September 8, 2019

PARK | All the Lies Cornell Told Me

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Hello, Josh. You thought I would let you smoothly transition to campus, uscathed by the burden of a strange, washed-up older sister? Or that I wouldn’t use the first line of my first column of my senior year to grant you the public embarrassment of your name printed in The Sun for all of campus to see? You really thought. Welcome to Cornell, my dearest brother.

Now that we’re here, instead of talking about the exciting, tumultuous, life-changing journey you’ve just embarked on or the fact that you’ve chosen to uproot your entire life and leave behind the friends and family you’ve known for the past 18 years to move to a weird agricultural town in the middle of a forest on a campus that believes Bubly is an adequate substitute for Pepsi surrounded by the highest concentration of Westchester residents you have ever known, let’s talk about something far more important: me.

Watching you experience your first weeks at Cornell as I prepare to leave this place behind has been somewhat surreal. Each one of my lasts will be your firsts and I find myself replaying my freshman year, trying to remember what it was like each step of the way to try to prepare you for what’s to come. I want to tell you everything, but I have no idea what this place has in store for you and so much has changed since I lived on North.

When I entered Cornell, Vine was alive and well, vaping wasn’t a lifestyle and White Claws were not considered grounds for immunity. We used earpods instead of Airpods, called Collegetown Cab instead of Uber and went to Calios instead of the travesty that is D.P. Dough. It was a simpler time, and not just because our nation’s president wasn’t a former reality TV show host and self-proclaimed “chosen one” in love with Kim Jong Un.

Much like our president, I arrived in this new town sure I had it all figured out. I believed every spoon-fed lie Cornell tells us to sign away four years and a lifetime of student loans: I would find meaning and success in all my classes and clubs, easily find incredible friends who will change my life and find my ultimate purpose; I would graduate, fully transformed into an adult, diploma in hand, ready to change the world. And much like our president, I didn’t have a clue. I still don’t.

I didn’t know that nothing good ever happens at China Buffet, the communal suffering of a group project presentation after consecutive all-nighters, or the unique pleasure of waiting at a freezing bus stop at the top of North Campus 10 minutes before a prelim only to have it drive right past you. I didn’t know the excitement of getting involved in shared governance, the absolute bliss of waking up in an apartment with people I love or how deeply weird and wonderful this place is.

Josh, as it turns out, there are whole swaths of college life they don’t tell you tell you about in the info-sessions — good and bad alike — and as you begin to forge your own path here, the best I can do to prepare you is to try to shatter some of the misconceptions.

As a newly-annointed Ivy League student, you’re told repeatedly how special you are for getting here, but not at all how mediocre you’ll feel once you arrive. For the first time in your life, surrounded by hungry high achievers, you’ll be forced to get comfortable with failure. It will feel deeply, personally crushing once you throw yourself into that first club application, relationship or defense of the funding status of a campus cinema only for you to fall short. But just as quickly, you’ll learn to pick yourself back up in order to discover how incredibly satisfying it feels to put your soul into something and succeed.

You’re told to get the most out of college and you’re going to feel an awful lot of pressure to join the rat race. We’ve been conditioned to chase the highest grades, most exclusive extracurriculars and most coveted internships. But no one tells you how empty those pursuits can leave you feeling and how much meaning you can find outside these realms. Wasting time on things you’re interested in, seeking novel experiences or just making something dumb with people you love can leave you more fufilled than the most flawless resume, even if you’re just heelying around Wegman’s at midnight, driving through the cornfields off campus, or making a website with your friend for — and I can’t emphasize this enough — no reason.

You’re told college is the best time of your life. You’re expected to love it. But no one tells you it’s okay to not be okay. Because this place will hit you. Hard. When you least expect it. And if you find yourself at 3 a.m. in the stacks filled with existential dread reading the most emo wall graffiti and missing all the splendors of suburban New Jersey life, don’t be afraid to ask for help, because we have all been there. Accept each extended hand offered to pull you back and know that you are not alone.

You’re told that you’ll find lifelong friends at college, but not how hard it can be to find them. This place can feel incredibly lonely even when you’re surrounded by people as you try to fill the empty seats of those you have known your entire life with unfamiliar faces. It might take a few weeks or even semesters, but once you find the people who bring out the parts of you that you love the most, they will become your Cornell experience. Together you will share your successes and suffering alike, as you learn and grow together through these transformative years. They will challenge and inspire you. They will make this place a home.

After these years I can confidently say Cornell is far more incredible and terrible than I imagined. Your journey here will be as messy and challenging as it is invigorating and rewarding. I can’t wait to take you to Harold, get you addicted to Libe, watch you perform in the symphony and come to High Rise 5 to embarrass you in front of your friends. And while I will always be just a few minutes away, I promise I’ll give you the space to make this place your own. I hope you find what sets your soul on fire. Goodluck, Josh, I’ll see you at lunch on Wednesday.

Sarah Park is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at sarahpark@cornellsun.com. Spark Notes runs every other Monday this semester.