June 11, 2020

PARK | So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

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So this is how it ends.

Not in the blistering heat on Schoellkopf field surrounded by all the people we love, but alone in our bedrooms amidst a global pandemic watching a nearly hour-late Swae Lee gyrate through our computer screens on funds we never asked to be spent, following some fighting kangaroos. Things could be better.

This is not what I expected. Then again, so little of college turned out as expected.

It feels like a lifetime ago when I first moved to Ithaca at 18. I could never have guessed that I would find my best friend in the basement of some dirty annex during O-week. I didn’t have a clue that I’d spend a year photocopying wristbands in Donlon, convincing myself collecting fishbowl animals is a worthy endeavor and fighting over whether to eat at RPCC or Appel.

I had no idea how badly the first rejection would sting or how hard it could be to get out of bed in the dead of winter when it’s been months since you’ve seen the sun. I didn’t know how each failure would force me to grow and how sweet the first achievements would feel. I didn’t know how lucky I would feel gazing at the stars under the Johnson or during the first lecture with a professor who makes a lifetime of student loans almost seem worth it.

I could not have dreamed of the people I would meet, the ones who became family, and how many nights I would spend in the Taco Bell parking lot trying to correctly distribute orders. I had no idea how much I’d fall in love with my roommates — how Boggle, celebration rolls, can-cans and Facetimes from bed could make our apartment feel like a home.

I could have never imagined that I would get to publish my dumb musings in The Sun and how much I would delight in inciting Greek life flame wars, being threatened with a lawsuit and talking to the Liberitarian vice-presidential frontrunner.

I certainly didn’t expect that college would just end mid-sentence, or that without warning everything would become our last. Or that when it all came crashing down, when senior year ended with email, I’d find myself unable to pack up my life and return to New Jersey, desperately holding onto some version of college that is already over.

But no amount of denial can change the fact that the last lecture has ended and my lease is ending in two weeks and nothing will ever be the same. There will be no more laps around Hideaway, drowsy sunrises from Cocktail or midnight trips to Wegmans. No matter how unceremonious, this is the end.

As I prepare to leave behind my home through these formative years, I’ve begun to retrace my steps and piece together the story of my Cornell experience. But time is a strange thing in college: simultaneously the longest four years of my life and over in an instant. The days begin to blur into flashes of youth — the time I got my friend a J.A., the time our class all dressed up as Professor Katzenstein and countless lost nights in Libe in-between.

Thousands of stories have unfolded here. I’m reminded of the bench on top of the slope engraved with a 1892 quote from A.D. and H.M. White: “To those who shall sit here rejoicing, to those who shall sit here mourning, sympathy and greeting: so have we done in our time.” For generations this has been home to countless young students; for the past four years it has been ours. It’s the place we struggled and grew, where we were challenged and overcame, where we fell in love with others and ourselves in our first steps into adulthood.

I hope you found a home here. I hope you found places in Ithaca that feel like magic. I hope you found people who make Cornell feel like a love story. I hope you found something or someone who made it hard to say goodbye to this desolate little icy town upon a hill in the middle of nowhere. I hope you fell in love with the person you became here.

We’ve painted this campus with memories, but soon the paint will dry and exist only as a testament to this moment in our lives. When we return to campus, it will no longer feel ours in the way it does now. But if there’s one thing I’m sure of, the Cornell that I love is in the people, not the place — the ones who shared in every victory and mourned every loss, the ones who made even the worst parts worth it, the ones who made all of this feel like a dream.

And with all the uncertainty in the world right now, I still don’t know what’s to come. But the sun has returned to Ithaca, Swae Lee called us all rockstars and in this fleeting moment I am reminded how lucky I am to have been here at all.

Sarah Park is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at sarahpark@cornellsun.com. This is the final installation of her column Spark Notes.