September 28, 2020

ST. HILAIRE | Cornell 2020: The Strugglympic Games

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You know what I hate? Competing in the “Strugglympics.” I don’t remember where I initially learned the term but I know that it has seamlessly made its way into my daily vernacular. For those of you who don’t know what it refers to, urban dictionary defines it as “When one person, after hearing of the difficulties of another person or persons, tries to top the difficulties and struggles by showing how much harder they’ve had it.”

For example: “I have a prelim this week and I am really worried about it.” A non-Strugglympian would respond in a comforting way. They’d maybe ask the person what’s going on, attempt to reassure them. A seasoned Strugglympian, however, would counter with something along the lines of, “Wow, really? I have two prelims this week and one of them is physics. I’m sure you’ll be fine.” Isn’t that infuriating? When did people stop letting us revel in our problems?

Since 2020 started, everyone has competed in at least one strugglympics, and everyone is going for gold. It’s unfortunate because this year has been marked with loss, a fact that was succinctly mentioned in my good sis Sidney Waite’s latest, Waite, What? There are Strugglympians everywhere: In your lectures, your clubs, your friend circles, probably in the mirror. I can admit it: I hate the petty competition, but I’ve definitely played the game myself.

The other day I found myself partaking in the Strugglympics while talking with my friend about studying abroad. I told her that I couldn’t understand why people had become so invested in something that was unlikely to happen. Afterall, I had made my peace with the fact that I wasn’t going anywhere this spring. It really does be like that sometimes. And to an extent, I think my admission was true. 19-year old, present-day Catherine had made peace with the fact that her dreams of a spring 2021 study abroad at Oxford just wasn’t going to happen. What I failed to consider was that the 15-year-old version of myself who promised to study at Oxford when she went to college had not made peace with the harsh reality. I think that’s why when the email came, I started to cry.

For reference, I wasn’t the one crying. It was my younger self who was upset at the fact that she had done all this work to get into a dream program that was ruined due to a virus she was convinced was out to get her. I was mourning my study abroad plans that had been set since last October, and I didn’t even get the chance to do so before we were onto one of our nation’s biggest losses; that of Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54.

This year, we haven’t been entitled to mourning like we used to. It started when Kobe Bryant passed away, and people likened the experience to losing a family member. They were met with inconsiderate responses. Chadwick Boseman passed, and I, along with my friends, found myself mourning my first black superhero. People didn’t fail to remind us that he was just an actor, and that hundreds had lost “actual family and friends” to COVID-19. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, people likened it to losing their grandmother, but didn’t get the chance to grieve. Instead, we were immediately confronted with the fact that her replacements and the Senate were ready to make shit happen. We don’t get a chance to breathe, or just be sad anymore. Everyone is too busy moving on to the societal implications of our trauma, effectively invalidating our daily struggles.

I came out of quarantine really jaded. I had learned to push my emotions to the side a little too well. I forced myself to see the uninterrupted time spent at home as “a blessing to practice self-improvement”: Pick up a hobby, start exercising, become better. Twitter was an endless feed of people who lost thirty pounds while being home, started a business, even wrote a book. I sat there, helpless, upset and resentful towards a virus that robbed me of so much. I have yet to confront that.

Instead, it was time to tune into CNN, watch a colossal number climb higher daily and reconcile myself with the fact that it represented lives lost. From there, I had to get up and fight for my life, and the lives of my dad, my brother, my uncles and my cousins as Black men in this country with targets forever on their backs. I have yet to stew in it, in the stack of L’s that I have acquired, from January until now.

I’m still really upset about Oxford. In a way I feel that I was entitled to the experience, after spending hours on a personal statement and making sure my resume was immaculate. However, I can’t go, and that’s something I will continue to work through for myself .

To my peers who have lost things that are really important to them, but seem miniscule in the grand scheme of things, please allow yourself to mourn them. To the Class of 2021, I’m sorry that your senior year looks like this; to the Class of 2024 (my brother Charles included) I’m sorry that your introduction to college looks like this; to the people who were unable to return to Cornell this semester, I’m sorry that you aren’t able to be in Ithaca; and to my fellow study-abroad hopefuls, I’m sorry we were robbed of this experience — we’ll see the world one day. Oh, and to the Strugglympians who are so determined to get the gold even if it means invalidating other people’s feelings along the way, do us all a favor: Sit down and shut up.


Catherine St. Hilaire is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at [email protected]. Candid Cathy runs every other Monday this semester.