Sometime in the middle of my freshman spring semester, faced with the uncertain prospect of my first summer returning home after a year of college and a busy finals season, I realized that I had no idea which path the summer would take. I knew that once the finals calendar reached its end, thousands of my classmates would embark on Europe, or Europe’s American cultural contemporary: New York City. Would I join the masses? How would my summer take shape? As I saw the LinkedIn announcements from fellow students and heard from friends discussing their summer plans, I could feel the pressure from Cornell’s culture to have a productive or otherwise exciting summer.
Most Cornell students are faced with a deluge of summer opportunities: travel, more travel, internships and time to spend with friends. The abundance of opportunities can become a paradox, creating the impression of scarcity instead of exciting possibilities. Since most are trapped by the desire to secure a dream internship while also showing off their trips to Europe, the access to so many options quickly becomes a stressful, overwhelming state in which the seemingly endless opportunities and time spiral into a lack of time and energy. As a rule, no matter the circle or sphere at Cornell, comparison, overthinking and a perfectionist mentality tends to invade Cornell’s academic and social life.
Yet, once I stopped seeing the summer as an obstacle and stripped away the perfectionist mentality, I realized that I could take control of the summer and do what I wanted to do on my own terms. The weeks and weeks of nothing on the schedule became a blessing — a time to sleep, travel near and far, rest and gain motivation from myself, friends and family.
During the academic year, short-term considerations abound, from rushing a social or professional fraternity, joining clubs, writing papers or applying for internships. The summer is a time to refocus and think about the long-term directions of friendships, relationships and career goals. These reflections can take shape by traveling outside the United States to view your expectations, experiences and goals from an outsider’s vantage point. Alternatively, old friends can remind you of the person you used to be and the dreams you used to have, providing a realistic point of comparison and baseline for your current problems or successes. Rekindling relationships with far-flung relatives can also provide a critical dose of reality into your life and provide an anchor for your future ambitions.
I am proud that I achieved those goals this summer. My time away from Cornell was defined by low stress, great times with friends old and new and a richer connection to my heritage and future ambitions. For those that cannot travel far, I would suggest discovering new perspectives and finding purpose in your local area through volunteer, professional or religious organizations, mentoring younger students or finding local areas that bring relaxation and refuge.
Regardless, the most important aspect is that as the summer winds down, in order to stay sane and fulfilled, you should be excited to return to Ithaca from your time spent away, whether at home or traveling abroad.
For those lucky enough to travel, it is hard to leave the laid-back atmosphere of Europe or the company of friends you have known for years. But alas, you must be dedicated to Cornell to succeed and pursue your dreams in Ithaca.
As the summer drew to a close, I was grounded by the loyalty of my friends and family at home. But most of all, I was excited to return to Cornell and the life I built in its vaunted buildings. And this, I believe, is what is most important.
No one can ever describe the appeal of Eddie or Catherine Street to a Mediterranean or Californian beachgoer, but the ephemeral, ambitious and simple nature of Cornell’s spirit is what makes it special and beckons our return. As I sign off on my first column, I advise my fellow students to reflect on their time away from Cornell. Cut off distractions whenever possible and take time to rest so that once the clocktower’s chimes are within earshot again, you can hit the ground running.
Aaron Friedman is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Honest AF runs every other Thursday this semester.