December 19, 2018

GUEST ROOM | Thank You For Caring

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Back in August, I attended an event where Ryan Lombardi encouraged us to prioritize community over competition, especially at Cornell. Regardless of what you think of the suggestion, I think we can all agree that both qualities exist at Cornell. After observing instances of both on campus, I started drafting a reflection on the importance of redirecting our competitive tendencies into community cultivation.

Later in the semester, long after my earlier thoughts sunk to the depths of my Google Drive, I read Priya Kankanhalli’s article about two friends she overheard discussing job offers. In the exchange, one ultimately suggested the other only got the job due to “connections.” Kankanhalli reflected on the conversation in the context of the Cornell journey: “… maybe there’s little to do besides resign ourselves to the competitive culture here.”

Later on, I switched gears. I began an article preemptively titled, “Successful, but oh so immoral,” exploring how even the most successful people exhibit veins of immorality. In an environment that prioritizes academic and professional development over personal growth, those veins can easily be pronounced.

One week, I was infuriated by male students at the Law School (students who should presumably be stand-up humans) who ranked female students’ physical appearances in a private group chat. Shortly thereafter, the Kavanaugh hearings affirmed the trend I had observed earlier: even the most “elite” schools and those educated at them can fall flat in the realm of morality. And last week, my thoughts resurfaced when I read Maya Cutforth’s column about her presumably drunk male neighbors who asked her, “Do you live in an Asian whorehouse?” late on a Saturday night. Though Cutforth remained optimistic, claiming “I do not believe that any person is completely evil, and I do not think these men are either,” I can’t help but be pessimistic about the recurring instances of immorality on this campus and of those who graduated from similar institutions. Why is it that such acts of immorality exist at schools where admissions committees supposedly screen applicants for their “character”?

Most recently, I started a column titled “What is Cornellianism?” after reading Michael Johns Jr.’s argument that Cornell must return to the liberal arts, claiming, “Cornellians who graduate without nurturing a genuine love for intellectual pursuit on its own merits have wasted their time at Cornell.” I wanted to push back on the argument, one that I too held at the start of my time here, but one that I have recently held more loosely. I now understand, to an extent, why students prioritize securing high-paying jobs over “intellectual pursuits.” For those who come from a well-off background, a high-paying job may be a familial expectation. For those who don’t, a high-paying job can do more than pay off student loans; it can repay parents and provide financial stability for future generations. For students somewhere in between, a secure career can lead to less financial uncertainty. Perhaps when the price of our “education” becomes less expensive, we can genuinely pursue knowledge for knowledge’s sake. But for now, it only seems natural that the investment prompts students to seek a return.

While drafting these articles — some reflective, cynical and others critical — I realize that I have learned as much or more this semester from reading my peers’ work and meditating on their experiences as I have in the classroom. Sorry, Michael Johns Jr., but I have been unable to nurture any sort of “love for this intellectual pursuit on its own merits.” Yet I do not, by any means, consider this semester wasted.

The various drafts I have lost to the void of my Google Drive, prompted by the published reflections of my peers, have made me realize what unites the corners of this campus: a willingness to care.

Cornell, whether you like it or not, is a place people care. People care when they overhear a friend unnecessarily degrade another just for getting a job. People care when someone makes a sexist and racist comment, so much so that they go public with the experience. People care about the tradeoff between their genuine education and future job prospects.

Most recently, I was lucky to feel that care. I felt it when my housemate, watching Sunday night football, said, “come sit by me.” I saw it when a past coworker and recent grad flew back to campus for a weekend to catch up with old friends. I tasted it when my friend gave me a sip of some wonderful concoction made of all the milks and spices needed to create “Christmas in a cup.” I heard it when my friend spent three hours catching up with me after a semester of barely seeing one another. And I read it, when on the night before the last day of classes, my professor wrote our class an email, “Our final class is tomorrow, sniffle, sob… I’ll miss you all.”

Cornellianism is caring. It’s about pushing ourselves to be better than the “system” that pressures us not to care. It’s about finding ways to care about more than just our own journeys when the prelims, papers, jobs and interviews absorb us. And I am oh so well aware how corny this all is. But in the midst of all our hectic journeys, I thank you. Thank you for caring.

Clare McLeod is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Guest Room runs periodically this semester. Comments may be sent to [email protected].