For Emery Bergmann ’21, freshman year was already daunting enough before a video for her Introduction to Digital Media class launched her into viral fame. Then she became known as the “girl with no friends.”
Going viral for a video about loneliness was “super embarrassing,” she told The Sun during an evening interview at the Green Dragon cafe in Central Campus on Nov. 16.
Her self-made video focuses on her transition from high school to freshman year at Cornell and the loneliness that comes along with moving away from home.
“I assumed that once I was at school that would be it,” she said in the video. “I was gonna have a million friends, I was gonna just party all the time … but it’s just not really like that.”
Bergmann’s video, which she expected only her professor and maybe a few friends to see, has now been viewed over 346,000 times on YouTube. She has been interviewed by news outlets across the country and wrote an editorial for the New York Times in October.
Hearing from students around the country who could relate to her experience with loneliness was “extremely validating,” Bergmann said. She even heard from adults who said they felt this way when they moved jobs or went into retirement — a “humbling” experience that helped her realize that she is not alone in her solitude.
In her New York Times editorial, Bergmann gave lonely students three pieces of advice: you can’t clone your high school friends, social media is not reality and give yourself time to adjust. However, she acknowledges that these pieces of advice are very specific to her and that they may not work for everyone.
“There’s no recipe to address loneliness,” she told The Sun. “It can be based on socio-economic things, it can be based in race or just never leaving home before, and those things for every individual are so drastically different.”
Bergmann said she has received thousands of positive messages from people of all ages across the world, but also faced some criticism for her content by people who were upset that she didn’t acknowledge her privilege. She acknowledged the criticism, conceding that — unlike some of her peers — she does not have to juggle jobs and other commitments and can focus on making friends.
Nevertheless, Bergmann said that it was “frustrating” for her to get this criticism because she intended the video to be a reflection of her own experiences and never anticipated it would have such a large audience.
“People thought that I was trying to solve loneliness or speak for the college experience … That’s very much not what I was doing,” she lamented.
Since she posted the video, Bergmann said she has learned ways to combat loneliness at school: for example, she committed herself to try at least two new things every semester, whether it be joining a new club or doing something off-campus. She has also found new friends she connects with after she accepted the first piece of advice she gave in the New York Times: you can’t clone your high school friends.
“Finding people who were like [my high school friends] and reminded me of them was kind of like my M.O.,” she said. “It took me a long time to realize that making friends isn’t replacing your old friends … That was relieving. It also opened my mind to a lot of new people.”
While her own social circle has grown since a year ago, Bergmann still thinks Cornell could be doing more to help combat loneliness on campus, like improving Orientation Week. However, she admits it’s hard to adopt these measures because there is a “huge variety of people within this campus going through a variety of different life experiences.”
Bergmann also thinks students put too much of an expectation on themselves to find their best friends right when they get to college. In fact, a certain degree of loneliness is part of the package of moving to a new environment.
“You finding friends in the first two months of school … is asking for a lot, especially when you’re balancing schoolwork and living in a new place,” she said. “You moving to a new place with people you’ve never met and living alone for the first time is just going to induce loneliness regardless.”
However, she acknowledges that she learned a lot from the time she spent alone at the beginning of college.
“I got to know myself very well and what I wanted out of these new relationships … Being lonely sucks, but I reflected a lot, and I’m very thankful for what I learned in the time I spent alone,” she said.
This article is part of the Loneliness Project: a multimedia collaboration between WRFI, The Ithaca Voice, The Cornell Daily Sun, and the Ithaca College Park Scholars.