April 5, 2020

BETTEZ | Why Am I Here?

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On today’s morning walk to stay sane, I strolled through campus from Collegetown, looping through the slope up to North and back down again. With a camera in hand, I snapped some of the first pictures I’ve ever taken of the slope completely empty. As I passed through the eerie silence of central campus I heard songbirds singing — a first in my nearly three years here. I realized that some of the engineering buildings hum like living things, betraying the immense amount of energy flowing through them. I realized that this probably wasn’t the first time the slope had been empty, or campus was quiet enough to hear the songbirds — I had always been too caught up in my busy life here to take a moment to notice them.

The notification several weeks ago that classes were canceled for the next three weeks, to finally resume today, threw my life here from its usual frenzied rush into a dead still. Left in the ghost town Cornellians fled in a tear-filled rush, I sat and thought about my life at Cornell, wondering why I’m still here. As a junior, I’m lucky to not miss out on either graduation or the early engineering classes I labored through in my first two years here.

Like many engineering majors, I’m set to graduate a semester early and therefore have just five classes left to finish my degree after this semester — electives which I have a great amount of freedom to choose. I have to say, I don’t even particularly care what they are; I’m just waiting out my time here, through my last nine classes, to get my degree and move on. Once the opt-in S/U option was introduced, I immediately decided to switch all of my classes to S/U. I’m satisfied with the GPA I’ve achieved so far here, and none of the classes feel worth the effort or stress to pull a good enough grade to keep it. I have three siblings and both of my parents living at the home I’ll be returning to soon, and my mother’s job as a nurse, though luckily not in the ER, makes the likelihood worryingly high that one of us — followed by the rest of us — will get sick. I’m afraid of making the wrong decision by choosing to have a class graded, given the high likelihood that someone in my family or myself will fall sick, and I will be unable to complete my work.

I’m here to learn how to manage people as a lead on my project team, write more eloquently as a columnist for The Sun and find internships to figure out where I want to go after I graduate.

Those reasons alone don’t cover the whole reason I’m here. As I face my imminent departure from Ithaca that could last, as Governor Cuomo stated, up to nine months, I feel the loss of the rest of my life here most acutely. Instead of missing prelims, I miss that brief moment of relief following an exam during which I can reward myself with an overpriced taco from the Dos Amigos truck parked in Collegetown and a night of respite from the onslaught of work. I’ll miss movie nights, birthday parties and impromptu visits to the trampoline park in Syracuse for no reason at all.

It’s not that I don’t care at all for my classes. In fact, up until now, I’ve certainly cared too much. In my ambition to reach the point where I can relax, I brutalized myself in high school with as much work as I could bear, leaving myself about half a semester away from burnout at any point. To graduate a semester early, I took classes as quickly as I could manage, including four lab classes my sophomore spring to stay on track. It took me a long time to realize my greatest lesson from Cornell — that the classes really don’t matter as much as I’ve been led to believe.

What I want to say is this — in the loss of your classes, take a moment to appreciate the most important things that Cornell has given you. When you can return to Ithaca: take a detour to visit the slope at sunset, pause for a moment to listen to the birds on a quiet morning. Reach out to your friends to make sure they’re okay too. Your grades are a massive part of the reason you’re here, and I don’t want to minimize that. But in the struggle for your grades, don’t forget to cherish the rest of your life here before time runs out for good.

Michaela Bettez is a junior in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at mbettez@cornellsun.com. Bet on It runs every other Monday this semester.