For my graduation column, I don’t want to write about all the things I could have done differently at Cornell — all the invitations I should have accepted, all the classes I could have taken if I had stayed another year. Instead, I want to cherish the three years I had at Cornell exactly as they were — in all their inconsistency and imperfectability. As a student who entered Cornell as a freshman during the COVID-19 pandemic and will be graduating this May, I can say that approximately half of my time at Cornell occurred under pandemic restrictions. Unlike some students in my original class of 2024, I found myself ready to leave just as Cornell was beginning to return to normal. After a quick tally of credits, I realized that I could, in fact, graduate in three years. So the decision was made to graduate a year early, and I have not regretted it since.
When I tell people I plan to graduate early, I am met with raised eyebrows and wide-gaping mouths. Most are completely surprised at the notion that I would not want to spend as long as humanly possible at an institution as great as Cornell. They recall stories of their own college experiences before me, claiming those to be “the best four years of their lives.” They feel sorry for me that I won’t get to experience the “senior year” that I deserve. I rush to their aid to explain my rationale for graduating early, which many students have done before me for various personal and financial reasons. I tell them that college can’t possibly be the “best four years of my life.” I tell them that I want more than to pull all-nighters and to drown myself in energy drinks and alcohol on the weekends. While, at times, I find both of these things thrilling (in moderation), I think that there’s something about Cornell campus culture that makes many students take one or both of these to the extreme. These sorts of self-destructive behaviors are learned, and Cornellians are trained to be good learners. We’re not only good learners but also good listeners and thinkers too. We learn from lectures and, even more, from the conversations that we have with each other.
During my time here on the hill, I realized there is so much to learn from the people around us. We watch people crack and thrive under pressure and hear about each others’ slip-ups and successes. As an English major, I suppose I am naturally interested in reading and listening to stories that are not my own. If Cornell has taught me one thing, it’s that people love telling their stories and desperately want to feel heard. Offering others a genuine ear takes very little effort on the part of the listener and means the whole world to the speaker. Anyone who knows me knows that I talk a lot, but I hope to graduate listening more and talking (a bit) less.
My time volunteering at Cayuga Medical Center in the Mental Health Unit has allowed me to do just this, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to listen to so many stories. What started out as a pre-med volunteer opportunity evolved into something much greater. As a volunteer, my job was to socialize with the patients, and I became genuinely interested in all that they had to share. My time volunteering in town made me realize that there is so much more to my college experience than directly relates to what takes place on the hill. At times, Cornell can feel all-encompassing and somewhat suffocating, but it’s important to remember that we all have lives off campus that are just as unique and complex as those on campus.
I hope to take the stories of both locals and non-locals, Ithacans and Cornellians alike, on my journey to wherever I go next. I plan to stay in touch with professors and peers who have made my time here more than just bearable. I don’t really think my college experience will end when I graduate. I suppose that’s why I’m not too bothered by my decision to shorten my stay. I like to think of the real college experience as one where we learn, think and grow into young adulthood. I don’t think that I will stop doing these things when I leave. I hope to look onto the rest of my life with ease and satisfaction with how the cards played out. Cornell is part of my story now, and I know The Best Iz Yet to Come.
Isabelle Pappas is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. This is the final installment of her fortnightly column Like It Iz.