The spaces that were once empty are now full. They are so full. The freshmen are living in “quintuplets” , a striking contrast to my own freshman-year living situation where I was the lone resident of a triple and occupied a suite alone. It was a lonely introduction to Cornell, and perhaps one that will never be fully shared or understood. That is something for the better.
Walking around campus, I realized that most of my peers are younger than me. I’m about to turn 21, though I’m holding on to 20 in a way that suggests I’m not ready to let go of it. On Aug. 7, what began as an inside joke on a Washington D.C. side street became a personal movement: “20 days of 20” (and subsequently an idea for an article that my wonderful friend and editor can publish on the first week of classes). The premise of this idea was to do something “new” each day until I turned 21. I cut my hair and pierced my ears again, things that I’ve always wanted to do but never brought forth into action.
Once I got to Cornell my “20 days of 20” took on a different meaning. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I brought special attention to the passage of time during my senior year — as youth seems to be slipping away. After my summer internship and an impending job search, I’ve begun to feel that I have one foot in the “real world” and one foot on campus. For years, attending school has given shape to life — classes, sports, schedules — and I stand on the brink of a shapelessness that perhaps characterizes real life.
What you begin to realize when paying attention to a particular stretch of time, is just how fleeting time is. Everyone makes jokes about freshmen and as a senior, I sense a little bit of envy in that joke: for getting a fresh start, for having every pathway open to you, arriving at a place unknown, undeclared and undefined. Every adult dotingly comments that they would do anything to “switch places” with you when you’re a freshman. We can’t ever turn back the clock and that’s what freshmen remind us, as they walk through campus wide-eyed and chatty. Though funny enough, I still sometimes feel like a freshman and even though I’m going to be 21 I still feel 16.
After my haircut and my ear piercing, I began to run out of ideas and started to count a variety of experiences as part of my twenty days of twenty. I took a walk and for the first time asked to pet a dog on campus. The owner of this dog, who attended Cornell in the 1960s, was both an English major and on the editorial board of The Cornell Daily Sun. I did not ask his name. I just went about my day.
You start to see how everyone fills in the space of what came before. Freshmen become sophomores, sophomores become juniors, juniors become seniors; 18 year old’s turn 19 and 19 year old’s turn 20 and 20 year old’s turn 21. That is the most unwise and obvious conclusion you could possibly draw, but acknowledging that there comes a point where you grow and need to move on is likely a truth we all fear.
For my last first column of the year, I’ve decided to write on a topic that has already been written by a senior in the past. In fact, I’ve read many iterations of this column. Every year I’ve read it, I’ve found it sappy and cliché. It usually follows a similar structure to mine. It has a nostalgic tone. It reminisces on the past and it inspires everyone to take part in everything that Cornell and Ithaca have to offer. Yet I can’t stop myself from writing it. In these 20 days of 20, I have actually for once taken the advice of this column. I cherished the sun and the scenes, I took long walks and stayed up late chatting with my roommates, I went to the farmers market and took a bunch of pictures and sent them to the people I know, I got moshed in the mosh pit of a College Town party and people watched while I sat outside at CTB. It turns out that my “20 days of 20” is more about my final year at Cornell than my age.
Now I’m taking the place of what — and who — came before. Everything that I’ve written in this column has already been written, just as everything I’ve thought has been thought before and what was becomes what is, and what is what was. Despite this broad collective notion, we each inhabit our own worlds and carry with us our own subjectivities. After all, this is my senior year because I am in it and my classmates are in it with me, and this is my last first column for the freshmen, the sophomores, the juniors, and the seniors alike. While we are in different years and different stretches of life, there truly is no space between us.
Rebecca Sparacio is a senior in The College of Arts & Sciences. Her fortnightly column The Space Between is a discussion on student life, politics and community. She can be reached at [email protected].
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