Last semester, I met one of my closest friends. We were in a computer science class, filled with approximately 700 other students. Our rather comical teacher always made the class enjoyable and invigorating in our poorly lit auditorium in Statler. Yet, tucked behind his big friendly smile, my friend was suffering from depression, an illness that plagues many on the Cornell campus. I always sought to make sure that I could be there for him, especially given the fact that I myself haven’t had the easiest transition into the Ivy League.
Last semester on Dec. 15, after our final exam in Data Structures Using Java, we walked through the infamous Ho Plaza. It was truly a beautiful day: the sky glistening blue, the flowers demonstrating their beautiful colors and students smiling with joy after completing their final prelim (or maybe it was sadness…?). We finally ended up in Libe Cafe, where he purchased a medium caramel macchiato and a bag of golden-crisped sour cream and onion potato chips. Had I not gone bankrupt due to Trillium’s mouth-watering quesadillas, I would have purchased something myself. If my friend had known that I didn’t have any left, he would’ve offered to pay as he had done in previous instances, so I told him I just wasn’t hungry after consuming my usual bag of organic baby carrots.
We took a seat in front of the windows: fraternity kids were tossing around their white frisbees, dogs were frolicking galore and another friend of mine, probably looking at that girl from his psychology class on his Instagram, dropped his double-scooped Triple Play Chocolate ice cream. After taking in the scene outside, we began to share our summer plans. I found myself speaking about my potential paid internships in the Amazon Rainforest and in Los Angeles, which would finally allow me to alleviate the financial burden of my tuition off my and my mother’s shoulders. After the divorce of my parents, our household had been struggling significantly, and with the introduction of three new baby siblings (whom I absolutely adore), the financial quagmire only deepened.
I had noticed during our conversation that he seemed abnormally quiet; I wasn’t sure if it had been the exam and that he didn’t feel too optimistic about his performance, or that he simply wasn’t in the mood to engage in conversation. After some awkward silence, he spoke of what he planned on doing this summer: dropping out of school and finding a job. Dropping out? He seemed to be settled so well in all of his classes. He had friends from all corners of our community, from fraternities to project team members to individuals hailing from around the world. He truly was a gifted individual, and I am not just saying that because he goes to Cornell. He truly possessed something I had never seen in anybody before. “Yeah, I just feel like I don’t fit in. I am doing poorly in [my classes]. I also just had a bad semester emotionally.” I knew exactly what he was referring to, and for his sake, I will not disclose any of that information in this response. I could see my friend’s future fading before my eyes: a gift and a talent being stained by mental illness.
This semester, things seem so different around campus without him. Playing music in the music room in my dorm had become a distant memory of the past. Late night walks to Jansen’s to utilize our stash of Pocket Points has become a faint memory. I especially missed going out on the slope with our friend to play the guitar and escape from our shared academic pressure as engineers at Cornell. It was gorgeous taking in those vivid sunsets, just three friends staring out into that orange stained skyline. Smelling the plethora of blossoming flowers, their scents brought us refreshing happiness. We all hated being inside anyways, so in addition to being our very own musical venue, this spot on the slope became our habitual, multi-purpose location: studying, eating and even napping.
At Cornell, sometimes it is truly a challenge to understand and tap into the minds of our peers, even if we spend all of our days together. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore Cornell: the chirping birds, the powerful vibrations of our morning chime tower concerts, the breathtaking, luscious slope that makes the morning such an obstacle, the different languages being spoken and the professors that shape our very own education. However, there are many flaws within the curriculum that can make life here sometimes a bland drag. Like a pressure cooker, many of these pressures ultimately prey on the minds of their students.
I had never witnessed a friend of mine suffer like this before in my life, and it made me realize a couple of things. First, I realized that I needed to start cherishing every second of my life. Here at Cornell, I found myself spending hours on my phone, the time that I could have spent with my best friend, time that I could have spent helping others. After losing my friend, I began to stop my compulsive phone use, and I began to cultivate richer relationships. There’s no wePhones or usPhones — it’s simply just “i” — where we spend time, alone, suffering from fake societies that Instagram constructs, wasting time that could have been spent with our best friends. Second, I started to challenge the status quo and began to be more involved in mental health for students. I attended a conference at Brown spearheaded by an inspirational woman who spoke about her traumatic experiences of being mentally unstable in an intense atmosphere with no assistance. To hear her experiences and the ways that she later helped her peers to be more confident in themselves was truly awe-inspiring and became something I desired to incorporate into my daily life. Lastly, I learned the value of having a real friend. After being bullied for nine years of my life as a child, my hostility began to overpower my potential to make friends. This friend of mine showed me the strength that can be instilled in an individual by a single connection. He inspired me to be positive no matter what the situation and to appreciate all the moments that comprise our days — how valuable our time is something that we may never fully appreciate, especially when it comes down to the sheer fact that your time can be used to impact somebody’s life for the better.
Since his departure, I’ve texted, called and Facebook messaged him, all of which failed to garner a response. I hope he is alright. What I do know now moving forward is that, regardless if I do make an impact or not, that I will be there for my friends and start living presently in the world where I trade in screen-time for people-time, for family-time, for conversation-time and, most importantly, for intentional-time; time spent living intentionally will shape our future and those who may need our actions.
Canaan Delgado is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected] No Church in the Wild appears every other Tuesday this semester.