Somehow, every freshman is simultaneously horny and anxious and tired and excited and sweaty during O-week. Part of my on-campus job involves trying to parse through these feelings with first-year students, assuaging their fears and elevating their excitement. I generally try to keep things positive. I tell them how I love the Ithaca Farmers Market, Manndible oatmeal chocolate chip walnut cookies and running through Forest Home Drive.
I slipped up last year when I was on a student panel for Cornell Days and a really perceptive prefrosh asked what I didn’t like about Cornell. I went on a weird and embarrassing rant about the failures of its liberal arts education, and then immediately regretted being harsh on Cornell. We wanted these people to come here, after all, and I clearly hadn’t made much sense during my frantic tirade anyway. (One student asked if what I said meant he shouldn’t try to be an English major.)
The weirdest part of American college is how students are supposed to feel heavy, patriotic pride in their alma mater. You’re a Cornellian for life, they tell us. Cornell is where you will find your lifelong friendships, meet your future spouse or discover your passion! You don’t even need to be at Cornell to feel it: Look no further than the barrage of Cornell porn on your Instagram feed, where freshmen post pics of their new pristine dorm rooms complete with a Cornell pennant, their parents in Cornell gear next to Touchdown the bear, them in their going-out clothes before their first college party.
I chose to come to Cornell because I was really miserable at my previous university, and I am markedly less miserable here. Truly, there really are things I love about Cornell: I love that my friends come from all over the world, I love that I get to do really fascinating research and I love that we have an actual waterfall in the middle of our campus. I don’t love the myriad mental health problems I’ve developed here, the disordered eating, the body image issues and the social anxiety.
My personal problems probably don’t come from Cornell specifically, but college in general. Parties and hookup culture are frustrating and demoralizing when you don’t fit Western beauty standards or aren’t particularly interested in alcohol. College often feels like you’re in a fish tank with a million of your peers, swimming into classmates you know but don’t necessarily want to see. You’re under constant surveillance: You study with your peers, eat with them and sleep in the same room as them. It’s even hard to find a place to poop in peace.
Yet so many of my friends and I had lovely summers living on our own, because it was nice to finally have the chance to be alone, and to wiggle out of the confines and confusion of American college life. I’m no introvert, but the solitude and anonymity of life away from Cornell made me feel at ease, like I could finally breathe a little bit.
It’s especially tough during your first week, when you’re suddenly thrown into this inescapable tank and everyone feels like a stranger despite being around you for your every move. Every conversation seems superficial. Making close friends takes time, and trying to do so during the accelerated atmosphere of O-week is particularly difficult. No matter what the pamphlets tell you, you don’t have to fall in love with college, and you sure don’t have to love Cornell specifically.
I made it through by doing things my own way, rather than the way they were marketed to me, whether it was in popular media or through Cornell’s own promotional materials. I immersed myself in the things I knew I enjoyed and actively avoided the things I knew I didn’t. I made it through by remembering that college is only temporary, and by remembering the sweet escape of summers away from school.
College can just kind of suck sometimes, or a lot of the time, and I’m excited to leave it. But I think I would have been better off if I knew as a freshman what I know now: You really don’t have to like it here. And chances are, you probably won’t at first.
Pegah Moradi is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All Jokes Aside will appear every other Monday this semester.