September 22, 2021

SPARACIO | Are We the Next “Lost Generation”?

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It’s been three weeks of walking to class and three weeks of “the real college experience.” These three weeks have felt oddly normal with ClubFest and homecoming crowds littered with masks and bustling with the awaited conviction that this is what college is really like. These events allow for the essence of normality. Though as I walked through the Arts Quad with my friend, we talked about still feeling “lost.”

It’s been three weeks of Ithaca’s characteristic sunsets, one of the only things that’s remained the same on campus. Sunsets of orange and violet capture day fading into night, painting a backdrop of color on our time here. As a sophomore, I’m still learning where the buildings are and I’m still being mistaken for a freshman. The word “sophomore” comes from the Greek word” sophos” meaning wise and the word “moros” meaning foolish. We, sophomores, are wise fools, Google-mapping lecture halls and navigating the wisdom our freshmen year has given us. The word sophomore captures the paradoxical nature of our reality.  

It’s been three weeks of sitting at my West Campus desk, where Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises sits on my shelf. I bought this book with a friend on the last day of classes last year; complete with the Wrigley’s double mint wrapper that the person who owned it before must have used as a bookmark. The book tells the story of the generation of young people in the 1920s who faced the aftermath of World War I. They were deemed the “lost generation” — a term originally coined by Gertrude Stein — which was used to embody the disappointment and lack of purpose these young individuals felt having survived the war. Ultimately, Hemingway concluded that although his characters were injured emotionally and physically by the war, they were not truly lost. 

It’s been nearly a century since Hemingway’s book was published. Now, in a time of horrific loss due to the pandemic coupled with deep political polarization, the idea of a “lost generation” seems to echo from the past. I think that we, college students, are part of a lost generation. We have witnessed society break apart in ways that have far reaching social, political and economic implications. The milestones we missed due to the pandemic form a pit in our stomachs, allowing us to feel the gravity of time that we won’t ever get back. But how do we process loss when we are dressed up in suits doing club recruitment? I watch our generation take hedonistic measures; getting blackout drunk on weekends or believing that we are powerless to change our current situation. These ideas are reminiscent of Hemingway’s characters who travel to Europe, also get quite drunk and descend into a sort of nihilism. 

Hemingway’s generation felt that history was moving in the right direction, that progress was being achieved. However, watching the technologies of the industrial revolution cause large scale death and destruction dampened the spirits of many, and it’s needless to say that their “war to end all wars” was no such feat. Our generation is caught in a different type of technological dilemma. Lifesaving technologies like vaccines are developed, but the effort to vaccinate people falters as it’s faced with reports of fake news and incompetent political leadership. New social media platforms like TikTok elicit nostalgia as they prompt people to dress up from past eras, repost scenes to old movies and bake banana bread. But we must ask ourselves: Is escapism the only route we are willing to take when facing the whirlwind of issues shaping our future?

We are a lost generation, but we shouldn’t want to be and we don’t have to be for long. A big part of not being lost is finding yourself and, quite literally, finding the people around you. It’s important that we help each other bounce back from a year on Zoom. Talk to the people sitting around you in class, go to dinner with someone new, text a friend you met during O-week and haven’t spoken to since, be more creative, discuss ideas in your common room, ask the hard questions. Do the opposite of what you did last year — study in the libraries if you haven’t, raise a discussion point in class if you don’t usually speak, say hello to the professor that you only met on zoom, show up to that club or that panel or that event. Give yourself the gift of the “real college experience.” 

Sometimes I can’t help but wonder what my Cornell experience would be like without the pandemic, but I think that the last page of The Sun Also Rises sums it up pretty well. The book ends with two characters Jake and Brett sitting in the backseat of a taxi. Brett says to Jake, “We could have had such a damned good time together.” Jake replies, “Isn’t it pretty to think so.” 

Rebecca Sparacio is a sophomore in the Dyson School. She can be reached at [email protected]. The Space Between runs every other Wednesday this semester.