Whenever being home was getting to me or quarantine seemed like it would never end, I would comfort myself with a vision of the little studio apartment I’d saved up to lease in Ithaca. There would be houseplants galore, I could once again see my friends and I would be more mentally challenged than I am currently by my three-month free trial of Skillshare.
Enter Pres. Martha Pollack’s email, announcing the hybrid, altered semester and the start of classes on September 2nd. That email was the answer to a lot of my prayers, though there are the obvious limitations as a result from COVID-19. Yet, ever since it arrived in my inbox there’s been a sense of anxiety I can’t kick. As much as I’ve been itching to get back to the “real world,” or at least a version of it, there are still so many questions and concerns left unanswered. From logistical questions like How will large intro classes like CHEM 2070 operate? and Is it economically smart for me to return to campus? to more philosophical questions like Will it still be a positive, enriching experience? My little slice of heaven in Collegetown is about to become a reality and as excited as I am, it’s not the usual excitement I’ve come to expect from the beginning of a new year or semester at Cornell. Rather than just the nervousness over my ability to successfully manage my course load and on-campus clubs and secure an internship, I’m nervous about all the possible permutations of things that could go wrong. What about the inevitable parties? What if an outbreak disrupts the already altered semester? And, on a more shallow level, Do I even remember how to interact with people in real life that aren’t my family? Cases are on the rise again and people are more tired than ever of quarantine restrictions. Are we about to undo all of the work that’s been done over the past months? I can only trust the epidemiological model referenced in Martha Pollack’s email. It makes sense, and the more testing the better — but there again is that anxiety that comes with the many unknowns faced at this time.
Just as leaving Cornell after the unprecedented spring semester was bittersweet, so too shall be the return. There will be friends, but we will have to remain physically distanced and there will always be background concern. Late night study sessions at Mann with friends will likely be replaced by fighting sleep on my couch with my cat trying to climb on my laptop keyboard. There will be dining halls and Temple of Zeus, but with reservations and takeout. For the incoming freshmen for whom this semester will be their introduction to Cornell, I do not know whether to pity their lesser experience, or envy the fact that they don’t know the little college quirks they won’t get.
Walking across campus with a mask is by no means something to complain about in context, but it will make for another unprecedented experience in a year already chock full of them. However, whatever comes Cornell, I will be seeing you soon— I’m sure you will be gorges.
Emma Smith is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Emmpathy appears every other Wednesday this summer.