Well folks, this is it

Sunday I graduated— I sat with thousands of my peers in Schoellkopf Stadium, and listened as the deans of all the undergraduate and graduate programs bestowed degrees upon the sea of black robes and grinning faces. Mostly I just felt hot and sweaty under the yards of heavy black fabric (and seriously, those hats make everyone look silly!), but as I moved my tassel from the right to the left side of my silly hat, I felt like I’d accomplished something. Later at the ceremony for my major, as the head of my department read the names and bios of my 20 fellow American Studies students, I was awed by how grown up everyone looked, and how impressive their resumes were.

Check out my awesome honors cords!
Check out my awesome honors cords!

We’ve done a good job, all of us, and we deserve to celebrate four years of hard work (sometimes) and priceless experiences. The weekend was actually a bit stressful, since I had to be moved out of my apartment by Monday, and saying goodbye to my housemates of two years was really tough. I hate goodbyes (so this post will be brief!)— but I’m really glad that I’m not saying it to Ithaca just yet, and many of my other friends are sticking around at least for the summer.

Honestly, three days later it still hasn’t really sunk in that my career as an undergrad is over, and my life is going to change drastically forever. I don’t know what I’ll be doing next year, or the year after that, but I will always think of Ithaca and Cornell as a home. Two Cornell seniors made a video about the Cornell experience that captures well the way I’m feeling right now—

This Is from Alex Silver on Vimeo.

Well, that about wraps up my tenure as a Life on the Hill blogger. I have really enjoyed sharing my life and love of Cornell with all of you these last two years, and I hope that you’ve gotten something out of it as well. As always, please feel free to continue asking me questions about anything, and best of luck to all you prospective Cornellians out there— having just finished my Cornell experience, I can say with authority that it is worth it.

Wrapping Up: House Tour, Part 2

Since classes ended last week, life has been a blur of end-of-the-year parties and barbecues, not to mention awesome senior week events, and generally enjoying the weather which has FINALLY made the leap from winter to summer. The last day of classes every spring semester is of course Slope Day, a giant celebration of the end of the year with a big-name concert on Libe Slope marked by 24 hours of revelry (check out the Huffington Post’s review: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/12/the-10-best-college-music_n_861290.html). This year’s headliner was Nelly, accompanied by the Cool Kids and Ra Ra Riot, and I had a blast with all of my housemates celebrating our last Slope Day.

We made our own Slope Day shirts!
We made our own Slope Day shirts!

Well, finally, the end is pretty much here. All I’ve got left between me and my degree is one exam on Tuesday morning, and then I’m done with my undergraduate career. And finally (FINALLY), I have some plans for at least the immediate post-graduate life— I was hired recently to work in the tasting room of Finger Lakes Distilling (http://www.fingerlakesdistilling.com/), so I will spend at least the summer months living in Ithaca and working at the craft distillery on Seneca Lake, about a 30 minute drive. I’m extremely excited to learn more about the production of spirits— and also to be able to add “pouring liquor” to the list of special skills on my resume 😉

Since it’s getting to be that time, most of the people in my house now have plans for the summer at least, and some have permanent plans for next year. Jessie and Dave aren’t seniors, so the two of them don’t have to worry about securing permanent employment just yet (luckies!!). Both will be sticking around Ithaca this summer, taking classes and working on campus. Francis and Tyler, both seniors like myself, will be taking the summer to work construction, building bridges down south for a few months to save up before they take their next steps. Lloyd is heading home to Westchester, where he will be working as a camp counselor, while Johnny and Bennett have actually gracefully transitioned into adulthood and will be starting their real grown-up jobs in New York City this fall.

I’m still not sure what I’m doing with my life, or even after August, but I’m relieved to have secured employment at least temporarily to prevent the complete meltdown of my bank account. Next obstacle: find summer housing…

Shameless Self-Promotion

So as some of you may recall from last semester, I was working on an article for the Cornell Alumni Magazine on the use of technology on campus, and how it has changed the student experience. Well, after conducting around 15 different interviews (via cassette tape recorder, no less) and writing >5 drafts, the finished product is finally actually published, as a feature story in this month’s issue of the Alumni Magazine: Generation Tech

It was a long process, that began when I was hired as a summer intern for the Alumni Magazine last year, writing headlines and 3-sentence blurbs about various research endeavors on-campus. Over the course of the summer I was given longer assignments, until my editor gave me the chance to pitch some possible stories and I came up with the idea to look at the way that technology is now shaping the college experience. From that time, at the end of last summer, I spent all of fall semester working on my story, and I am extremely proud of the final article—  yes, I wrote the sidebars too! I am so grateful to the Alumni Magazine for giving me such an awesome opportunity to be published, and I hope you all enjoy the fruits of my labor!

Field Trips

Sometimes it’s nice to get off campus and out of the pervasive Cornell bubble. This weekend I made it off campus a couple times for two field trips— one academic, the other for fun. For the former, I went with 30 of my classmates from my Civil War class for a day trip to visit the battlefield at Gettysburg. I woke up at 6:00 on Friday (seeing as my earliest class in the past three years has been at 10:10, I wasn’t even entirely sure that the world existed before nine prior to Friday) to catch the bus that would take us on the five hour journey each way.

Most of my peers shared my disdain for the early departure
Most of my peers shared my disdain for the early departure

I’d never been to any battlefield, and was struck by how the site of such a bloody battle now seems more like a hikers’ destination than a reminder of the carnage that once was.


