I’ve been accumulating ideas for this final column since freshman year. Amorphous thoughts stored in the back of my mind, half-baked phrases in the notes app on my phone, 3 a.m. text message wisdom to friends. Yet now, when I have to transform my jumbled miscellanea into coherent sentences, nothing I can write feels adequate. After all, how do you consolidate four years, one pandemic, a million existential crises and a billion more memories into a cohesive narrative?
The pandemic delayed this reckoning with age, independence and moving away. After my brief entanglement with college campus freedom was snuffed out, I spent fall 2020 at home instead of at Cornell. I took prelims and attended club meetings while my childhood stuffed animals looked on curiously. I felt closed in by the pale green walls of my bedroom as 2020’s Thanksgiving break reverted to those of my grade school years in an anticlimactic fashion. A far cry from the packing and unpacking and repacking that has characterized this holiday break.
Every person I know has had at least one awful pre-enroll experience, but guess what, they’re doing fine. I didn’t finalize my first-year schedule until about a week into the semester after enough people dropped the classes I wanted. My friend slept through enrollment last semester, but she’s still on track to graduate on time. At this point in my college career, I’m over spamming professors with emails and having nightmares over missing out on Introduction to Web Development.
After all, isn’t that the pinnacle of what makes choosing difficult — the worry over making the wrong decision? We waffle over whether normal Cheerios or the Honey Nut ones would be the better purchase and spend ages picking out what outfits to wear to class. We worry that our majors aren’t practical enough and wonder whether our initial jobs might silo our careers.
However, it’s the times where I’ve allowed myself to actively seek out something small to brighten my day that I cherish the most out of my college experience. Last weekend, I dragged myself up 161 steps to the top of McGraw Tower and felt time stand still as I gaped at the view.
Financial literacy courses shouldn’t be about selecting stocks or advanced Excel modeling, but rather about developing ways to cope with all of the money concerns that will definitely crop up much sooner than expected. There are, unfortunately, so many other ways, in addition to student loans, to get into crippling debt. The sooner we’re taught how to make informed financial decisions, the more equipped we will be to handle whatever unknowns life throws at us.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the world’s best chef. I try to follow the odd recipe here and there and find kitchen hacks online. Sometimes, when I’m feeling bougie, I’ll look up what foie gras is and then fantasize about winning Masterchef. More often than not, however, my version of cooking involves throwing a bunch of unrelated items into a pan and hoping for the best.
Let’s be honest, there’s somewhat of a stigma in being four semesters away from leaving Cornell and still being lost. Freshmen are allowed to wander — in fact, it’s encouraged as a positive sign of change. Juniors, on the other hand, are expected to have majors picked out, club leadership established and internships finalized. But perhaps growing older doesn’t always mean having the answers. Perhaps growing wiser means embracing those freshman-esque feelings rather than stifling them. Perhaps wanderlust should be encouraged at all ages.
Not to flex on any ILR and AEM majors out there in the wild, but I have cycled through pretty much all forty majors offered in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences. Just recently, I started fantasizing about pre-med despite my poor biology lab partner having to carry the both of us through the dissection unit (look, I’m squeamish, okay?). If I had a dollar for every time I have heard the words, “Wait…I’m looking at your schedule…but I can’t tell what your major is” I wouldn’t be running out of BRBs the way I am now.
The College of Arts and Sciences is unique among Cornell’s schools in that all students come in as undecided, for better and for worse. Experimentation is not only possible but encouraged through distribution requirements and major prerequisites. I have cycled through classes ranging from law to visual studies to economics to computer science.
In the fall of 2019, I spent my orientation attending as many events as I could pack into my schedule, exchanging chatter and contact information with anyone and everyone I met, and walking over 20,000 steps each day before collapsing, exhausted but giddy, into my bed.
The Class of 2020, on the other hand, saw their classmates for the first time as little squares on a computer screen. Students on campus were greeted not by President Pollack’s Schoellkopf Field speech, but by a quarantine period before being allowed to venture out onto the school grounds. Those students studying at home know even less about the atmosphere of the Cornell campus, about the first late-night foray into Bear Necessities and those initial awkward dorm room conversations.
Their college firsts have been disrupted in so many other ways as well. All classes have been modified to accommodate the new online format. I don’t care how much you love your major –– it’s hard to feel passionate about anything after you’ve been staring at a computer screen for six hours in a row, five days a week.