It only took a few hours after my brother dropped me off at my freshman dorm for me to text him something along the lines of “I don’t think I’m going to like it here.” In some ways I was right. But in more ways, I was wrong.
My time at Cornell has since followed a pretty common formula: I arrived and found that this school is not necessarily the easiest place to be immediately happy. Eventually I started to like it more, recently I grew to love it and now it’s almost time for me to leave.
I imagined before coming here that my favorite moments would conform to Cornell-y college tropes: throwing fish onto the ice at hockey games with some kind of regularity and watching daily sunsets over Libe Slope. In reality, I think I only ended up going to about two hockey games and learned that I like the view from Stewart Park a whole lot better.
I could have never imagined the things that actually made me happiest here — that some of my favorite Friday nights would be spent sleepily watching movies at Cinemapolis, or passing through fields on the way to TA at Auburn Correctional Facility. There’s no way of knowing in the earlier and lonelier months of freshman year which random lunch you grab will seat you next to the person who will become your best friend or which party you almost didn’t go to will be the place where you meet the person who challenges you more than anyone else.
In all honesty, I haven’t felt appropriately emotional about graduation yet. Classes are wrapping up. Course evaluations are going out one last time. The other day, my landlords sent me move-out information. And still I feel this false sense of permanence, like a refusal to acknowledge the realities of leaving will somehow render them unreal. My walls are still covered in pictures chronicling all of the time that separates me and my “I don’t think I’m going to like it here” text — all evidence proving I was wrong. “Want to go to 7/11?” messages still roll in at 1 a.m. from friends who, this time next month, will be 1,000 miles away.
In the rare moments where the enormity of graduating does strike me, it does so with no rhyme, reason or warning.
The other day I passed by Bed, Bath & Beyond and was immediately transported back to move-in weekend freshman year. I thought about the profound nervousness I felt walking through the aisles of the Ithaca superstore, wondering if every young person I saw might be one of my hallmates in the next 24 hours. I thought about buying bed risers and a shower caddy with my mom, looking at bath mats and having it finally sink in that I would probably never live at home again.
I laughed out loud when I realized that the song 679 makes me more emotional than Landslide — not because of any lyrical genius but because the unmistakable tune reminds me of the clumsiness of freshman fall, the desperation to be social and accepted that was, in retrospect, equal parts endearing and cringe-worthy.
One thing I’ve thought about a lot in the last few weeks is how much of the advice out there about how to do things “right” and optimize your time in college is often misleading.
I remember one alumnus telling me over coffee that his greatest regret from Cornell was not joining Greek life, and that I definitely should. He said he wished he had pledged because he never really “found his people.” But in retrospect, not joining Greek life was undoubtedly the thing that gave me the space to find my own.
So I’m wary of advice, but I’m confident in patterns — my favorite of which is a pattern of infrequent, irresponsible “yes” moments that led me away from obligations and towards some of my favorite memories from the last four years. “Yes” took me to Storm King Art Center on the most perfect fall day last year with my roommates, even though I had to write a column using a hotspot on the three-hour car ride home. “Yes” took me to Toronto more times than I can count, caravaning with anyone who wanted to join and collectively crashing on the floor, couch and cot of my childhood best friend. “Yes” brought me to the lake yesterday, when I probably should have been working on this column, procrastinating one last time in true fashion before signing off for good.
What makes me nervous about graduation isn’t the loss of consistency I’ve become accustomed to at Cornell, but rather the loss of its warm inconsistency. For the last four years, I’ve lived in a different room every year, taken different classes every semester. Even the summers have acted as incubators for trial passions and cities. My time here has been characterized by constant opportunities to readjust when things weren’t right, or even just when they got boring. I’m hopeful that freedom doesn’t just go away when you graduate, but I’m also well aware that it’s going to look really different.
I think, in time, I’m going to like it elsewhere. And I’m glad that in the end I found a way to like it here too.
Jacqueline Groskaufmanis is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Dissent runs every other Monday this semester.