August 29, 2019

WANG | The Beginning of the End

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The first day of my last year at Cornell began with me co-leading a tour of first-years around campus. To be totally honest, I thought it was a pretty dreadful idea for me to be the co-lead for the tour, mostly because I have a rather unpopular opinion of the comings and goings around campus.

Duffield Hall? Best place on campus in my eyes. My engineering friends think it’s a miserable wreck of a place that sucks the soul out of them, but I think it’s a quirky cross between the glassy exterior you find in extravagant skyscrapers, and the plush interior of stylish hotels. I think it’s fun; they think I’m short a few bolts. Perhaps that’s because while the engineering students I studied with there slogged through problem sets that may as well have been written in slurred Russian, I got to work on daunting business cases such as composing cold emails to companies.

How about the best place to get boba? Definitely Panda Tea. Most people would scoff at that, and point to the powder mix they use as a turn-off. But I think the simplistic mixture is quite zen. And yes, while there’s an annoying subset of people that will point instead to that odd new place that thinks cheese should go on boba (it shouldn’t, ever), I told my one of my tourmates that the general consensus on bubble tea was that Panda Tea was the place to go.

“Is that really true?” he asked skeptically.

“Absolutely”, I said.

It’s really not. I’ve lost friends over that opinion.

But when someone asked the inevitable “What lessons did you learn at Cornell” query, I stumbled. I realized I didn’t have an answer for them, which was a shame, because someone once told me that wisdom came with age. Yet I don’t feel old enough to be a senior, nor wise enough to impart knowledge. So I just shrugged.

It didn’t help that the feeling of being slowly pushed out began to dawn on me. There’s something unsettling about the whole process of introducing first-year students to the campus. They’re new! They’re different! They probably own TikTok accounts. Cornell, as far as I’m concerned, is done with us seniors. We’ve pretty much paid our tuition to them, and the new crop of first-years has more to offer. We’re old news, page two of The Sun. It’s an acknowledgment of the end. Our end.

But there’s something about recognizing the end that has me retracing my steps from the beginning, whether for nostalgia or a cheap laugh. And for some people, it might be the classes they took, or the friends they met that served as their chronological rolodex. For me, it’s my Sun articles. All 40 plus of them.

Let’s get to the elephant in the room first. Some of them are bad. Really bad. Reading through them has been an exercise of decoupling myself from my past. I went through the trouble of reading them to my friend while eating dinner at a dining hall in NYU this summer, and she ended up screaming with a mixture of pity and second-hand embarrassment. I think revisiting bad writing is like meeting your ex — in the sense that if you handle it well, everyone walks away slightly flustered but dignified; if you don’t, you’ll end up with your head on the dining table while your friend starts howling over an article you wrote.

In my first year, I railed against investment banking culture in one, tackled careers fairs in another and, for some bizarre reason, wrote about Roombas, comparing them to chocolate squares. I was all over the map. I was a frazzled first-year who wanted to write about everything simply because I could.

But as The Sun has evolved over the years, the topics I touched on in my writing began to expand in ways I hadn’t initially expected. The Sun has always meant something different to each one of its writers, as we used our columns for different agendas and agencies. For me, it’s become an emotional outlet. Being a student at Cornell has largely been an uneven experience, and you’ll meet as many people who dislike me as like me. It’s okay; I’ve earned it. I’ve had pleasant days, listless days and days where I just didn’t have the will to acknowledge anyone.

But writing has started to become a form of therapy for me, a way for me to reflect on where things started to go wrong. I decided to write more personal topics. On my immersion into the LGBT community at Cornell, to dealing with the swings that stress brought to my mental health. Three years ago, those concepts would have been too uncomfortable, too foreign, too honest for me to write about. I joined The Sun to write about campy movies and zany fashion houses. But in the end, I decided to write about me.

Coming here, I thought I had my life figured out. I dressed in flannel and plaid and thought that was cool. I thought the only lessons I needed at Cornell were on how to snag a good job, find housing and maybe even how to cook ramen by myself.

Freshman me wouldn’t have given a second thought of these topics. But people change. I changed. In the end, I suppose, the only lessons worth learning are the ones we never thought we needed.

William Wang is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at wwang@cornellsun.com. Willpower runs every other Monday this semester.