and two more as a senior. And the end looks a lot closer now.

I still remember what my microeconomics professor said in class on the first day: “Freshman year, you don’t know but you think you know. Sophomore year, you don’t know and you know you don’t know. Junior year, you know, but you don’t know you know. Senior year, you know and you know you know.” As convoluted as that sounds, I see a certain truth in it. But what does it even mean to “know?” Is it the knowledge you gain from classes, from narrowing in on a specific subject and becoming an expert in that field? I think it extends beyond just material knowledge. I think “knowing” comes from all the experiences we have as college students, and although one can argue that we’re still young and there are real life, adult experiences we have to encounter before really truly “knowing,” I’d say they’re right. I’d also say that we learn a lot more during these four years at college then we will during any other four years we have ahead of us.

We learn how to balance everything — and I mean everything. From when to eat, to what courses to choose, to whether or not to go out at night, we make decisions on our own, weighing the internal and external factors, deciding what is a priority or not. We navigate relationships and figure out what we want for ourselves and others. We suddenly realize the realest parts of who we are.

I think “knowing” only comes from being here for four years, of having the entire experience. Of having those moments when you don’t think you can make it out in one piece but still struggle through anyway. Of feeling that your heart could burst by the sheer purity and happiness of a moment. Of wanting to cry because things are too overwhelming and never seem to end. Of being so content with who you are and what you’re doing that you wouldn’t change a thing.

And as a sophomore, I know I don’t know. There is so much I haven’t experienced yet. But I think that’s true about every stage of life I’ll find myself in. It’s comforting, for me, to think that there will never be a time in my life when I feel as if I have known everything , experienced all there is to experience and felt everything that can be felt. I like to think that we build our life for ourselves, and we can sit in a train in perpetuity, watching the scenery pass by in a panorama, aware of colors and textures, but never truly experiencing it. Or we can get out and walk, feeling the grass between our toes, feeling the warmth of sunshine hit every inch of our skin, hearing the river as it makes its way across the rocks. There is never a shortage of sensations, things of which we aren’t yet aware.

But college is such a confined place where so much happens every day, whether that’s because of the proximity of so many students or the exposure to so many new things at once. Our self-growth is sped up in this four-year experience; it can be difficult, but it’s something I’m  already grateful for.


It happens a lot these days. On cold days in Ithaca, bundled up in bed. Or now that it’s warmer, lounging on the deck outside my house. And we speculate. In wonder of how up until this point, we have always had a conventional path — which not everyone follows, but the majority of us take — that led us from elementary to middle to high school. That led us to take the SATs or ACTs and apply to college. We’ve always had a designated path laid out for us; things we felt we “had” to do in order to achieve success. The ultimate goal? A good job. But then what? For the longest time, we’ve known what we had to do; we knew the next step. But after the vague notion of getting a job after college, we have endless, undesignated years. Time that seems to stretch on without dictation. Nothing is very clear and laid out for us. There are no boundaries anymore that confine us in a single direction.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that these four years are times of immense self-growth, the final years of something so constructed and laid out for us. And I want to use this to my advantage, using these four years to feel safe about not knowing. But I also want to appreciate and experience as much as I can, whether that’s going to Applefest in the fall and buying as many apple loaves as I can, going to the Ithaca Farmers Market on the weekend, sledding down the slope in the winter and laying on the arts quad in the spring. Because although there is so much I don’t know yet, I can be sure about one thing: there’s nothing like RPCC brunch on a Sunday.


Gaby Leung is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]Serendipitous Musings appears every other Thursday this semester.