As another busy night at the restaurant where I work wound down, my last remaining table — a family of four — asked me if I was a student. I responded with the customary “yes,” knowing the next question would be “IC or Cornell?” They would be attending a tour of Cornell the next day and asked for my opinion having been there for four years. I thought back to my own tour of Cornell way back in 2017. I was on one of those tour groups that had perfect weather. My first experiences in Ithaca were visiting Steamboat landing and the farmers’ market in 75 degrees and sunny weather. I have photos of myself standing right under the very arch where I would get my heart broken sophomore year. I have photos of myself in Barton hall where I would take the hardest Chem prelims of my life.
It seemed like such a simple question when the family asked, “Did you like it?” The answer was far more complex. I’ve lost count of the hours spent studying, the missed connections, the friendships started, the ones that faded into the background, the breakdowns, the missed TCATS, the Zoom recordings watched, the triumphs, the number of times I’ve told myself “C’s get degrees,” the attempts at adulting, the clubs I signed up for at Club Fest and all the many experiences that I’ve accumulated over the last four years.
College was definitely made more memorable by having a pandemic in the background (and sometimes foreground) for three-quarters of my college experience. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t burnt out, that new variants, climate change, Ukraine, microplastics and all the other things that I have to push to the side to focus on my studies haven’t been weighing on me. Sometimes, these four years have felt like staying in a bubble, just crossing off things from a to-do list that eternally repopulates itself. Sometimes, it has felt like I exist in a microcosm of concentrated privilege and wealth that stresses the importance of being a self-starter and constant goal setter, all the while being reminded that some people your age can afford thousand-dollar coats and other students are applying for food stamps. I guess this is part of “any person any study,” but it doesn’t always quite play out in the inspirational way Cornell might have intended.
I certainly have my critiques (I’m looking at you Cornell Health), but I won’t lie: Cornell did its job. I have a double major and I’ve been accepted into the master’s program of my dreams. I know more about proteins and the carbon cycle than I ever knew I needed. While I’ve had my fair share of FOMO, I did meet many amazing people along the way. Despite being imperfect, I adore Ithaca and I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to be a part of its community. There’s nothing quite like the nostalgia of leaving somewhere you’ve spent many formative years. I’m not particularly sad to be leaving Cornell — honestly I’m pretty ready. Yet, the last few weeks have definitely made me appreciate my walk to class a little bit more, and I feel myself slowly forgetting just how bad my seasonal depression was as the sun begins to come out and the cherry blossoms begin to bloom outside Olin. The combination of hippie town and prestigious Ivy gothics will always make me feel a certain way after my four years here.
I guess after four years here I am truly a Cornellian, though I’m not entirely sure what that means. Mutual suffering in Baker Lab and abnormally strong calves? Or maybe it’s the memories that played like a corny coming-of-age montage in my head when the family at the restaurant asked me “Did you like it?” and I said “Yeah.”
Emma Smith (she/they) is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. They can be reached at [email protected] This is the final installment of their column Emmpathy.