May 8, 2022

DO | In Search of Memories

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In my first-ever opinion column for The Sun, I lamented the social and academic setbacks of a virtual freshman year. One change of major, six Orgo prelims and 13 columns later, the ticking clock I referenced in that column is ticking ever still. This finals season marks the end of my career as an underclassman and the beginning of the far scarier latter half of college — a transition made no easier by the incompleteness of my first two years at Cornell.

To put the absurdity of the situation into perspective, I, a pre-med student, have taken two closed-notes finals at Cornell thus far. Two. That averages to half of a legitimate final exam taken each semester. I’ve lost more umbrellas this year than I have taken real final exams in my entire undergraduate career. MCAT, here I come.

On the topic of illegitimate assessments of academic capability, I also switched to an English major this semester, joining the ranks of future Starbucks baristas and freelance spoken word poets who are also Starbucks baristas on the side (as a humanities major, I’m allowed to make these sorts of jokes now). Majoring in English was never remotely on my radar until last semester, but thanks to this column and two English courses at Cornell that I’ve greatly enjoyed (and the reassurance that I’ll still be pre-med), I’ve decided to bite the bullet and switch. I haven’t noticed any significant changes yet, though I suspect artisan coffees and smelly used book stores may lie in my future. 

What’s most bewildering about wrapping up the first half of college is how socially underwhelming it’s all been. So much time has passed and I’ve gained a lot of the hyper-specific knowledge that higher-level academia revels in. I’ve met plenty of new faces, majors and hometowns and learned about lots of different upbringings, fears and tentative plans for future careers.

But in 30 years when I think back to the moments that defined my young adulthood, will transcribing Orgo mechanisms and 1 a.m. Wings Over really rank high on that list? I’m sure that I’ll look back on even the most mundane habits with some level of nostalgia, but the general population has crowned the college years as a time of formative discovery and risk-taking. What will it mean if the next two years are just as isolated and mindless as the last two have felt?

Becoming a junior doesn’t magically speed up time or limit my ability to make these lasting memories, but it does mean that I know from experience exactly how long I have left at Cornell. My mind knows what two years here feels like — and so far it’s a lot of awkward banter, small talk and takeout meals in my dorm. Assuming I’m able to study abroad next spring like I plan to, I’m left with three semesters to find somewhere in Cornell to plant my flag, to discover which circle I can ground my college experience in beyond the vague routines of solo dorm life. 

Or maybe just I will be enough of a common factor to bring together all these separate experiences. I’ll be able to proudly declare that I “did my own thing” in college and am better off for it. The few friends I’ve serendipitously made don’t have to coalesce into a lifelong, ragtag group of pals. I don’t need to find a home away from home in order to enjoy college.

I always feel a strong temptation to live inside my comfort zone. I’m teetering on the edge between being a kid and an adult, so I can’t quite tell if my personality has developed enough to the point where I don’t need to be constantly challenging myself to imagine a newer, more mature Noah. I have two years left as a Cornellian and even less time actually on campus to discover whether college will deliver on the promise of lifelong memories. Maybe I’ll find my ragtag group, or maybe I’ll come and go with a few overpriced hoodies and close friends to my name. Either way, the time will have been spent on my own terms.

In my aforementioned debut column, I pinpointed a unique version of imposter syndrome that had inflicted me as a result of the headstart my peers seemed to get during the pandemic. As I leave underclassman-ship, the self-talking points I can make to quell that imposter syndrome are gradually losing their footing. I’m no longer a lonely freshman cooped up in his dorm because of strict distancing guidelines, nor am I a behind-the-curve sophomore who has to make up for lost time. I’m just a junior now, with no real excuse as to why I’ve yet to generate any good reminiscing material for me to remember college by. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that I have made friends with some amazing people here. Without the very, very small handful of people I’ve moved past the small talk phase with, this column would be a far more depressing read than it is currently. What makes these relationships inherently worrisome, though, is time. If I can’t squeeze out a lifetime’s worth of friendship in two years, then I begin to doubt if it’s worth even trying at all. 

Community is a funny thing to search for in an environment like college. We’re old enough to have lost the magical innocence of childhood that can forge life-changing friendships out of seemingly mismatched pairs, but we’re also plagued with the insecurities of youth. No one quite knows what they want, but they go out looking for it, anyway. In my last two years at Cornell, I’ll have to find some way to drown out the ticking of the clock and live without the presumption of a good ol’ days experience. 

Noah Do is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at [email protected] Noah’s Arc runs every other Monday this semester.