May 12, 2021

CRONIN | Ithaca is Gorges: In Bagels, In Invites, In Laughter, In Tears

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I first fell in love with Cornell at age ten. On a weekend visit, we did all the quintessential 161 list things: hockey game at Lynah, breakfast at CTB, walking the waterfalls, ice cream at the Dairy Bar. I was enchanted by the scenery and the campus culture, and my enchantment was enhanced by the many legends my mom (Class of ’87) shared with me. Cornell became my dictionary definition for “college.” It’s image was inflated like a parade balloon.

So come senior year of high school, despite touring dozens of other schools, I knew I already belonged to one place. I cried when I was accepted, ecstatic at the prospect of freedom to explore my multitude of interests.

This honeymoon came to a painful halt once I actually began classes here. I failed my first test. I hated and subsequently dropped a class. As the calendar pages flipped, I changed majors and friends. Experienced more existential crises and breakdowns than necessary (even for a dramatic 20-something). I felt both lost and completely at home. Yes, I crossed breathtaking gorges on my way to class. Yes, I was (mostly) healthy and happy. But the bubble was popped; the system was broken, college wasn’t quite the movie montage I had hoped it would be. 

My personal revelation was echoed on a national scale; our country was also experiencing an identity crisis. After spending my pre-college years fighting for climate change policy reform and witnessing the victory of the Paris Climate Accord, a dumb despotic leader took the reins and dashed any (perhaps naïve) dreams of environmental salvation. Witnessing the actions of Trump’s administration revealed that democracy wasn’t some gleaming, infallible institution, but a ramshackle patchwork held together with crumbling bricks. If nothing else, my education here has revealed to me that the systems I once blindly trusted are really corroded and dysfunctional.

Waking up to corruption and inequity is unsettling, but it’s also part of growth. I am privileged to have had my reverie shattered this way later in life. During our four years here, the class of 2021 has collectively witnessed a rollercoaster of unprecedented, challenging events locally and nationally. In response, we advocated for change. In some areas we took steps forward, in others, we took two (or three) steps back. 

Despite these setbacks, being part of this inspiring Cornell community renewed my optimism that the corrosion can be remediated and function can be restored. I still believe in the power of individual and collective agency. During my time on campus, I tried to chip away at these issues in my own way, through policy change advocacy, political campaign organizing and voter outreach. I had the opportunity to represent New York district 23 as a delegate on the local ballot. And when Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54, one of Cornell’s biggest heroes, fell, I helped celebrate her legacy in a campus-wide ceremony. Honoring her life was one of the greatest honors of my life. 

My optimism about college was also renewed. It was renewed by venturing beyond the confines of campus and my own mind. I discovered the Black Diamond Trail through running half-marathons, Edwards Lake Cliffs Preserve through biking, Cayuga Lake through kayaking (and wine drinking). I auditioned for the Vagina Monologues on a whim and ended up onstage chanting “clitoris” 20 times to 1,000 people. I drove across upstate New York to talk with voters about their political malaise. Local farmers taught me about the wonders of hemp, inspired me to learn more and ultimately write a 70-page thesis. 

As a freshman at The Sun, I was entrusted to write news articles about campus events and given [email protected]. As a sophomore, I was given a desk and welcomed to an ivy-covered building that would become my second home. And as a senior, I was given the opportunity to shape and contribute to our collective record of the historic events of the 2021 election.

The venture I cherish most wasn’t a crazy adventure or an intense interview, but a humble meal. My first semester, I accepted a dinner invitation to my Intermediate Yoga professor’s house. It was the best RSVP I’ve ever made. His family helped me discover the true meaning of community. Over countless plates of squash, rice, vegetables and ambrosial desserts, I shared laughs and bumped elbows with fellow students and Ithacans young and old. This Friday macrobiotic, vegan meal ritual continues to this day and has been one of the most precious parts of my time here. 

So what would I tell my younger, eager freshman year self? It’s hard. Harder than you expected. It’s not a straight or predictable path to the finish line. Your seasonal affective disorder will not serve you. Balancing work and life is an impossible pursuit, and the weather is depressing for 75 percent of the year. But you are lucky to attend school in one of the most beautiful, vibrant, crunchy college towns in the country! You can find fulfillment if only you step out of your comfort zone, and say yes to dinner invites! The Commons is only 15 minutes away if you sprint down Buffalo Street! This place has so much to offer beyond academics! Oh, and no, you will not master latte art, but you will master mediocre barista-ing at your dream workplace — CTB!

For these four years, there’s no place I would’ve rather grown than Ithaca. After listening to many tales of Cornell glory days gone by, I often wonder how I will remember and measure my trials, triumphs and adventures. Will it be in bagels, in slope sunsets, in midnight edits, in cups of coffee? In print pages, miles of hills walked, in laughter, in tears? 

All I know is that I will happily contribute to the folklore of this place, but without the sugary coating. I regret that I didn’t get to complete the 161 list. (The Rutabaga Curl, Chili Fest, PorchFest and Grassroots music festival are all still on my personal list). Thank goodness, they give me an excuse to come back home. 

To my fellow Sun writers and editors: thank you for giving me the space to push my creative boundaries and a place to call home. I am so grateful to be part of a community of some of the most well-rounded, witty, compassionate people I know. I won’t claim that every delirious 2am night at 139 W State Street was worth it, but the pages of work will be lasting evidence of our dedication to improving our surroundings. You all have given me every reason to stay hopeful for the future.

Amanda H. Cronin is graduating from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She served on the 138th Board as a Senior Editor, and the 137th Board as a News Editor.