September 17, 2020

FOX | A Premature Senior Column

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Editor’s Note: Elijah is enrolled as an online student this semester, focusing his time on local and national politics. His column will focus on politics and the experience of remote study during Cornell’s first-ever hybrid semester. 

I thought I’d have another nine months to write my senior column. In the way each class of columnists did before me, I was to write a final opinion in May reminiscing on my time at Cornell and bidding farewell to the people and place I love. Even in the age of pandemic, the day I left while the community carried on felt far off. A few weeks ago, I decided to accelerate that end departure to the present. This Fall, I enrolled as an online student and I will not be returning to Ithaca.

With this country’s political battles more important than ever before, I am devoting my time and energy to the critical social and political movements of our day, particularly elections. It is a trade-off I’m sure was right to make, and it remains possible that I return for the second semester of my Senior year in some capacity. But I am all the same deeply saddened to say goodbye.

I wish it weren’t like this, but I am thoroughly thankful for what I did get out my three residential years at Cornell. Freshman move-in day, after the parents had left, my roommate and I walked the halls of the 5th floor of Mary Donlon Hall to introduce ourselves to as many people as we could meet. With each major and hometown we got, the ice cracked a little. With each phone number added to our contacts (structure: First Name, D5 for “Donlon-5”), the foundations of a community were laid. Many of my fondest Cornell memories were formed on that floor of that dorm; many of my closest friends as I write this are those I met in these first few hours in Ithaca.

The first class I took at college was a history class on the creation of culture and identity in 19th century America. I enrolled with my best friend from summer camp who was also among the only people I knew entering Cornell. By some fluke, the two of us constituted one-third of the total enrollment in this course taught in a full-sized lecture hall (his discussion section turned out to be just him and the professor each week). Immediately, I was immersed in the full intellectual depth and rigor that I had been promised.

My three years there followed suit. Through fights and failed exams, holidays and heartbreaks, the learning was unparalleled, and the friendships have been incredible.

While the bittersweet of the graduating Senior is the dispersal of four years of friendships all at once, I am among the only people I know who chose to not return. Although changed by the coronavirus, the semester in Ithaca lives on. Each day, I am reminded by “stories” on Snapchat or Instagram of experiences being shared on and off the Hill. The FOMO that infects so many of our college thoughts does not apply here: I have no fear of missing out. I have confidence that missing out is exactly what I signed up for. I do not regret the choice, but I just want to take this opportunity to say goodbye.

To my professors: Your steadfast commitment to your work and warm devotion to your students is a testament to your intellect and character, which are never praised enough.

To the Cornell Dining staff: Serving alongside you has been one Cornell’s great pleasures, with a special shout out to the fine folks at Cafe Jennie.

To the Ithaca Tenants Union: For what you have accomplished since inception and all you are sure to achieve in the coming months and years, I am so proud of you.

To the friends I made, from the first day all the way through to the last one: You are above all the greatest thing I have gotten from Cornell. It has been the honor of a lifetime to grow and to discover with you. I cannot wait to extend our adventures beyond the confines of our cherished Cayuga corner, and, together, set sights on a world to explore.

I hope this is all premature. I hope that the forces of democracy and justice triumph in these elections, and we can all return to a campus in the Northeast of an America that has chosen to live up to its founding principles. I hope a vaccine or commitment to social distancing makes an in-person semester possible.

But I owe to the community that has gifted me the greatest three years of my life a goodbye, if it proves necessary, and a thank you, no matter what. There is nowhere I would have rather been, and no one I would have rather been with, than Cornell University with you.

Elijah Fox is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at efox@cornellsun.com. What Does the Fox Say runs alternate Thursdays this semester.