May 8, 2022

LORENZEN | When We’re Sixty Four

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I’ve written more columns for this opinion section than I can count. I mean that literally. Just now, I tried to figure out exactly how many and lost count. In all fairness, I’m a writer — basic math skills are not my forte — but as I look back at my body of work for this newspaper, I am flabbergasted by it. Some of it is decent. Much of it is probably terrible. Yet all of it, for better or worse, reflects my voice and my ideas. In my three and a half years at Cornell, I’ve inadvertently created a sort of intellectual time capsule for myself.

As I sat down to craft my graduation column, I wanted to articulate my journey at this school. I wanted to dig deep into my Cornellian heart and find those classic words of wisdom for the next generation to walk across Ho Plaza. I wanted to read these columns and trace from Point A to Point B in my development as a person, writer and thinker. In a way, I wanted to do what every single column I’ve written, what almost every single piece of my writing does — tell a story.

I wanted to use the name of my column, the inspiration for which has such deep personal meaning to me, to consider how I would view my collegiate life decades from now. I wanted to reconstruct meaning from each and every moment from my time at Cornell and grind those moments down into a single story to tell myself at age sixty four. I wanted to grapple with how we are to remember our youth and how we are to make a youth whose story is worthy of fond remembrance.

I’m not going to do that. 

My time at Cornell has not been a single story. I don’t have the arrogance — at least not anymore — to see myself as any kind of protagonist either. When I’m sixty four, I don’t want to look back at my college years as a chapter within some grand story of personal development — a collection of lessons learned and skills gained through three and a half years in the Ithacan tundra. When I’m sixty four, I want to look back at my college experience without telling a story. I want to look back at my college experience and simply remember it. 

Stories demand editing. They demand rearranging scenes, reinterpreting their meaning and fitting them together as a house of cards that appears to the reader, if you’re successful, to be a house of brick. But my sole desire as I leave this hallowed place — this university that, for all my avowed cynicism, I love with every naive part of me — is to remember it exactly as it was.

I want to remember every class that changed my perspective on the world and every class that I struggled to stay awake during. I want to remember every glorious party, every drunken conversation had with friends whom — as was drunkenly exclaimed far too often — I love. And I want to remember every party where I felt awkward, inhibited, struggling to muster the confidence to strike up conversation with a stranger as a bumbling introvert. 

I want to remember each beautiful, sun-drenched day on the Slope and each frigid, miserable winter night that made me wish I’d stayed in Miami. I want to remember every success, every little award and good grade and accolade that gave me further evidence to convince my anxious mind that my work had value to someone somewhere. And I want to remember every time that I fell short, every time that staring down Vladimir Nabokov in the English Lounge until 4 a.m., trying to find inspiration, shockingly did not yield a quality essay.

I want to remember the arguments in classes, clubs and apartments that made me think more critically than ever before. And I want to remember the arguments that were a colossal waste of time, that I was too young and hard-headed to realize the futility of arguing. I want to remember every recipe that I taught myself, cooking elaborate Italian meals for all of those aforementioned beloved friends. And I want to remember every cooking adventure that ended up borderline inedible.

I want to remember falling in love during my senior year — each deep conversation, each silly inside joke and each little, everyday moment that made this the best year of my life. And I want to remember the times when I felt lonely and unsure of myself for years beforehand. I want to remember every piece of writing that I did here, chasing the ghosts of Vonnegut and Morrison, inevitably falling short but feeling genuinely proud of myself for attempting. And I want to remember every moment of writer’s block, where I questioned whether I was talented enough to hack it.

I want to remember the feeling of getting accepted to grad school, of making Phi Beta Kappa, of being named a Merrill Presidential Scholar, of having proof that I belonged here. And I want to remember the feeling of showing up to Cornell as a waitlisted applicant whom they offered a chance to if I agreed to enroll in the spring — worrying that maybe I wasn’t good enough to be here.  I want to remember growing closer to my family than ever before during a semester spent at home amidst the height of a global pandemic. And I want to remember losing nearly a year of my college experience to COVID-19, spending nights filled with anxiety and fear over the loss of a youth I’d previously taken for granted.

When I’m sixty four, I want to remember it all. Cornell has not been one story for me. It has not been one lesson for me. It has been a frenzied, beautiful time. It has been the greatest honor of my life so far. And it has been three and a half years that I do not believe I could ever possibly forget.

Andrew V. Lorenzen (he/him) is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. This is the final installment of his column When We’re Sixty Four.