October 13, 2021

SPARACIO | A Common Room Education

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I loved the natural light of the Low Rise 8 common room — the way it streamed through the windows and danced on the walls. I photosynthesized beneath the light on a couch, where I reached for en“light”enment. I sat in a room with people who have “reached for the stars” ever since they first raised their hands in class, but in the common room everything becomes more ambiguous. I listened to conversations that swirled like stars against a blue night, turbulent and luminous, painting my canvas in the style of Vincent Van Gogh. Things aren’t black and white anymore but Ithaca grey, less definite and more discussion based such that when we do “reach for the stars” we can make our own connections, our own constellations.

The couches were so stained that they possessed wisdom. They jutted out onto the deep blue rug, like continents slowly reaching into the ocean. There was a linguistics major who traversed the room by climbing from couch to couch, and figuratively she was some kind of explorer circumnavigating our little world. The common room was a synthesis of humanity, collecting individuals with different majors and experiences who deliver their stories of the day like soliloquies. 

The physics major gave into the gravitational pull of the common room, sitting on the couch to talk about politics. The chemistry major would set his large textbooks on the table before he settled into a focus stronger than covalent bonding. The common room was almost cohesive, conversation sticking together like water molecules. The biology major studied osmosis as the steady diffusion of people in and out of the common room shifted conversations. The philosophy major talked about morality deep into the night. The engineer analyzed the breakdown of structures into their simplest parts, as the linguistics major broke words into prefixes and suffixes just to put them back together again. “Interdisciplinary” is not a buzz word in the common room. 

There was a little round wooden table that I sat beside criss-cross applesauce and a little bee infestation, complementing the endless buzz of conversation. Two large refrigerators hummed, absorbing gossip and political theories, opening their doors to a rush of cold air and the chilling sense that I would never know everything there is to know. I remember the uneasy feeling of questioning that settled in the air around me, filling the space between adolescence and young adulthood. A loss of direction and a reach for answers, a reach for the stars and a need for more time before I can grab them. I am stuck in the endless cycle of shoulder shrugging, unlearning, and uncovering within the marketplace of ideas. 

We need to make time for the common room. It’s a place where we can develop our professional and personal selves simultaneously. It’s a place where we can take what we learn in class and throw it out there, just to see what others think. My professor introduced me to the idea of being “entrepreneurs of ourselves.” This is the concept that we are constantly finding and creating ourselves. The common room exposes us to the chance of discovery, where atoms of consciousness collide and provide us with real world applications to the information we learn. The transience of the college experience may force us to leave these spontaneous conversations behind and the rise of social media may reinforce and strengthen our previously held conceptions, when we need college to do the opposite (in many ways it already does). We get to decide what we are reaching for.

At night the common room became silent and studious. I used the common room as another part of my Cornell education. In the common room people bumped into each other by chance to share a moment of time. Conversations spread like a coffee spill, rushing across the table before dripping onto the couches which become stained with caffeinated wisdom. When I was a freshman, I liked to sit there deep into the night.

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.