How Cornell Surprised Me

Students sit on the Arts Quad in fall.

By: Lia Samuelu ‘20

When someone says “Cornell University,” there is a certain image that pops into my head: one of prestige and rigor and challenge. I think of all the difficulties students have to go through to reach an institution like Cornell, and how these difficulties translate into experiences and lessons in each of their lives. I find it easy to forget that I am also one of the people here who both engender and deconstruct the intimidating expectations of Cornell. As a freshman, I hesitantly made the move from Los Angeles to Ithaca worried about how I would be received and how I would fit into the larger fabric of Cornell. You can imagine the pleasant surprise I had upon my arrival.

My biggest worry was not being like the other smart, talented students who were the epitome of what Cornell should be. I quickly learned that not only am I part of that group, but that everyone here (students, professors, and staff alike) excel in their fields. Yet everyone holds themselves with humility and grace. I often found myself casually talking to a professor only to find out afterward that they are a well-known authority in their field. When talking to fellow students, we always have discussions on how hard it was to transition to Cornell, and how challenging the courses were compared to high school. And I was surprised to learn that the same apprehension I had was one we all shared.

I found it very comforting when students would approach me just to have a conversation. Everyone is eager to meet new people and make friends, especially freshman year. Others genuinely wanted to know who I was and what brought me to Cornell. Because of this, it was easy to find a community I belonged to. Whether it was in class or in a dining hall, both upperclassmen and freshmen welcomed me with open minds and open arms. This quickly translated into me being as accepting and eager to meet new people as they were. I started to approach people eating dinner alone, or asking to sit next to someone I didn’t know in a lecture.

The best example of this is my best friend on campus, Sarah. We met the summer before our freshman year during Cornell’s Pre-freshman Summer Program (PSP). She is a Pre-Med Biology and Society major. Her classes are filled with chemistry and physics and anatomy. And while she is good at that, I am not. I am more of an English, History, and Sociology student. Despite our differences in thought, she has never made me feel bad for asking for help on my math homework. And I am always happy to help her if she needs a hand with writing. Cornell’s culture of acceptance and growth lets us acknowledge our differences, work with each other to improve ourselves, and develop a bond that will last beyond our years of undergraduate study.

What surprised me most about Cornell was how accepting everyone is. We grow as people and scholars when we welcome others’ ideas and experiences, letting them influence how we perceive the world to create more tolerant perspectives. Although I am one of thousands of students at Cornell who are all gifted in different ways, the students here and their attitude towards excellence with humility surprised me in the best way possible.