May 9, 2023

LEYNSE | Finding Your Voice in Cornell’s Cacophony

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I will confess, I was scared of The Cornell Daily Sun’s opinion section as a freshman. I know, that sounds bad coming from someone who was the editor of the opinion section for a year — along with the amazing Katherine Yao ’23 — and loved it. Little did I know when I first joined that The Sun would teach me my most valuable Cornell lesson: how to find and articulate your voice, and how to uplift the voices of others. 

But when I first joined The Sun right before the pandemic as a confused and overwhelmed freshman, the opinion section was scary. Let me explain. The idea of putting your own voice out there, writing your opinion about anything and putting your name on it for the whole internet to see, was terrifying to me. As a new college student, I didn’t see the value of being so public with my opinions. 

I read the columns in The Sun, about anything from the struggles of student life to conversations about fundamental issues at this University, and I was in awe of the confidence of these writers in putting their voice out there for their peers and all of the Cornell community to read and think about. As a freshman, I did not feel like my voice mattered enough to be published.

I started on The Sun in the Arts and Culture section back when it was still Arts & Entertainment. I was unsure if I even wanted to join, but I liked writing about books and exploring the arts events on campus, and I loved the flexibility and creative expression that arts and culture journalism gave. Before I knew it, I was drawn into the Sun rabbit hole — and I am so, so much better because of it. 

In February of 2020, right before the pandemic grabbed my college experience by the throat and choked it, I met Cornell and Sun alumnus Marc Lacey at a visiting journalist event in the basement auditorium of Goldwin Smith. Lacey, now the current Managing Editor of The New York Times, talked about his experience on The Sun and in journalism and gave his thoughts about the changing landscape of the journalism industry. 

I went up to Lacey at the end of the event and, after countless minutes waiting in line to talk to him, I asked him a question. Explaining my uncertainty about joining The Sun, I asked if he thought I should join. I don’t know what I was thinking when I asked that, but he laughed and said something along the lines of Of course you should! Just try it out. And so I did, of course. I think I would have ended up at The Sun no matter what, but that push was what I needed. 

From my time as an arts writer to arts editor and finally associate editor, The Sun taught me how to cultivate my voice and support others in doing the same — an important lesson that no class at Cornell has taught me in the same way. The Sun has shown me just how vital it is to share your voice, to find what is important to you and scream it into the void, because someone will hear: That’s the first step toward change. As a cohort, the Sunnies in the class of 2023 ran the paper during numerous national and campus-wide events, from the University and campus response to the murder of George Floyd in 2020, to the lacking state of mental health support on campus after numerous student deaths in 2022. During all these events, articulating student voices in The Sun was vital in contributing to the campus conversation.

By writing and editing, I discovered my own voice on The Sun, and learned how to support other writers and empower them to share their voices through empathetic leadership. 

To any new student at Cornell, I say this: Spend time harnessing and articulating your own voice. Cornell can be cacophonous. There is so much going on at all times, so many dialogues and conversations, that it’s easy to feel like your voice doesn’t matter. But it does. Find your version of The Sun, a place where you know that your voice matters.          

In our time at Cornell, in these four (ish) years, we get a chance to be a part of something special. The Sun has been a special thing for me — something so unique and chaotically precarious and beautiful, kept alive by passionate students and enthusiastic alumni, just like any other student organization. 

  I want to thank all those passionate students who did The Sun with me: To John Colie ’23, who convinced me to join arts and brought me to my first Sun info session; To Vee Cipperman ’23, who got me to make a wholesome podcast with them during our first stressful compet season, and later brought us out of the pandemic as our valiant EIC; To Catherine St. Hilaire ’22 and Odeya Rosenband ’22 who taught us the ropes of the associate and opinion editor positions; and last but not least, To Katherine Yao ’23, my opinion editor-in-arms, who I could not have managed the opinion section without. A special thank-you to John Schroeder ’74, who has kept the heart of this paper beating for decades with his tireless dedication, and to all the alumni whose passion keeps us afloat. I am eternally grateful for all these people who have made my time on The Sun a highlight of my Cornell experience.

It’s safe to say, I’m not scared of the opinion section anymore; I admire everyone who is not afraid to put their voice out there among Cornell’s cacophony. Do some exploring, don’t devalue your own voice and listen to those around you. And maybe, Cornell won’t be as cacophonous as it may seem. 

Emma Leynse ’23 is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. She served as Associate Editor on the 140th Editorial Board, and as Assistant Arts Editor on the 139th Editorial Board. She can be reached at [email protected]