August 29, 2021

DO | The Sophomore Slump (Class of 2024 Edition)

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I think I speak for all my fellow sophomores when I say that the clock is now ticking louder than ever. If Junior year is supposed to be our tryhard era, Senior year is our final hurrah and Freshman year was, well … you know … then where does that leave us? Where’s our proper introduction to Cornell and college life in general? When do we get to experience Cornell as seasoned college students without our futures breathing right down our necks? 

I am constantly forced to confront these questions as I encounter the small surprises of a fully in-person college experience. As I enter my sophomore year, my parents are more comfortable navigating Cornell’s dining halls than I am. Every other question they ask me about campus is met with a blank stare and a sigh that says, “Yeah, I know I should know that, but I totally don’t.”

After a year of strict social distancing, being in the bathroom at the same time as one of my suitemates feels like a serious breach of privacy. I can no longer disguise my bouts of total social isolation as well-founded, but self-sabotaging, exercises of “caution.” The signature look of superiority I don whenever passing by groups of maskless students must now retire. All sorts of things have to change.

At the same time, though, it seems like we’ve missed out on so much change during the past two and a half years. So much of it either didn’t happen  or happened so anti-climatically that any of its significance went right over our heads. I think I still feel a greater sense of farewell watching the end of High School Musical 3 than I ever have thinking about the ten-minute glorified photo-op that was my high school graduation. 

More important than missing out on all the flashy stuff, though, is the awkward and mundane way we floated from high school seniors to college freshmen. Luckily, the relaxing months spent in lockdown helped to clear our minds and prepare us for a focused school year. We were all refreshed and ready to tackle a brand new academic challenge. Zoom breakout rooms were filled with bright, shining faces and riveting discussion. We attended all our lectures live and used recordings as valuable study material throughout the semester. No late nights were spent in PSB watching BIOMG 1350: Introductory Biology: Cell and Developmental Biology lectures for the first time the night before a prelim. Right? That’s definitely what happened, yeah? Guys?

Alright, so obviously, none of that is true. Quarantine was a total drag and by the end of it, we were soulless shells of once-motivated high schoolers. According to a report released by ACT, “two out of three students had academic challenges and concerns … during the pandemic.” No one wanted to be on Zoom because everyone looks nasty in the morning and Heaven forbid your peers see what you really look like and not a glamourized version. 

During my short two days of in-person classes, I’ve realized how difficult it is to shake off my old Zoom-era habits. In-person lectures are packed and stuffy while smaller seminars are just plain awkward. Part of me wishes I could return to being a nameless, faceless user amidst a sea of default Zoom profile pictures. The part of my brain that indulged in the isolation is constantly at odds with my own worries about leaving Cornell without a close group of friends. In-person classes were supposed to be the spark that my social life needed, but the reality is turning out to be something different. Everyone’s talking about how great it is to be back on campus, but for plenty of sophomores, there’s not much to come back to.

I’d like to tell myself that things will turn out okay in the end. For the most part, I actually believe it. But, it seems like there are people all around me who already have their stuff figured out. They made friends, found communities and took advantage of their newfound college freedom despite the circumstances. Everyone already has their cliques, their prejudices, their go-to lunch buddies. In my unique manifestation of imposter syndrome, I find myself wondering if this is just how things are going to be. Am I going to spend the rest of my college education floating between chatting groups, with no real circle to call my own? 

To any other ‘24-ers asking themselves these questions, I can offer little more than a proverbial pat on the back and assurance that you are not alone in your struggle. Our college experience will be unique, and therefore valuable in its own right. All the setbacks we’ve experienced are part of a plan and by the end of it, we’ll look back and understand why things played out the way they did. In the meantime, though, let’s look forward to the years we have ahead to make Cornell our own.

Noah Do ‘24  is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at [email protected]. Noah’s Arc runs every other Monday this semester.