We had four hours on the road before we had to officially call ourselves final semester seniors. The road was a safe haven — if you didn’t look at the hills of snow everywhere, spindly trees and the depressingly gray sky. Still, we were safe.
“Would your freshman year self have thought you would be where you are now?”
I let that question linger in the car for a while my friend and I both thought about it. I could feel that we were both rewinding ourselves back to the first day we stepped into our respective dorms. Me, sweaty and wearing my sister’s striped T-shirt. Her, frequenting RPCC for the first time with her family. I thought about the people I had met that year, and those who are with me now. I laughed and cringed as memories flipped through my head. I could tell she was going through the same thing.
Sure, I finally realized what I was going to major in and took a few classes to validate that. I knew more about Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain and read Don DeLillo’s White Noise, but if I think back on what I have really learned these past few years at Cornell, this “academic knowledge” feels peripheral.
Here’s to reflecting on what really matters:
1. True self-respect takes time. There should be no games when it comes to relationships. Disloyalty and dishonesty are compressed in this small bubble, and college life seems to normalize this type of no commitment waiting game. I know how to cut out toxic relationships and the level of respect that I should be given by everyone.
2. It’s okay to not know. I’m still aware of how much I don’t know. But as a freshman, I was unsure of what I wanted to study, what I would do with my future, who I wanted to hang out with, what I wanted my college experience to be like. So, I threw myself into classes that have nothing to do with my current major. I rushed a sorority and then deactivated. I joined a co-op and now live with four of my best friends in Collegetown. And I still don’t know what I want to do with my future. But everything I have done has made me understand who I want to be, and how much I’m capable of. And I never would have known if I thought I had some direct path to follow.
3. Focus on the bigger picture. I think back on some of the things that I worried about or blew out of proportion in the past and wish I hadn’t wasted so much energy on them. When you set your priorities and ground yourself in what you want, it will be easier to see what, and who, you should spend your time on.
4. There are really high highs and really low lows in life. There is no time that you will “peak,” but also nothing is ever the end of the world. Your life is a constant flux of happy and sad moments that are both beneficial in making you feel alive and deeply human.
5. We are so young right now. Things can, and will, change.
6. Study abroad if you can. Make yourself feel really, really uncomfortable. You’ll discover things about yourself that surprise you.
7. Keep your people close. Friendships and relationships make life lighter.
8. The best advice I’ve been told is to love first and the rest will follow.
It’s easy to say this as a nostalgic, end-of-an-era sort of reflection and to categorize these emotions and experiences. While I’m more aware of what I’ve learned, there are times I don’t take my own advice. There will be a point when I read this and think of what little I knew, how much more I had to experience. But sitting in the car with my friend and housemate, reminiscing on what we’ve experienced these past few years, I realized how much had changed from when I first stepped into Donlon Hall, and I think it’s important to acknowledge these gradual shifts in personal growth. “Gaby, look at us now,” she said.
Kurt Vonnegut ’44 wrote, “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” That is a standard that I want to hold myself up to for this final semester. We allow ourselves to wallow and grieve and hurt so easily. We should allow ourselves to feel happiness and excitement and pleasure just as easily, and in its raw form. We have succeeded in our own way. Most of us might not be where we thought we would be, but I’m sure most of us our freshman year selves would applaud us for what we have gone through to be where we are now.