May 1, 2019

AHMAD | High Hopes

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Well, we made it. We have at long last reached the end of the road. It was a tough journey, certainly not one for the faint of heart, but despite all the pain, I believe it was worth it. This right here is my last column.

As I sit write, I have to admit I’m glad I decided to go to Olin to do this because I can already feel the emotions that would no doubt have poured out in the form of tears if I wasn’t in a public place. I don’t know why I feel so sad to be writing my last column. It’s not like I didn’t know this was coming. In fact, I feel like I’ve spent a fair share of the last four years fantasizing about graduating and joking about hating it here. Yet, ironically, I now realize that the more I complained about Cornell, the more it cemented itself into a place of deep endearment in my heart.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had a surprising amount of visiting students come up to me and ask me for directions. Every time one of them musters up the courage to approach me — kudos to them for not being warded off by the clear signs of sleep deprivation and general apathy that my face radiates — I recognize in them the same nervous, eager energy that I had as a freshman. I see the awe with which they look at the campus, and the elation with which they tell me they were admitted a few weeks ago. I still remember what it felt like to be reeling from the excitement of that acceptance. I relate to their quiet embarrassment as their parents urge them to stand in front of the clock tower for a photo, and I can see them imagining themselves walking amongst the crowds of students. Each time I’ve asked how they like the campus so far, I receive a naive yet endearing response: “I love it so much!”, “Oh my gosh, it’s beautiful!”,” I can’t wait to be here full-time!” Like a good upperclassmen, I always respond with something encouraging and tell them they’ll love it, even if I know that’s not necessarily true.

But when I tell them that I’m excited for them, I mean it. I’m excited for them to find their favorite study spot in Olin or Mann or Uris and get unreasonably attached to it. I’m excited for them to become so accustomed to Ithaca’s awful weather that opening the blinds to see snow doesn’t even make them flinch. I’m excited for them to discover a previously unknown love for Green Goddesses from Goldie’s or sushi burritos from the food truck. I’m excited for them to feel the very real fury ignited by the completely unreliable TCAT schedule. I’m excited for them to have their first heart to heart with a professor, or to experience begging their TAs for extra credit and essay extensions. I’m excited for them to have a moment of genuine pride after securing a competitive internship or a seemingly impossible A on a prelim. Mostly, I’m excited for them to navigate this campus and to find their place within it.

One of my favorite columns ever was written last semester by my fellow columnist, Priya Kankanhalli ’19. It’s called Places We’ve Been, and I can’t possibly do it justice, so I recommend that you go read it. One part that I’ve thought about a lot since I first read it seems especially relevant to me now that I am leaving:

“So, kids, scatter your memories in different places, plant them across colleges, and let them catch you off guard … 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.”

Cornell is a tough place, but that’s not all it is. It is also our home for four long years. It provides the background for extraordinary amounts of change, growth and learning. As Priya beautifully expresses, this place will always contain parts of us, whether we like it or not.

Am I upset that it took me so long to start loving Cornell? Maybe. But I recognize that it was all part of my journey. And when I see visiting students marveling at the clock tower or taking pictures of the gorges, I recognize that this is just the start of theirs. I know these students have high hopes for this place, and ultimately, I can only hope that Cornell delivers.

Faiza Ahmad is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. The Fifth Column runs every other Wednesday this semester.