August 28, 2017

DUGGAL | Gaining and Holding onto Perspective

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As I approached senior year, I spent some time over the summer considering the space my words occupy in The Sun every other week. I wrote my first column for The Sun before I even got to campus as a freshman, and we are now at my last first column of the academic year.

I sound like an Instagram caption. At least I think I’m an adult.

For my first column of the year, I wanted to be sure to steer clear of the columns that speak to freshman about what they might expect in the coming months. Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing wrong with giving advice to freshmen (God knows I could’ve used some myself). I think I’m just tired of speaking about things you should or shouldn’t do at Cornell. Just do whatever you want. Chances are you’ll graduate either way.

What I do want to address, however, is the importance of perspective at Cornell. Coming to Ithaca after spending the summer in one of the most populated cities in the world is jarring. The sheer amount of variety New York offers highlights a narrative we would do well to keep in mind throughout our semesters at Cornell.

Everyone, to a varying extent, puts up certain facades. It can be to make it seem as if they’re doing better than they actually are or to make it seems as if they’re doing worse than they actually are — that depends on the person. At Cornell, it can often be tough to, for lack of a better phrase, see through people’s bullshit, simply because there is less variety in the kind of people you encounter to give you a broader perspective on how people are actually doing.

Take high school, for example. Everyone’s high school experience is different, and I cannot speak to what everyone’s pre-college years looked like. Personally, however, I found my high school environment encouraged me to put things in perspective simply by the way it was set up. I had smaller classes, and spent time with very different people from very different backgrounds with whom I would not otherwise have interacted with. Cornell, on the other hand, is organized in a manner that is supposed to encourage similar interactions between yet can instead be very much a bubble. People often adhere to certain facades, and try as you might, you will likely end up gravitating towards people that, at a very basic level, share similar characteristics, views or backgrounds. And since we’re in Ithaca — the literal middle of nowhere — it is much harder to seek out different perspectives, especially ones that don’t fit the bubble that is Cornell.

Getting away from Ithaca, and honestly, Cornell in general, pushed me to gain perspective I would not have encountered otherwise. Much of my perspective in the city was grounded in believing in myself. On campus, surrounded by people that seem to consistently do better than you, it is tough to believe you deserve good things too. Why should I score an interview with that sexy startup that has free lunch in addition to a base salary that might actually let me afford my food addiction when the kid next to me also applied and stayed up late three nights in a row studying for the interview? He clearly deserves it more — the kid hasn’t slept in three days, and I woke up at 1pm today.

What is important  then, is not breaking down the Cornell bubble by calling people out on the facades they put up (especially don’t do this if you want friends) or actively seeking out a group of friends the same way you would were you looking to re-create a diversity brochure. Instead, recognizing that Cornell is not always what the “real world” looks like can be enough. Not everyone stays up three nights in a row to prep for an interview. Not everyone even studies for interviews. Many people make the conscious decision to not pursue that kind of job or lifestyle. They aren’t less deserving or less motivated; they simply share a perspective we don’t encounter often on campus. Understanding that the Cornell bubble is a small part of a much larger world, and more importantly, a small part of the life you will create keeps you grounded in how you approach the people you meet and the way you think about life outside Ithaca.

 

Hebani Duggal is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at hduggal@cornellsun.com. Teach me How to Duggal appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.