From homesickness, to imposter syndrome to deciding on a career path, incoming freshmen face a wave of challenges. With her new podcast “Dear Cornell Freshmen,” Anna Canny ’21 hopes to create a platform that validates the hardships first-years face.
Before it became a podcast, “Dear Cornell Freshmen” was a letter writing campaign started by a group of seniors in 2016. They would write letters to their freshmen year selves, reflecting on their four years on the hill, recounting funny anecdotes and giving their younger self advice. These letters were a way for current freshmen to realize that the struggles they were facing were universal.
Canny was one of the freshmen that found comfort in these letters.
“I had a really really tough freshman year and was not very happy. I felt very disconnected and was really doubting being at Cornell and finding a place to belong,” she said. “Reading some of those letters myself was really helpful. Freshman year did get better, and I kind of moved on from it.”
After a one year pause, the campaign was revived by Canny’s friend and housemate, Annie Fu ’20, who had also found the letters helpful during her freshman year. Canny joined the campaign as an editor last spring because she wanted to carry on the legacy that supported her early in her college experience.
The idea of a podcast arose from Canny wanting to delve into the world of audio journalism after studying environmental science.
“I wanted to use my senior spring to do something independent, something that would give me a lot of editing experience, a lot of interview experience, a lot of storytelling experience,” Canny said.
The podcast has already launched and has released two episodes. It will continue to release one episode per week, focusing on topics including COVID-19, friendship, identity, mental health and failure. Moving forward, Canny plans to work on a website that collects letters, photos and audio samples.
Canny hopes the audio format will resonate with her audience in a way that the letters couldn’t.
“There’s something about the human voice, especially in times where you really don’t want to be alone that can bring you into another person’s perspective fully,” she said.
Canny believes that as a graduating senior, nostalgia can tone down some of the challenges faced over the past four years. By allowing seniors to really reflect and remember the struggles they faced, she hopes to showcase to freshmen that college is a series of highs and lows.
“It’s not necessarily the best continuous four years of your life. There are ups and downs and I think having to slow down and remember that is valuable,” she said.
Canny is unsure what will come of the podcast after she graduates but she hopes someone will continue with the project. Even if the podcast is not continued next year, she believes the collection she launches at the end of the semester will resonate with freshmen for years to come.
“It’s a really worthwhile project for me to be curating this content now because a lot of it stands the test of time. A lot of the fears that freshmen had 10 years ago are similar to the fears the freshmen have now,” Canny said. “So I think a lot of this content will be almost like a time capsule slash a hub of resources for students.”