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?
As Andrew Morse ‘96, a distinguished media executive, wrote in a sentimental 2011 Sun piece, “I still have such great reverence for The Cornell Daily Sun.”
In an exercise of deep contrast, in November of last year, one Reddit user wrote: “Why do these kids treat every article like a blog post. I’ve never seen a university paper so unprofessional and simply hard to read.” Another wrote in 2018: “In my opinion 90% of the newspaper is irrelevant to every day student life, uninteresting, or intentionally provocative.”
During my time writing for the paper, I have been fortunate to receive favorable reviews from faculty and other University stakeholders. As a reader of the other columns, I have also found a number of columnists discerning and thoughtful.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article misrepresented a source. The year is 1686. King James II looks on anxiously from his plushy throne in England as his New York colonial subjects become increasingly unruly. To tighten his grip on the settlers and quell whispers of rebellion, he appoints Thomas Dongan, a Royalist military officer, to govern the New York territory and issue decrees known as Dongan Patents for the creation of trustee-run towns across the royal province. One of these towns was Long Island’s Town of Brookhaven.
The best fictional dramatization of a newsroom is the 2012-2014 HBO series The Newsroom. The best dramatization of a newsroom, though, is the Sun office. They have a lot in common: ringing phones, dry humor, hair-trigger reactivity, lots of take-out, late nights, more coffee, love-hating co-workers, excitement, frustration. It’s regrettable that The Newsroom doesn’t have scenes about being late to a meeting because you were playing mini golf with the other editors or when you have an office slumber party and watch The Proposal. But their main characterizations about journalists — as seekers of goodness and truth, tireless and exhilarated workers and self-righteous investigators — mapped accurately to my time at The Sun.
As I reflect on my time at Cornell, The Sun will shine brightly as one of my most lasting and positive experiences. Not because it jump started my career as a journalist or gave me the thrill of seeing my name attached to a published piece, not because it allowed me to speak to science luminaries like Steve Squyres or Carla Gomez (although I covet the audio recordings of our interviews), but because I got to work with and learn from a talented team of passionate writers, reporters and friends. Working as a writer and editor for The Sun primarily taught me about journalism, but it also taught me about myself (cheesy, I know). Ultimately, it solidified my long-held appreciation for good writing and reporting. What I learned about journalism, through my time at the Sun, is reflected in the words of author John Irving — “Before you can write anything, you have to notice something.” It is the responsibility of a journalist to report on what is noticed and, importantly, what people fail to notice.
After four years of being a reporter on the objective side of things, I’ve often dreaded this graduation column. I’m not very good at articulating how I feel, and definitely don’t think I’m a great writer. So I’m going to stick to the basics and do what I know best: Talk about The Sun. When I first got to Cornell, I followed the advice that almost all of us receive and tried new things. I signed up for way too many listservs at Club Fest and attended a lot of G-bodies as that excited freshman during the first semester.
While searching through The Sun’s online archives for a Solar Flashback story last fall, I came across an editorial that touched me profoundly. It was from September 27, 1910, over a century ago, and it captured the very essence of my experience as a Cornellian. “And let us say that you do not realize now the days you are passing through,” it read, addressing new students. “Look back at the remembrance. It is a wholesome existence with room for work and play, room for thought but little thoughtlessness.
I joined The Sun in fall 2017 for reasons I no longer remember, but I was certain that I would not last a semester. I had never done any journalism in my life, and before college, I had never written anything in English more than 300 words. Somehow, I stuck around and even made it to editorship, but every single day I was down at The Sun’s red brick office in the Commons, I questioned if I was qualified to be there. When I had to call the shots on something, I wondered if the swarm of talented people in the newsroom was actually convinced by my reasonings, or if they were just being nice. I’ve been hyper-aware of who I am since the very beginning of my time in this country, when a customs officer at John F. Kennedy airport commented on how well I speak English “for a Chinese student” as he stamped my passport.