Memory isn’t just internal. It’s not individual. It’s all around us, in places and objects and moments. Within our own campus, there are memories buried in classrooms and halls and dorms and libraries. Year to year, even semester to semester, our routines change drastically. We’re here for four years, but still, we don’t occupy the same space for long. Seamlessly, well accustomed to the collegiate life cycle, from syllabus week to prelim season to study period, we adjust to our schedules, going where we are required to be, wishing we had a bit more choice in the matter.
During my freshman year, Goldwin Smith knew me well. In abandoned rooms at night, my best friends and I hosted screenings of our favorite TV shows. During the spring of my sophomore year, I was a Trillium regular. Now, it’s been so long that I’m not sure I would recognize the building even if I were an enviable 30th in the checkout queue. During that same term, I remember trudging up to Morrison Hall from Collegetown, cursing every painful, sweat-ridden step. During my junior fall, not a day passed that I wouldn’t scheme for a seat at Duffield and settle for one in Upson. During my junior spring, it was eHub — late nights, high workloads, proximity to junk food and sleeping quarters — no other place merges these elements so smoothly. It was incredibly unsettling to sulk around the elevator in eHub a few days ago, waiting to be ushered in by chance, when only months ago, I could’ve waltzed in freely.
I remember the stairs leading to Olin Basement, where I took one of the most gut-wrenching calls of my collegiate life. I remember sitting in Cocktail Lounge with one of my then-closest friends, with whom I’ve since lost touch. I remember the girl sobbing on the bench outside KoKo’s, and I remember the exact spot I took a tumble on the sidewalk, en route to my German discussion section. I remember speeding to Green Dragon Café at a friend’s frantic summons. Rarely do these memories rise to the surface as a result of a string of related thoughts. No — they always catch me by surprise. Sadly, these sites of memory, which were once so prominent, inevitably shift out of the foreground.
At least places on Central Campus maintain some relevance, purely by remaining within sight. Occasionally, when I venture onto North Campus for some obscure commitment, I feel like I’m in a different era. Myself as a freshman is hardly recognizable to me, but she is frozen there in time, counting down the seconds until Sunday Brunch at RPCC.
Cornell’s campus has a reputation. To those on the outside, or to those who briefly come and go, it’s gorgeous. It’s ripe with opportunity, full of knowledge, and a feast for the eyes with its greenery and ornate architecture. Yet, all of these impressions are void of any true sentiment. They’re empty and incomplete, ignorant of the slew of emotions that churn constantly on this campus, transforming ordinary places into sites of intense feeling.
That’s not to say Cornell’s campus isn’t gorgeous. It sure is. But when you’re here to stay, that beauty is painted with your own memories, whether happy ones or sad. It’s difficult to replicate the untainted anticipation or hope that newcomers feel, after having been all the places we’ve been. You simply can’t capture it in a tour.
We often revisit places, either voluntarily or unwittingly, with no preparation for or awareness of the memories lying dormant there. Even when confronted with them, it’s tough to stand still and absorb the memories; we’re always moving, never pausing. Yet, past versions of ourselves are sown all around us – all testaments to growth and evolution. If there’s one thing that Cornell guarantees, it’s change, and at the right places, at the right times, it’s so plain to see.
This campus knows more about me than I ever thought I’d let it. Some places know the joy I’ve felt at receiving heartwarming news; some places know the fear and regret I’ve felt before presentations and exams; some places know the excitement I’ve felt for new prospects. I don’t avoid these places or even seek out my favorite ones because the events have long since had their impacts. Still, each time I find myself passing through an old venue, the nostalgia is beautiful and paralyzing.
So, kids, scatter your memories in different places, plant them across colleges, and let them catch you off guard. You’ll see who you were is both alive and long gone, and who you are is changing constantly. Some places know the sadness and longing that I’ve felt to be anywhere but here; some places know the relief and security that I’ve felt to be here and nowhere else. And, years and years from now, I suspect that the memories and emotions will remain — tinted with different perspectives of age and experience, but here nonetheless, with the barrows of memories that came before.
Priya Kankanhalli is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Matters of Fact runs every other Tuesday this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.