Freshman year — pneumonia and a broken heart. Sophomore year — a broken ankle and financial stress. Junior year — bronchitis and misplaced trust. Senior year — finally finding my family at Cornell, only for these last moments with them to be snatched away.
If you had asked me on my first night at Cornell whether I would ever consider writing for The Sun, I would have scoffed. Me? Write for a newspaper? I was looking for a new beginning, one filled with hopes and checklists of what I needed to accomplish in order to be a real adult. My life was no different than others — why would I share it with the world? As I clutched onto my butterfly necklace that first night, thankful for the opportunity to finally spread my wings and fly away from home and all its stresses, I could have never predicted how my life unfolded in just four short years.
I applied to Cornell on a whim. As I explored campus during Cornell Days, it was pouring rain. Somehow, the small girl from Southern California who complained about any weather that dips below 70 degrees Fahrenheit decided through the thunder and lightning that Cornell would be the right choice for her. I am thankful for that choice.
I was catapulted out of my bubble when I landed at Cornell. I first became completely aware of my status as a minority, having come from a high school that was 70 percent Asian. I started to realize just how wide the wealth gap was in America, understanding that my idea of luxury was both incredibly low compared to socioeconomically advantaged crowds and incredibly high compared to those who are less fortunate. I met people who held a wide variety of opinions, many of them much different from what I would have ever experienced in my SoCal bubble. I was ultimately thrown into a freezing, rural college campus without knowing anyone and without having any family who had gone through a 4-year college in the United States, left to navigate everything from my future career to my own personal growth completely on my own. The blood, sweat and tears that I shed were all part of the process of my growth, and this growth happened so much quicker because I threw myself into the opposite of my previous surroundings, challenging myself to the utmost.
The failures and accomplishments piled on simultaneously, and I can proudly say that I have cried in every single building I have been in on campus. Oftentimes, I find myself crying while looking over Libe Slope at 2:10 a.m., after Olin closed at 2 and I was hastily kicked out. Once in a while, though, I’ll take a look back at the clock tower, always tall and strong, always ringing, and I’ll remember how truly fortunate I am to be here at Cornell, and how even though it punches me sometimes, I always find a way to punch back. The struggle, the time and the love that I gave to Cornell taught me such a wonderful lesson: I am tougher than I give myself credit for.
Now, as I sip champagne, celebrating the end of my undergraduate career, tears come once again. One of my best friends put the feeling into words — it feels like we ran a marathon but everyone forgot about it, and now we’re just exhausted and out of breath with no one around to cheer for us for finishing. But these are tears of gratitude, of recognition of all my hard work and perseverance, of the struggle of growing into my own person, of cheering for myself for getting to where I am now. I took my butterfly necklace off for the first time in years. The necklace has served as a reminder and a comfort to me for long enough — this butterfly has flown the marathon, and she is beautiful and proud.
Joanna Hua is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is the final installment of her column Cup of Jo.