Days after Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States in 2008, he penned an open letter to his daughters for Parade. In the letter, he wrote about his vision for his daughters’ America and how our generation would become the drivers for change in years to come. As a sixth grader who followed Obama as religiously as the apostles followed Christ, I read this letter with all the idealism and hope of a kid with his life ahead of him, unfamiliar with failure and unabashed in my expectations for the future.
I thought about this letter when you, my one and only kid brother, found out that you will be coming to Cornell next year. Although nearly all my actions and general demeanor might suggest otherwise, I do spend quite some time thinking about how you will live your life. At the end of the day, I want you to surpass me in every conceivable metric; I sincerely hope you are smarter, funnier, better-looking and more successful than I will ever become. So as you prepare your imminent arrival to Ithaca, I thought I would share what I wish for you these next four years. Though the gravitas and import of what I have to say wanes in comparison to what POTUS had to offer, I feel an obligation to try for you anyways.
I’m sure every Cornell student remembers the feeling of receiving their acceptance letter. For me, it was affirmation for 18 years of sporadic hard work. I remember two things — an overwhelming sense of eager anticipation and comfort in knowing where I would be for the next four years and the liberating license to do literally whatever I wanted for the next few months. From the looks of Instagram, it seems like clearly you have the second part covered, but I promise you that the former will be challenged the moment you step foot on campus.
The first semester of college was a catalyst for profound reinvention in just about every facet of who I am today. You will never understand loneliness until you go three days eating Nasties calzones alone in your room at 9 p.m. while watching season four of The Office for the fifth time. While close friends and good times were so readily accessible just the summer before, it was so brutally isolating to have to walk into the dining hall everyday and scan tables of unfamiliar faces for the first time in years. You won’t understand responsibility until you call mom every week, fine-tuning the fake inflection in your voice to pretend that everything is perfect 2,500 miles away from home while, in fact, you have never felt so alone and helpless in your life. The walk back to North Campus seemed to get longer every day as the weather started graying, and the grayness was an omnipresent reminder of all that I missed in California.
But there is nothing more gratifying and rewarding than meeting that first person in your class or dorm whom you can truly call your friend. And it will be a gift that keeps on giving, as you get to know this person’s life as intimately as your own. Your boys back home are always going to be your boys, but there is something so special about sharing these formative years with new groups. Through mutual misery, learning and experience, you commiserate and evolve together — more than you ever thought possible. Because eventually, Ithaca will become home, and you will find yourself mindlessly typing in 14853 as your home zip code during your compulsive online shopping phase. And soon after that, the faceless crowd you used to walk past in the dining halls become irreplaceable fixtures of your daily life.
I want you to enjoy college without the terror and gravity I felt while checking off all these “firsts” in college. Despite your particularly risk-averse disposition, you will nervously try your first cigarette, pull your first excruciating all-nighter in Uris, and develop a myriad of unsustainable habits. I’m sure you will find professional guidance in your student organizations and drinking companions in a fraternity, but I hope you will spend just as much time with them as you do pursuing the outlandish and novel. I want you to feel what it’s like to join an acapella group called “The Mediocre Melodies,” as well as the sadness when they kick you out of the GroupMe for never showing up to rehearsal. Participate in rallies and protests, take courses in obscure departments and gather the nerve to ask out that pretty girl who sits next to you in that class. Because your time at Cornell has nothing to do with a degree, but everything to do with the remarkable people that comprise it.
I’m so excited to spend my final year at Cornell with you. I’m so excited for you to finally meet Hoyin and Richard in person, for you to finally see the Knoll, for us to max out dad’s credit card at Temple of Zeus. However, despite all the things I can do for you, your time at Cornell will be messy, disappointing, and laborious. But it is not something you experience for naught. It will be something you give for having to grow up.
Jason Jeong is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jeongism appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.
Correction: This column incorrectly stated that Barack Obama was the 52nd President of the United States. He was the 44th President.