My freshman year at Cornell was probably the best year of my life so far. I stayed up until 5 a.m. every night participating in hallway-wide gossip sessions, proudly strode into Sunday RPCC brunches in pajamas and last night’s mascara and never, ever called home — because when you’re 18 and having the time of your life, why would you?
The sheer novelty of the college experience, the number of smart-mouthed, like-minded people I met at Cornell, definitely contributed to my incredible year. But upon reflection, I realize there was another factor. Although I’m sure the creators of North Campus meant to construct another damp and depressing group of dorms (West Campus reminds me forcibly of J.K. Rowling’s Knockturn Alley), they somehow stumbled upon the formula for a home, a community unto itself. For me, at least, there was nothing like passing through Balch Arch after a long night in Olin and watching the dormitory landscape unfold before my eyes. I loved walking through Balch’s courtyard, between the graceful stone wings, and looking up at the mosaic of twinkling and dark windows. I would climb up the constantly chalk-marked steps to be greeted by CKB to my right and Clara Dickson to my left, the placid quad stretching out before me. My favorite part of the walk home would be arriving at the center of Clara Dickson’s enveloping “C” shape and gazing at the pattern of warm, golden light streaming through the 400-some windows. If I could see my friend Vishal playing the piano through the windows of the 2-6 lounge, I’d probably stop by and inevitably get sucked into a conversation that would last until the wee hours of the morning. If Ava’s room lights were on, I figured she’d be up for a quick rant about the Oceanography reflection we both forgot to submit. Clara Dickson was the first place, other than my parents’ house, that I called home. I was lucky enough to have a cozy corner single, with two windows and a tiny twin bed, and that room, while half the size of my bedroom in Atlanta, was my favorite place on Earth. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but on North Campus, I knew I was warm and safe and, oh, so loved.
My morning routine consisted of falling down one of Dickson’s multiple staircases 10 minutes late, grabbing cornbread from the Tatkon Center (breakfast is the most important meal of the day!), and sprinting across Thurston bridge to my FWS on the Arts Quad. I never appreciated it on those hectic mornings, but now I miss the fall colors reflected on Beebe Lake and the chill of water spray as I crossed the footbridge. I even miss the walk from North to Central on torrential downpour days, ignoring my soaked sneakers and fogged glasses as I stood on tiptoe, leaning over the railings of Thurston to watch floods of water roar angrily over the lip of the gorge.
Nowadays, I walk a mile into campus from my freezing apartment in Collegetown every morning. As soon as I close the front door, I’m greeted by the worst slope known to mankind, and a street so ravaged by construction my friends call it “the warzone.” When I walk home from Olin in the middle of the night, I hold my keys like a dagger between my knuckles, and there’s certainly no beautiful, spreading panorama to greet me when I turn onto College Ave. It’s a different thrill, one of total independence (no dining halls to guarantee I grab a meal every day, or nosy hallmates to raise the alarm if I don’t return to the room for a night) and the first tinge of adulthood. It’s a completely new world, and not necessarily worse than the bubble two miles across campus. However, the portal of Balch Arch into a community of 3,000 antsy, smart-ass freshman still caught up in their first taste of independence, still eager to welcome new people and new experiences into a life delightfully devoid of routine, and still hopeful of creating a warm, loving community, will likely be lost to my first year forever. So, freshmen, relish your time on North. Leave your door open to babble to whichever hallmate is strolling by, shiver over to the footbridge in the middle of the night and take in the rapids roaring a few meters under your feet, pause under Balch Arch and glory in the community before you. North Campus is its own haven from the coldness of Cornell; take full advantage of the time you spend there.
Pallavi Kenkare is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Jabberwocky runs every other Wednesday this semester.