When putting down my name on The Cornell Daily Sun’s “Graduation Column” Excel sheet for my final word in our newspaper, I intentionally picked the last date possible. Not because I just published a separate opinion piece last week or that I had other commitments coming first, but because I had hoped to come up with something inspiring to write about with some more time. As I am sure my editors have learned by now, I have a habit of waiting for inspiration to strike but ultimately writing down six hundred words of whatever I was thinking about a few hours after the submission deadline. This time is no different, but I have one final piece of advice for all Cornellians.
I read through what the other columnists have written and reread some of my own past pieces to see if there was something I had meant to say these past two years as a columnist but never got around to. My first column, You Should Walk to Class, encouraged students to look around themselves at Cornell. The columns after that included advice on taking certain classes, playing a club sport, identifying with our Collegetown, being civically engaged, exploring Ithaca, watching television, adventuring outside, visiting every corner of campus, knowing your rights, how to write a resume, enjoying snow days, celebrating your birthday, watching our athletics, understanding (and re-understanding it for those who missed it the first time) our restorative justice system, becoming a teaching assistant and more.
However, during the summer in between my junior and senior year I wrote my favorite column, The Importance of Fine Art in the Dormitory Experience. While I encourage you all to go read it rather than having me recount it, it marked a substantial shift in my time at Cornell.
I was walking into senior year knowing I was almost done and was beginning to step away from all my involvements, even though there was still an entire year to go. Although I had done it every day in high school, I had forgotten the importance of reflection and I began my last year as one with intentional reflection. My first column told people to slow down and look around. This one said not to slow down, but to stop and look around. This column and that first reflection of senior year involved an alligator-crocodile named Steven, my dorm’s mascot and continued watcher over our apartment on East Buffalo Street. Steven made me reflect. And it would not be a The Mehl-Man Delivers column without a positive piece of advice for all Cornellians that Steven has bestowed upon me.
Steven wants you to reflect and enjoy Cornell. During my final stints as Cornell’s and ILR’s ambassador for prospective students, alumni and other Cornellians, the same phrase appeared again and again: You pay too much money and spend too much time at Cornell to be miserable. You simply cannot afford to be. Those of us from New York and attending a contract college pay $267,336 to attend Cornell; everyone else pays $352,600. There is no scenario in your life where you should ever spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to hate your time and self in central New York.
I must admit that I do not have the panacea to not be miserable at Cornell. How to be happy at Cornell is something that every Cornellian must find themselves, and it is something everyone might have to rediscover as they grow throughout their four years here. For me, it has looked like sixteen different jobs, eleven different executive board positions in over a dozen clubs, a semester’s worth of credits over what I needed to graduate and changing my career path endless times. When I found myself frustrated with my situation at Cornell, I took the active steps to change it. Sometimes that meant dropping a class, quitting a club, not returning to a job the next semester or simply calculating how much my grade would decrease if I opted for more sleep instead of doing another assignment. I personally discovered what made me happy at Cornell. But as that changed over four years, I continued to learn what made me happy and I actively worked to change it. It is too easy to succumb to the cold and dark skies of Ithaca and despise your situation. But the reward for admitting what makes you dislike your time at Cornell and what makes you love it cannot be understated.
I found what and who I love here at Cornell. Even at graduation’s door, I am finding out more about what I could love further. I know there is more here for me and that has convinced me enough to stay one more year for a master’s degree. But for every other student, I know you are either graduating or returning for classes next year. Regardless, you are most likely reading one of the last things you will read in The Sun for either three months, three years or even three decades. For that, I have my final piece of Cornell advice: reflect. Find what makes you reflect and actively do so. Reflect as much as you can and reflect with the intent to change your time at Cornell for the better.
I decided before writing this column that despite the allure to thank people in my graduation column, I knew that if I attempted to do so I would forget at least one person who truly should not be forgotten. So instead, I want to thank two “people.” Firstly, you, the reader, who has much better things to do with your time than reading what I write; you have my deep gratitude for reading. I hope you learned something about Cornell, yourself, and, ideally, both from my two years of writing.
And thank you, Steven. You represent more than a reptilian plushie but an idea that if every Cornellian stopped, reflected and appreciated all that they have, changed what they did not like, and lived their best lives at Cornell, we can do just about anything and everything.
Patrick J. Mehler is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected] This is the final installment of his fortnightly column The Mehl-Man Delivers.