We all know the famous words uttered by Ezra Cornell as he founded a university far above Cayuga’s waters in 1865: “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” But oftentimes, that guiding light only receives lip service from many students.
As Cornellians, we are too often insulated within our majors or schools. This is especially true for colleges considered to be “pre-professional,” like the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the Dyson School, the College of Engineering or the School of Hotel Administration. We are often focused on only the classes we need to fulfill requirements, and the student organizations we believe are necessary to give us a leg up in the job or internship search process.
But while finding work afterward is obviously a very important part of the college experience, it is not the entirety of the Cornell experience. We have the rest of our lives to pursue professional connections, and grow within our chosen fields. But we only have four years to explore what one of my professors recently called “the biggest candy store in the world.”
Let’s change how we view Ezra Cornell’s famous words. Let’s live them, for real. If you have never taken a course outside your major or college before, do so next semester! Some of my favorite courses, from Introductory Oceanography to the Death Penalty in America, have come when I ventured beyond the Dyson School in Warren Hall. Furthermore, these courses have given me additional perspectives that I would never have considered, that have helped me excel in courses within my school and major. You can truly find instruction in any study — so go do it. Learn just for the sake of learning!
Secondly, if you have never engaged in a club or student organization purely for fun, I highly encourage you to do so. At a place like Cornell, we all need outlets where we can have fun, so we are refreshed and ready to tackle the prelims, problem sets, and homework assignments that lie ahead. I promise you — it will not look worse on a job application if you join a club that isn’t designed with a pre-professional purpose. In fact, you may look more well-rounded, and even gain some valuable experiences if you eventually take on a leading role in that student organization.
Furthermore, do something I wished I did more of — participate in physical education in some way, shape or form. Take a PE class — Cornell is offering 147 of them this semester alone. This spring, I’m taking Handgun Safety, and not because I need it to fulfill any requirements. I’m taking it because understanding how to use firearms is a useful skill to learn, especially under the guidance of Cornell instructors.
This leads me into my final point — do things you would not have the chance to do after graduation. After I move back to New York City in June, I will likely not have the chance to learn how to safely use firearms, or learn about oceanography, or explore the complexities of our capital punishment system. Having the chance to do all these things at Cornell has made me a better student, and a more open-minded learner. And most importantly, doing these things did not deprive me of any professional opportunities — the Dyson School has prepared me well for multiple excellent internship experiences, and a job opportunity that I am very excited to pursue in the summer.
So to conclude, let’s try not to silo ourselves, or restrict ourselves beyond what’s necessary. Let’s take advantage of the great candy store that is Cornell University. And while each of us cannot necessarily find instruction in EVERY study, let’s find instruction in as many studies as possible before we graduate.
Isaac Chasen is a senior in the Dyson School. He can be reached at [email protected] Cut to the Chase runs every other Sunday this semester.