Ithaca has been rainy lately. It feels like everyone is sick — either with COVID-19 or that classic mid-semester cold. The former is, of course, unrelated to the recent easing of masking and testing regulations on campus. And the latter is, naturally, unrelated to the inundation of prelims, essays and projects tumbling down from Canvas onto students during this time of the semester. We’ve reached the doldrums of spring at Cornell. Spring Break is just around the corner, and yet … there’s so much left to do between now and then.
As a second-semester senior, I often find myself reflecting on my time in college these days. Lately, that’s entailed going through my old lists as a form of procrastinating on tackling actually pressing work. At the end of every year that I’ve been at Cornell, I’ve written down a list of experiences I had that year, of all the little moments that I don’t want to forget. Freshman year, sophomore year and junior year each have a handwritten list beginning with “This year, I …. ”
Some entries are serious, high-minded stuff — academic and professional breakthroughs that meant a lot to me. But most of them are the exact opposite. They’re random, half-forgotten memories with friends. They’re things that I find somewhat endearing and somewhat embarrassing. Little examples of personal growth, like tick marks on a wall chronicling a kid’s height over the years. Each list has its fair share of the mistakes and painful moments typical of the naivete endemic in young adults. I haven’t tried to sugarcoat these lists. They’re just for me, anyway.
I never really had much of a reason for writing them. I don’t normally journal — this column is about as close as I get — so the practice of writing these lists doesn’t come instinctually to me. Yet sometime after I finished my freshman year at Cornell, I felt so in love with this place and all the people I’d met here that I wanted to ensure, somehow, that I’d remember it all. Or at least the most important parts. I figured I’d probably read the lists someday twenty years down the road and remember my college years fondly.
That part might be true, but I find myself returning to these lists often while still in my college years. During moments of frustration, moments of failure, I have lists that show me exactly how far I’ve come. In moments when I feel awkward, inhibited, I can look back and see the excitement of an even more awkward, more inhibited freshman version of myself when I excitedly wrote down literally all the friends that I’d made my freshman year. In moments when I feel stuck in the mud professionally, I can read my excitement at landing my first real job. In moments when I feel listless, I have lists — lists that prove to me exactly how far I’ve come.
The collegiate experience does a uniquely powerful job of grounding you in the present. You have assignments, exams upcoming. You have grades that will be logged at the end of the semester. You have an array of social and extracurricular commitments this week and next. There’s no time to look back because you’re operating full-throttle just to stay upright in the present. Some of that is good. It keeps you in the moment. But it also consistently prevents you from remembering all the moments that led up to the present in your college years, all the prior versions of you that led to this one. It prevents you from giving yourself all of the credit that you deserve.
For me, these lists help ground me when I need it. They also help me expand my definition of progress. As someone who, like many Cornellians, has a bit of a workaholic streak, it helps to force myself to see the college experience as more than an array of academic and professional accomplishments. Barely anything that I write about in my lists has to do with anything serious. It’s stupid stuff that I did with my friends. It’s a recipe that I taught myself. It’s something that, in hindsight, made me more of a fully formed human — one who, I hope, is getting a little bit better every year.
I’m not trying to persuade you to keep an identical list for yourself. But I am trying to persuade you that when you reach that point of listlessness, that point of frustration, you should find your own way to remember your earlier college moments. When it’s 1 a.m., rain is pelting your window, your sniffling is growing suspiciously frequent and your five page essay due in a few hours only has your name written on it, you should take a moment and remember that you’re doing better than you think. You should remember that you’ve come farther than you realize. You should remember that there’s more to this than just the next assignment on your to-do list. In fact, there’s an entirely different list that is buried, somewhere, deep in your brain. And that list means much more.
Andrew V. Lorenzen (he/him) 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.