November 28, 2021

DERY | Bring Back Recess

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“College is the last time you really feel young,” I overheard a dad tell his daughter on a campus tour as I waited for a hot chocolate at Libe Cafe. The drink was my weekly reward for working on a problem set for the past several days. You know, “young” people things. The contrarian in me wanted to approach this dad with my own opinions on the matter, but the opinion columnist in me prevailed, resolving to just write an article about it instead. So I just grabbed my cocoa and left. 

In my day-to-day life, the only activities that I still share with my youthful, 5th-grade self are catch and movie nights. In some sense, they’re what keep me “young.” But, the slow end to my youth had arrived much sooner than the end of college. Since the later years of grade school, I’ve been forced to set aside hobbies and other careless pastimes of old due to a larger and larger commitment towards academics and a future career. If I had to put a finger on it, it all started when they took away my recess break after 5th grade. I say, it’s not too late to bring it back.

Picture this: It’s 10:55 a.m., which means that the end of your third Tuesday lecture is only five minutes away. You’ve processed maybe 30% of the information thrown at you this morning. Maybe. All the content is scribbled down somewhere in your notebook anyway; you’ll get to it later, but definitely before your test on Friday (right?). “It’s going to be one of those weeks, huh?” you think to yourself. Your leg starts twitching. This time, though, it’s not from the stress. 

It’s 10:57 a.m. now — only 3 more minutes until recess. What begins as a few backpack zippers closing has now devolved into mayhem. Students scramble towards the door to avoid being stuck in the back, doomed to wait fifteen minutes before their first at-bat during kickball. 

From somewhere in the back of the crowd, you hear a commanding yell:  “Single file, everyone!” It’s your chemistry professor — you forgot he was chaperoning today. As your class peels out of Baker Lab, you see dozens of others migrating towards the Arts Quad: The daily 30 minute recess period for your year has begun. 

Back in my recess heyday, 30 minutes was more than enough time to rise through the ranks from Jack to King in Four Square, join in on a game of tag and even stir up some drama by the playground. Now that several quads and an entire slope replace a measly elementary school schoolyard, the possibilities are endless. It might even be time for Cornell to consider building a playground outside of Olin Library just to get us in the spirit.

The haters (who I bet were those same people spending their entire recess talking to the teacher) will tell you that we’re too old. To these readers I ask: Could it be that we were just too young for recess back then? In third grade, a 10 minute tutorial on how to add 28 and 37 justified a carefree hour outdoors. Our third grade selves failed to appreciate the notion of what was, frankly, an undeserved break. A decade later, this same generation of Cornell students are tasked with memorizing dozens of lectures and churning out essays left and right with hardly any time to catch our breath. Whenever we scroll through our phones or zone out to escape work, in a deeper sense, we’re just craving those games of Four Square that we grew up on — but were suddenly deprived of.

The truth is that Cornellians need recess now more than ever. More often than not, the vast majority of mental breaks I take throughout the day end with a 3-minute period where I draft a new resolution to stop falling down Youtube rabbit holes. A regimented 30-minute school-wide break would be a good fix. It’d be a sacred time to put down our busy lives and solely dedicate ourselves to a game of hopscotch. Or Four Square. Or frisbee. 

Bummed out because of an exam on Friday? Nope, but only because I’m “it” in tag for the second time in a row — even after I explicitly said “no tag backs.” 

How’s my essay coming along? That doesn’t matter now — it’s the bottom of the ninth in kickball. 

Do I have a job interview in 10 minutes? Possibly, but it’ll have to wait until the end of Sharks and Minnows. 

For those of us whose minds spend too much time drifting off and worrying throughout the day, what better way to reallocate that stress by being thrown into playground drama. For others who are always on the lookout for the next quirky, Cornellian experience, what better way than to enjoy recess in college. 

Now, imagine the dad who, just after telling his daughter that “college is the last time you really feel young,” is suddenly tapped on the shoulder. He turns around, only to see a student holding a large hot chocolate yelling “Tag, you’re it!” Looking back at his daughter to tell her “nevermind,” he begins his pursuit across the arts quad. After all, it was 11 a.m.: recess had begun. 

Roei Dery is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. The Dery Bar runs every other Monday this semester.