November 26, 2018

KANKANHALLI | Unfinished Business

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The first column that I authored for The Sun was a repurposed high school essay. I bet I can even dig up the prompt if I ventured into 2014 territory on my laptop — it asked for something along the lines of a satirical piece inspired by a celebrity. Anyway — I freaked out, okay?! 800 words, a whole novel’s worth, to introduce myself to a nameless, faceless, potentially imaginary body of peers and faculty and parents and alumni and…? Yeah. Take the distaste you feel for ice breakers and multiply it by a factor of 10. That’s approximately half as uneasy as I felt.

So, I made the decision, emboldened by all three ounces of my Sophomore Year wit and wisdom, to recycle. It seemed like an ingenious escape at the time — I’d let my writing speak for me, bypassing the need for melodramatic hellos and pleasantries. Invested readers would be able to glimpse the Real Me™ through my voice, my tone, my perspectives, would they not? They’d know I’m approachable and intellectual and opinionated in the best way without any explicit introduction, right?

Well, I sure hoped so. Why pour energy into useless topics? Why waste 800 words distinguishing myself when we’re all the same here? I felt — and to a large extent, still feel — an unspoken order to write what’s never been written before, share ideas and thoughts that have never been shared or thought before, while still resonating with every reader. Of course, I am painfully aware of the futility of this mindset. Our world, even our small Cornell world, is simply too large for any of us to expect zero overlap or repeat.

That being said, each of our experiences are unique to us. Even if we are all eating the same food, chasing the same goals and facing the same challenges, originality and individuality still have meaning. The nuance, I’ve come to recognize over the years, is that individuality can exist within collective experience. We respond to the same things in different ways. Ultimately, we’re all bonded by our journey through Cornell, but that’s not a pigeonhole. It’s not a title meant to be shed.

Then, the question of identity morphs into one of expression. I haven’t quite figured out how to write for an audience. You might think that after five semesters of churning out opinion columns, I would have amassed some insight into the art of public articulation, but alas. Here I am, five semesters later, punching keys and praying to make some semblance of sense. I haven’t written everything I’ve wanted to write. Plenty of times, I’ve danced around what I’ve intended to say, and other times, I’ve failed to translate swirling fragments of thought into digestible prose. I wonder if I’ve left too much unsaid.

I have figured out, though, a little more about myself. Sure, that doesn’t have much market value, but it does a great deal for, you know, the heart and soul. Now, as I near the close of my final column — conceived on mobile phone in the back seat of my car — as well as my undergraduate years at Cornell, I’m more incentivized than ever to conjecture at what comes next. I can imagine how eager I’ll be, maybe immediately after I leave or maybe a long while later, to romanticize this very moment. It’s unlikely that I’ll have the opportunity, the freedom or, frankly, the will to write again, but what I have written is the sturdiest time capsule I could’ve dreamed of.

Cornell has been a truly warm (ha!) and wonderful cocoon from all the harsh and exciting realities perched right outside, but it’s also armed me with the courage to find myself and define my principles. I’d like to think I’ve grown, and I’m able to introduce myself now. Hi, I’m Priya. How’s that for a start?

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 pkankanhalli@cornellsun.com.