August 21, 2017

LIU | Finding Community

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Cornell University is going through puberty.

This week we witness the inauguration of Martha E. Pollack as the 14th President of Cornell University. This fall, we experience the opening of Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island in NYC,  a burgeoning academic community of nearly 600 people. Gannett Health Services is 27,000 square feet larger and has officially evolved into Cornell Health. We spot new buildings, new quads, new construction and perhaps most poignantly, a new collection of individuals attending and working at Cornell University.

This period of expansion brings with it the prospect of endless possibilities, and at times it may feel difficult to find oneself a community in a space as large as Cornell.  But it is during times like these that it is most important to find a community we can lean on, a community where we feel loved and supported.

I walked into my first ClubFest as a freshman craving a home and a passion. There is nothing else like it — hundreds of organizations packed into Barton Hall, each one touting itself as the new home for you, handing you quarter card after quarter card and compiling lists of NetIDs pages long. I remember walking from club to club with hopeful eyes, stopping at each one to speak with the upperclassmen who so vividly described how their organizations had become home for them.

It seemed like everyone I knew was applying to the same clubs, so I followed suit. And then I remember getting absolutely hung out to dry when I applied for these clubs. It was  a cycle out of which I couldn’t break. It would start with the info sessions, where I invariably reach the conclusion that this was the group for me. It continued with the social rounds, where I felt like I was making real connections to others. And it would end with me getting humiliated in technical interviews. . It was rejection email after rejection email after rejection email. I would read them over and over again: “Hello Dustin, Thank you for your interest in ____. Due to the extremely competitive applicant pool, we are unfortunately unable to extend you an invitation to ___.”

It was not until I understood that I had been trying to fit a mold I didn’t feel comfortable in that I started to thrive. There is no need to set on a path that has already been walked. There is no shame in asking for help. We grow when we lean outside of our comfort zones.

A mentor of mine shared with me three steps he used to find fulfillment. “Explore, commit and only then connect the dots.” The way I found my community was to explore. Meet your best friend by trying to flirt with him only to find out he’s straight. Meet your future child’s godmother in economics while you complain about not knowing the difference between demand and supply curves. Spend long nights with your friends contemplating reality, explore buildings you don’t have classes in, go off of campus and explore the Ithaca community. Get to know upperclassman and ask them to share their experiences.

And then you commit. Find a group of friends. Join a club and find a passion (and if you can’t find one, start one). Find a lab, find a hobby, find a service opportunity in Ithaca that excites you. Commit to the thing you love, commit to making an impact or a difference. And then connect the dots. Use what you have learned and think about what you liked. Find your passion project and fulfill your goals. Make a difference in a way that makes you feel proud.

You are the architect of your Cornell experience. As Vice President Lombardi shared in his address at Convocation, Cornell has so many Lego pieces for you to build with. You have resources to take advantage of and people who are on your side, hoping for your success. We can only wait to see what you will build.


Dustin Liu is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is the undergraduate student-elected member of the Board of Trustees. Trustee Viewpoint appears monthly.