May 13, 2020

POORE | New York’s Not My Home

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I left my first Slope Day early to finish a final paper due that Friday. I arrived at my second one only about 20 minutes before it got rained out. I had my big toenail ripped off during my third one, and hobbled away right as Steve Aoki came on, bleeding all over the slope. I might tune into my last one if I want some background music.

Like many Cornellians, I left Ithaca in March, and have spent the last couple months back home. And though I do miss my friends, and I regret that we never took proper graduation photos (nor had a traditional graduation at all), I haven’t been able to pretend that I miss being at Cornell.

Certainly, I miss Ithaca. I miss seeing concerts at The Haunt with my friends, the late nights I spent drinking kava at Sacred Root and the sacred pilgrimages I took to the Friends of the Library Book sale each semester. But I don’t mind that I might never walk past the eyesore that is Uris Hall again, or properly savor my last orange chicken bowl from Terrace. Were they ever even worth the line?

I know it’s probably because I’m a bad Cornellian. I never learned more than the first line of our alma mater. I never took Intro to Oceanography with the icon Prof. Bruce Monger, earth and atmospheric sciences. I never owned one pair of AirPods in my life, nor wore any Canada Goose jackets. I didn’t even score a finance or software internship. I know what you’re thinking: “How could I possibly live with myself?”

But for my own part, I tried my best to fit in. My resume shows two majors, two minors, three e-boards — etc., etc., etc. Like any respectable Cornellian, I can tell you my favorite spot to cry on campus — a rock near Beebe Lake. I’ve learned from the pre-meds how to complain about my workload and how to make any interesting class less fun. I can recite to prospective students and their parents, with a straight face, the response we learned as College Ambassadors: “Actually, the suicide rate here isn’t any higher than the national average. I, for one, have found Cornell to be a great and supportive place. Everyone’s just here to help!”

In my four years here, I guess I never picked up on how to love Cornell properly. An unfaithful paramour, I viewed each winter and summer break away from Cornell as a chance for me to recover. By the third week of break, I was typically able to forget that I’d ever been stressed or unhappy at all. But by the third week of the new semester, I was up until 2 a.m. again, finishing half of what I needed to for the next day. I suppose now that I’m both home and falling behind on my workload, I haven’t had the luxury to ignore anything unpleasant about Cornell.

Instead, I’ve been forced to reflect on my undergraduate education, and I realize now that I spent the first three years at Cornell feeling like an imposter, a credulous kid who believed in the “Any Person, Any Study” sentiment (at a school where it’s impossible to major across colleges).  That no matter who we are, we’re all working to make a meaningful difference in the world. I believed that I’d spend my four years discussing books and ideas, becoming an enlightened individual. But I spent my first weekend watching people throw up in the lounge.

And while I have had a few of those deeper talks that I craved — mostly with professors, and that’s kind of their job — I’m not so sure that I believe in the power of Cornellians to save the world. What I do believe is that many Cornellians just want jobs they feel proud enough of to humble brag about on LinkedIn.

At university, I’ve found myself surrounded by a horde of peers who came from high schools where Cornell was considered a safety, who’d been groomed to ace the SATs and AP tests, who expect a profitable job, a spouse, two kids, a home in Westchester or on Long Island, a white picket fence and an edge on the admissions process when they want their kids to become legacies. And while I still do believe that at least some Cornellians appreciate the educational opportunities at Cornell, many more have come to view a Cornell education as a means to an end.

Only in my final year have I started to realize that I don’t necessarily want to fit in at Cornell. I don’t know if I ever really wanted the types of success that it offered. I didn’t want the finance job, the top medical school or the six-figure starting salary.

I wanted to leave Cornell inspired, confident that I could solve any problem that came my way. I wanted to grow alongside other students that felt like scholars and not high-achieving clones. I wanted the world-class education that I thought I’d be receiving.

But if this is the standard for a world-class education, then I think the world must be a sad, shallow place.

Sophomore year, my friend snagged me an extra Cornell Class of 2021 hat that I still wear a lot — I gave my 2020 hat to my mom — and sometimes a stranger will smile at me and say, “I went to Cornell too! Class of XX!” By now, I know to respond, “Go Big Red!” Then, I go about my day, wishing that I had more hats.

As William Sharp writes: “Deep in the heart of Summer, sweet is life to me still, / But my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill.”

 

Colton Poore is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He is a former Sun columnist who authored the series Help Me, I’m Poore. He can be reached at cpoore@cornellsun.com. This is his final column.