May 5, 2021

CHANG | The Walk

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A Cornellian can map the stage of their college education by the walk they take. Is it the freshman scramble across the Thurston Avenue bridge to make it from North Campus to Central Campus before attending a massive lecture? Is it the harried sophomore climb from West? Is it the pajama-wearing senior who slothfully meanders from Collegetown northwards, still struggling with last night’s hangover. Or is it the other kind of senior who’s always running late and already two coffees in before the sun is even overhead?

Or is it me, planning to meet a mentor at Olin Hall but really meaning Olin Library, and wasting twenty minutes of everybody’s time? Even after four years, some things don’t change. This school is still massive and everybody still runs around with reckless abandon, balancing several exams, homework and a social life to boot.

But perhaps the changes are far more telling. I take myself much less seriously compared to freshman year. I use stupid words like “yeet” and “sadge” all the time because they’re funny and I already have enough boomer (or “dad” according to some) energy. I now know I’m not that naturally smart (especially at math) and I need to work much harder than others for the same grades or results. I found out I wasn’t predestined for the pre-med life but also realized that other intellectual pursuits were way more fun and rigorous. A high-strung attitude took an enormous toll on my emotional and mental health and it wasn’t worth it. I’m okay not being the best at something — or anything — that’s just part of college and life.

But I also know that I don’t need to pretend to be someone else I’m not. In so many coffee chats, we are told that companies want to hire someone who’s easy to work with and approachable. To convey that in interviews, we are to overplay our personality traits that convey teamwork. I no longer subscribe to that view. The easiest way to convince anybody that they should hire you (or just be friends with you) is to actually be a genuine and easygoing person, which starts from being comfortable with yourself. And, if you aren’t a genuine and easygoing person, perhaps reconsider the kind of person you want to be.

Writing columns for The Sun has been an integral part of my time. Primarily, it has forced me to reckon with viewpoints that disagreed with mine — often in constructive ways, and sometimes in actively destructive ways — over the past six semesters (with one sabbatical). Some columns are barely read, especially when compared to the hard-hitting content my colleagues put out each week. Some work is not my best work: I remember visibly cringing as I hit the submit button when the biweekly noon deadline came. I am ever grateful to the editors who laboriously corrected my mistakes and helped tease out trite ideas. Special shoutouts to Katie Sims ’20, my first editor; Paris Ghazi ’21, who wisely asked me not to go forward with garbage; and Ethan Wu ’21, who I still go to when I have questions about economics.

Insofar as I’ve hastily thrown together ideas, there is also work I’m proud of because it represents diligent research and very personal thought. The early era of this column reflected often on politics and economics and published some very unqualified and unpolished hot takes. The middle era of this column wrote a controversial article about Cornell and faith that inspired multiple letters to the editor. The latest era was an exhaustedly rebellious take it or leave it “say what you mean and mean what you say” phase. I learned how to take criticism (ignore the Facebook comments and respond to the emails that were serious), how to present ideas that may have been better as either a tweet or a research paper and how to loudly complain into the void. Good luck to each successive generation of columnists and opinion department editors. The opinion section at The Sun is a special and sunny platform to play with, but use it wisely so it can continue shining brightly.

Remember the mentor I mentioned meeting at Olin? That specific meeting never actually happened, but the mentorship did. I am thankful and beholden to the different people who have looked out for me, including several older friends and a whole host of professors in the economics (and later the statistics) department who not only had wisdom but also the willingness to care even when I wasn’t taking their classes. Without them, my path at Cornell might have looked a lot different and filled with even more twists.

That is the story of my journey through, and what I think should be the spirit of Cornell: people willing to help other people. More than most places, Cornell lends itself to walking alone — physically through its snowy large campus, mentally through long semesters and spiritually by the construction of high-brow liberals. But, it does not have to be so. Take the time to truly care about and for each other.


Darren Chang is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected] Swamp Snorkeling runs every other Thursday this semester.