September 7, 2021

YAO | Embracing My Inner Freshman

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I’m two years deep into my time here at Cornell, but I’ve never been to the Dairy Bar (this is your cue to gasp in horror). I wear my red Tatkon Center lanyard around my neck (in my defense, losing my ID on the second day of orientation really scarred me for life). I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve taken the bus to the Ithaca Commons. And, despite now calling a collegetown apartment home, I have to reorient myself each time I venture further down Eddy Street or Dryden Road.    

I’m a junior now, yet I’ve never fully shed my freshman persona. Just last year, I looked up to the juniors and seniors as those who had unlocked all of the college secrets. I envied the students gunning for employment on Wall Street or medical school in California with all the confidence in the world. Now, I’m the one providing advice to underclassmen on majors to explore, classes to cram in, and dining areas to frequent (Mac’s Café, duh). Now, who’s going to tell them that I’m still making it up as I go as well?

In my defense, if we’re going off of the “normal” college experience, I technically would be a second-semester freshman. After all, I’ve spent more time sleeping through online lectures at home than in-person ones in Ithaca. I’ve never watched the architecture students’ Dragon Day procession or had the chance to go wild on Slope Day. Maybe it’s time to accept that I’m a freshman in a junior’s body. Tatkon lanyard and Dairy Bar aside, I still feel almost the same as that 19-year-old who wrote columns about imposter syndrome and college fears. About freshman advising woes and early pandemic boredom. I find myself holding the same naive hope as the teenager at the beginning of the pandemic who thought that with enough time, everything would fall into place. 

Let’s be honest, there’s somewhat of a stigma in being four semesters away from leaving Cornell and still being lost. Freshmen are allowed to wander — in fact, it’s encouraged as a positive sign of change. Juniors, on the other hand, are expected to have majors picked out, club leadership established and internships finalized. But perhaps growing older doesn’t always mean having the answers. Perhaps growing wiser means embracing those freshman-esque feelings rather than stifling them. Perhaps wanderlust should be encouraged at all ages. 

After all, embracing my inner freshman doesn’t just entail accepting the uncertainty. As I creep closer and closer to graduation, I’ve tried to retain that unique sense of wonder that differentiates giddy freshmen from their jaded elders. Frankly, I don’t ever want to lose the irrational sense of delight that comes each time I pass by the hobbit hole that makes up the Uris Cocktail Lounge. I want to continue marveling at the scenery which makes this campus so idyllic. I still have it as my goal to visit every building on campus just to say I have. Maybe I’ll start on the Engineering Quad and see what all the fuss is about Duffield Hall. Or maybe I’ll start with the Dairy Bar. 

Katherine Yao is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Her column, Hello Katie, runs every other Wednesday this semester.