When we think of a rock, we tend to think of something solid, strong and well formed. Yes, rocks come in many shapes, sizes and colors, but a rock is a rock… right? It can be touched, examined and identified.
When I picked up a rock, I used to not think about where it came from, only the potential for where it can go. I considered the rock only as it was in the present neglecting the hundreds of millions of years it took to reach this form and the form it will take on when another hundreds of millions of years pass.
When I first entered Cornell through the Prefreshman Summer Program, I thought I was a pretty solid rock. In the same way a piece of sediment may consider itself a boulder, or a boulder may consider itself to be a mountain.
By the beginning of my Fall semester, I realized that I was still a small formation of organic matter, unable to size up the solid giants that roam this campus. I wondered if I would ever be strong enough to shatter the glass ceiling and attain the successes that were expected of me. In order to reach that goal, I had to be willing to push far past my limits and achieve as much as I could, otherwise I would never make it.
My journey was tumultuous,peppered with wins, losses and the constant feeling of having to do more because what I could offer wasn’t good enough. I allowed my experience and this institution to shape me: weathering, melting, cooling, compacting and distorting. Breaking me down and building me back up again. Sure, pressure can make a diamond (given the right starting materials), but it can also burst a pipe.
The most precious rock I was blessed with at Cornell was a community, and without them holding me down I may have burst. I found a community where I felt I belonged, that could serve as the wind, water, ice and fire to help shape me within the greater atmosphere of Cornell. It was this community that helped me realize that change isn’t one-sided. If just one rock can change its environment, a whole bunch of rocks can enact an even bigger change.
This fueled me to push far past my limits and achieve things that were beyond my expectation. By entering new spaces and taking action, I could change Cornell as much as it was changing me. For example, joining The Cornell Daily Sun and shining light on the sentiments of the Black community in my column I Spy. I learned that it was not my job to solve the major injustices present at institutions like this one, it was only my job to make a difference. It is hard not being able to see the tangible impacts of our work, but sometimes we don’t see the fruits of our efforts until much later. Even the smallest decisions can make a grand impact, especially when you are not making that decision alone.
Although it is hard to conceptualize what an equitable and inclusive institution may look like, that doesn’t make it impossible. During the 156 years since Cornell University was founded, the university has made revolutionary decisions to admit female and underrepresented minority students, establish multicultural organizations and academic programs and advance workforce diversity. But many of these changes have been ignited by students, like the 1969 Willard Straight Hall Takeover which led to the establishment of the Africana Studies & Research Center.
It is students who are the wind, water, ice and fire, shaping the school like a rock. Students shape this school by engaging in courses, extra-curricular activities and on-campus jobs. It is the school’s job to create an environment conducive to learning by creating an environment where students can apply what they learn.
In this upcoming academic year following the disruption of COVID-19, much of the student body will not be socialized by the pre-COVID cultures on campus. This is an opportunity to create a new one. We know more than we did before about making education more accessible and what issues are at the forefront of concerns for students (i.e. mental health, diversity and inclusion), and we should apply it.
I implore students to use their collective power to make Cornell a better experience for those coming after them,to use their imagination and make bold demands about necessary changes. I am so grateful for my growth during the four years I’ve spent at Cornell and the lessons I have learned. Everywhere we go we have the power to make a difference, no matter how big or how small.
Aminah Taariq-Sidibe is graduating from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com. This is the last installment of her column I Spy .