As President Martha E. Pollack has announced, a return to in-person learning and an arrival at a true “new normal” is imminent. While I would guess that COVID-19 testing, masks and even Zoom will be a semi-permanent addition to the Cornell experience, mandatory vaccinations and increased medical infrastructure all but guarantee that herd immunity and pre-pandemic socialization is on the horizon.
I’ll be the first to admit it, I’m a washed up senior who wishes his last two years of college weren’t defined by a pandemic. Further, I am feeling particularly nostalgic for my underclass years. With that being said, it seems obvious to me that we begin to think about how to, practically, revitalize certain aspects of the Cornell experience come the fall. Perhaps, it is best that we prepare for the inevitable truth that Cornell will never again be the same.
For those needing a bit of a refresher and for newly admitted students, your first few weeks on campus are generally pretty standard. You will be picked up your first night by an orientation leader who will bring you around to some campus-sponsored social events. If you are lucky, they’ll give you an address for a Collegetown party later that night. For those with no such luck, come 11 p.m. or so, first-years make a mass migration to Collegetown — with friends they will never see again after that week — to grovel for entry into filthy fraternity parties. Following your first night of partying (if that’s your thing), you will stumble hungover to the far reaches of campus for your class photo, only to find out that half the class ditched the event.
In the following weeks, hopefully you will meet some true friends. People who will grow with you during your four years here. People who will support you through all of your worst moments. And, hopefully, people that will be with you far beyond the city limits of Ithaca. You will attend concerts at Barton and Bailey Hall together… the night A$AP Mob took over Cornell was something different. And, eventually, you will flock to the Slope on a sunny afternoon in May so that the likes of Steve Aoki and Galantis can serenade you.
The Cornell we perpetuated is not perfect — in fact, it’s far from it — but the experiences and trauma we shared had a way of bonding us together.
Come June, the only class on campus with any true recollection of pre-pandemic Cornell will be the class of 2022, who were sophomores at the onset of the pandemic. I exclude the class of 2023 as this group (if their first-year experiences were at all similar to mine) were only just coming into their own on the Hill when we were sent home a little over a year ago. Thus, an awful lot of responsibility will fall on rising seniors — whose time is being consumed by applying to grad schools and jobs — to lead the Cornell revival. I wouldn’t count on it.
But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. As I’ve mentioned prior, the Cornell experience has a lot of challenges. The workload, at times, is unbearably difficult. Social events, like the ones mentioned above, are exclusive and often dangerous. The dominance of Greek Life on campus, as was present in the 1960s when the first push to dismantle Greek Life began, has reached a point where its penultimate abolition ought to be a real consideration. And recent campus events have reinforced in me the ideology that student mental health is a secondary concern for the University.
For these, and other reasons, I suggest that it’s time to leave the Cornell we knew in the past. To the Class of 2025, the title of this column is misleading. Cornell doesn’t have a chance to reinvent itself, you have a chance to reinvent Cornell. Be better than we were. Hold your professors and administrators to a higher standard than we did. Hold each other to a higher standard. And, most importantly, make Cornell what you want it to be. It would certainly scare me if I was told as a first-year that I couldn’t rely on guidance from my more senior students. However, that’s the reality of the situation. And like all Cornellians have for nearly two centuries, you will rise to any challenge that is presented to you.
I want to make one thing clear: I loved my Cornell experience. I was one of the lucky ones who was able to get a CAPS appointment within 24 hours my first-year when I suffered my mental health crisis. I had great professors and advisors who supported me in my time here. Although I’m excited for the next chapter in my life, my heart hurts knowing that I will soon leave Ithaca.
But the current reality at Cornell is that this experience is not universal. Unlike most alumni and soon-to-be graduates, I’m excited to come back to Cornell in 10 years only to feel like a tourist. I encourage my peers to adopt a similar attitude.
Peter Buonanno is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. The Wyckoff Club runs every other Friday this semester.