I came to a frightening realization the other day — I’m a senior. I’ve been vaguely aware of that fact for some time, of course. The little class year listed below each column tends to remind me. But as a former spring admit and someone who spent a semester studying remotely, it’s taken a bit of time to get used to the notion I’m nearly done at Cornell. It’s also hitting me that I’ve now been an opinion columnist for four semesters. I only have a small handful of columns left to write this semester and next. As such, I’d like to dedicate one column to waxing poetically about the chaotic wonder that is The Cornell Daily Sun opinion section. I love opinion, and I’d like to explain why you should too, if you don’t already.
I became a columnist in the spring of 2020 as a wee sophomore — eager to raise my voice in campus discourse and chase my burgeoning dream of becoming a writer. Of course, I had little idea of what I was doing. I didn’t really know much about writing op-eds. I knew that I could occasionally string a few words together that sounded semi-eloquent and sometimes, when I was quite lucky, those words would even make a rather interesting point. On a few occasions, there even emerged a certain kind of voice from those words. But for the most part, my writing was inconsistent and undisciplined.
For my first column, I decided to write about the thing that was literally and figuratively closest to my heart — my heart surgery. I used my cardiac history to discuss how the refusal of the American Heart Association to advocate for mandatory EKG screenings in public schools endangers the lives of student athletes everywhere. I expected this advocacy to go as it usually went: I’d scream into the void for a while without any real change. Instead, cardiac organizations around the country reached out to me with support. The American Heart Association even wrote a letter to the editor back to The Sun.
That first column led me to realize that my writing could actually matter — it could be read by real people, some of whom may even connect with it. And by offering whatever haphazard observations I had on an issue, I could provoke discussion. Sometimes, I would be right. Sometimes, I would be wrong. Sometimes, I would be right but phrase it wrong. Sometimes, I would be wrong but phrase it right. But regardless, what I had to say could actually have some value. Suddenly, writing was no longer a private, lonely endeavor. It was an open conversation with the people who walked beside me each day.
I learned something new with each column. I grappled with the contradictory thoughts rolling around in my head in real time. Looking back through my old columns, I see myself growing and hopefully maturing throughout my college career. I see myself struggling with the fear every writer has of saying the wrong thing or having the wrong opinion. I see columns that I’m proud of having written, and columns that I think are an utter mess. I see moments where I took a stand when I felt passionately about something and moments where I didn’t.
I can remember nearly every email I received complimenting my writing, and how much each one meant to me. I can remember every Facebook comment that called me dumb or disrespectful or laughably wrong. I can’t say for certain which category of feedback is more accurate about my work, but I know that I learned how to handle both reactions and stay true to myself.
A student-run and largely student-read opinion section is the rare place where the reader and the writer are mutually engaged in learning from one another. It’s not always pretty. We’re young, changing quickly and often wrong. It can get downright heated at times. But it’s a place that represents the best of what your college years can be — a place of exploration, where your successes and failures are viewed as equal investments in the development of your mind.
You should read opinion. You should write it too — apply to be a columnist or submit a Guest Room. You should tell columnists when you think they’re right or wrong. You should say what you believe, and then second guess yourself for believing it when everybody says you’re mistaken. You’ll be better for it. I know I am. And as I enter the home stretch of my tenure as a columnist in these next two semesters, I plan to take full advantage of it.
Andrew Lorenzen is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected] When We’re Sixty Four runs every other Wednesday this semester.