I always wanted to write like Mike Royko. Royko was a Chicago columnist who never bullshitted or backed down from a fight. He represented everything I love about my hometown and what it means to be a great writer.
I never considered myself a great writer — when it comes to Hotel School cliches, I hit a lot of them. But I wanted to cover columns about Cornell, which I felt were lacking in the paper a few years ago.
My first column criticized Greekrank, a toxic website that focuses on Greek life gossip. I got called out repeatedly for the column, which was pretty funny and a good case in point. This gave me energy and a desire to poke the bear, which had some consequences.
My next column was my most read during college — and the one that I regret the most. It was focused on why Cornell should care more about their U.S news college ranking. It was a little funny and had a lot of the right messages, but was crude and needed more thought.
That sophomore year I wrote about different Cornell subjects, including a narrative on blood donations. Then I wrote my favorite column during my time at the Sun. It was about the unfair treatment of Ivy League eligibility for athletes during COVID-19. For those who don’t remember, the league decided that it would be the only sports conference in the nation that wouldn’t extend an eligibility due to the COVID-19 season loss.
I was proud of the amount of publicity it earned. The decision, thankfully, was later reversed.
That spring I wrote a few different columns talking about Greek life, COVID-19 and on-campus athletic facilities (you’ll notice similar themes). I took a break over the summer and came back with one of my best.
Cornell has a terrible pool problem, and has consistently avoided adequately funding them for decades. I wrote about the crisis, and had the privilege of being cited in a Cornell faculty meeting. We’re still waiting for Cornell to pick up the issue.
My column in April of that year focused on a favorite issue of mine, which is the fact that most varsity athletes are banned from joining Greek Life. I find this very unfair.
It might sound trivial, but get this: I got dozens of emails from alumni of all different ages. People care about this issue, and it’s something that I hope the new athletic director will address.
The next fall I wrote my only comedy piece, “Creatures of the Cocktail Lounge.” It was based on a water leak in Uris Hall that forced students to find new places to study on campus.
Later, I talked about the death of the Collegetown bar scene with “We Need More College Bars.” It connected with a lot of alumni, and I was invited to appear on my first podcast. There’s been no new bars so far, but I’m staying hopeful.
I wrapped the spring up with an article about the lack of funding for Cornell athletics, timed just before the destruction of Hoy Field. Seeing it get torn up a few days ago was a pretty emotional sight.
It’s time for me to head out, but I’m not ready for it to be over — I’ve been having way too much fun. I’ve grown significantly as a writer and a person, in no small part to The Cornell Daily Sun.
One of Royko’s best columns revolves around the death of a Chicago newspaper. He wrote, “When I was a kid, the worst of all days was the last day of summer vacation, and we were in the schoolyard playing softball, and the sun was down and it was getting dark. But I didn’t want it to get dark. I didn’t want the game to end. It was too good, too much fun. I wanted it to stay light forever, so we could go on playing forever, so the game would go on and on.
That’s how I feel now. C’mon, c’mon. Let’s play one more inning. One more time at bat. One more pitch. Just one? Stick around, guys. We can’t break up this team. It’s too much fun.
But the sun always went down. And now it’s almost dark again.”
Thank you, Daily Sun.
Brendan Kempff is a senior in the Hotel School. He can be reached at [email protected]. This is the final installment of his fortnightly column Slope Side.