Cornell is ever-changing, and it took me the better part of my college career to make peace with this reality. Whenever I felt I had found a foothold at last, Cornell came around again to challenge my conviction. Are you sure this is what you want? By the way, here’s some new information. This rapid change has been overwhelming at times, and I will be the first to admit that I am not the best with change. But in the midst of this uncertainty, Cornell has also become my second home. As terrifying as it all seemed to me once, it now feels remarkably familiar. I can’t walk by any part of campus or Collegetown without thinking about how these people, places and things converged in one place to encompass my college experience.
To the people: you know who you are, but I want you to know that you have shaped me irrevocably for the better. You come from all walks of life and it has opened my eyes. I have learned so much from listening to you, laughing with you and crying with you. I have breathed in your kindness every single day and, make no mistake, it has led me through some of the toughest times I can remember. There is no Cornell without sharing “going out” clothes with you, eating late night Insomnia Cookies together or sitting across from you in a crowded Libe Cafe. I have loved seeing you in passing on my way to class and for hours on end in eHub. You make Cornell what it is: lovely, lively and indelible.
To the places: you have shown me, a SoCal girl born and raised, what the world has to offer. The first time it dropped below thirty degrees in Ithaca my freshman year, I couldn’t believe my eyes (or any other part of my body). Since then I’ve lived through four snow days, a polar vortex and too many rainstorms to count. I’ve seen distinct seasons and how the cycle of life flashes by before I can even remember when the leaves started changing color. I’ve crossed the bridge over Triphammer Falls and realized that people travel far and wide to see what I see on my daily commute. I knew when I visited I would come to love Ithaca, but I never knew I would love the parks and wineries around the Finger Lakes, the rows of tents selling handmade crafts at Applefest or the tree-covered mountains in the distance whichever way you turn. Growing up, the scenery I knew was fire-scorched brown hills, concrete buildings and an occasional palm tree; I can’t emphasize enough the literal and figurative breath of fresh air this place has been to me.
To the things: I cannot possibly name you all, but I can give a sampling. The exact amount of salt tossed on the fries at Appel. The grapes in the salad that comes with your sandwich at Cafe Jennie. The jars of gratitude slips at the Resource Center in Willard Straight. My twin-sized duvet, intended for my dorm, that I still use on my full-sized bed in my Collegetown apartment. Succulents lining the windowsill. The chalkboard at CTB. Sunsets from the Slope. The student ID card that will have carried me from Barton to my last flight out of Ithaca. I would argue that here, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. Instead, these individual details are what I will miss the most: things that slowly, quietly became familiar, comforting and unquestioned parts of my life at Cornell.
In 2016, the year 2020 seemed like a lifetime away. Now that we’re here, I’m scrambling to hold on to the faces, places and moments that have become so near and dear to me in these last four years. What with coronavirus, snow in May and my upcoming move back across the country, I can hardly tell that my final semester is not another lifetime in itself. Yet even now, I find myself leaning, once again, into new people, places and things, taking comfort in the knowledge that even the vast mystery that was once Cornell has become a familiar friend.
Natalie Fung is graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences. She was a Web Editor on The Sun’s 137th Editorial Board.