Then there’s the amount of money that is now being made off of the historic conflict— on the drive down I feel like I saw more Gettysburg souvenir shops than houses.

Proud members of the US army since 1861
Proud members of the US army since 1861?

This was one of very few field trips I’ve taken in recent years, and it reminded me of pre-college school trips— complete with counting off and boxed lunches.

Professor Baptist leads the way
Professor Baptist leads the way

Saturday my field trip was of a distinctly different nature. After attending the Indian club’s celebration of Holi, a Hindu holiday marking the coming of spring that is observed in part by flinging colored powdered paint at one another, my friends and I drove about 30 minutes from campus for a tour of a few of the Cayuga Lake wineries.

One of the wineries
One of the wineries

Thanks to my enrollment in Food Science 4300: Understanding Wine and Beer, I am basically a pro in all things alcohol related, and I relished the opportunity to swirl and sniff my wine with the rest of the viticultural elite.

We told the confused winery owners that it was simply raining paint
We told the confused winery owners that it was raining paint

Although, to be fair, the rest of said viticultural elite probably make it a point to wash the multi-colored paint off their faces before the swirling and sniffing begin.

Dan Savage at the Statler

Last night I got to see one of the most entertaining lectures that I have ever attended at Cornell— sex columnist Dan Savage, of the Savage Love columns and podcasts, spoke at the Statler Hotel. While he is perhaps best known for his brutally honest sex and relationship advice (hence the name, see), yesterday he split his time between taking the audience’s sex questions and speaking about his It Gets Better campaign.

A proud gay man himself, Savage’s It Gets Better campaign is directed towards children identifying as LGBTQ who are the victims of bullying, both at home and at school. When children come out to unsupportive families and communities their risk of suicide increases eightfold, because many of these children feel as though they have no other options since they will always be outcasts. Through a series of videos started by Savage and his HICBIA (husband in Canada, boyfriend in America), and now thousands more made by members of the LGBTQ community from around the world, those who were once child misfits get the chance to speak to those who hold that position now— and to assure them that it will get better. Cornell’s Gay-Straight Alliance made an It Gets Better video of their own:

Cornell GSA It Gets Better

Savage spoke a bit of his own struggles with bullies, and the bullying of gay children that is often done by entire communities (particularly those that identify with the religious right). His work reaching out to those who have to swallow their own young voices is extremely inspiring and a much-needed support system for those who have none.

And then, after the serious part had ended, he took questions from the audience. Full disclosure of the contents of the second half of the lecture would not be appropriate for this venue, but I will just say that Mr. Savage is a HILARIOUS man who really knows what he’s talking about when it comes to sex and relationships, whether you identify as heter0-, homo-, or a- sexual.  He has also come up with unique definitions for the names of some conservative politicians, like Santorum and Huckabee…

I will say no more.

Campus life, in a word

(well, several words really)

One of the things I am constantly talking about in my posts and on my tours is the incredible programming that happens on campus.  The resources floating around are vast, so there are always awesome speakers and concerts coming to campus. And this week in particular, there have been several good ones that I had the good fortune (and time) to attend.

Tuesday I went to a lecture by Cornell alum and former MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann (which I was torn about, as it prevented me from attending another on campus lecture at the same time by author Margaret Atwood). Olbermann spoke at length about his own experiences at Cornell, including several hilarious anecdotes about his, ahem, less-than-stellar academic record and work ethic, and then of course some political commentary concerning the labor debate in Wisconsin. I thoroughly enjoyed much of his lecture and found Mr. Olbermann to be a charismatic and entertaining speaker, but at the end when he opened up the floor to questions, a student identifying as politically conservative went to the mic to ask a very reasonable question about Olbermann’s complete dismissal of conservative thinkers as “stupid” without ever addressing any particular ideas. Instead of taking the student’s question seriously and treating it with the respect and thoughtful response that it was due, Olbermann responded by basically calling the guy an idiot and then moving on to another student’s question. The whole point of political discourse is that it should specifically address various arguments to show their weaknesses, and by bullishly stomping on this student’s respectful and reasonable question, Olbermann completely discredits his own political ideology and also insults the institution in which he was asked to speak. And while blind ridicule may make for entertaining cable television, it should really have no place in any conversation occurring at an institution of higher learning.

Moving on…

I returned to Bailey Hall a few days later to see the amazingly talented musician Andrew Bird. I had never heard of him prior to seeing the concert— in fact I only went because a friend’s girlfriend couldn’t go with him so he had an extra ticket and didn’t want to go alone— and was absolutely blown away by his performance. His is a [mostly] solo act that makes use of various instruments including, among others: violin, keyboard, guitar, his own voice, and his impressive whistle (although despite my friends’ ridicule, I still maintain that my own whistle rivals his). Using foot pedals, he plays and records short musical phrases on one instrument and then plays it back on a loop, and then he plays other instruments one by one over the recorded loops that he created. By the end of each song the music is very interesting and complex, with many different layers of recorded harmonies and beats on several different instruments, and the coolest thing is that he created every single sound right there on stage in front of you. It was one of the most interesting and innovative musical performances I have ever seen (another being the Flaming Lips concert that I saw on campus last year).

Last night I saw one of Cornell’s many a Capella groups, the all-women Callbaxx, perform on campus, and today I attended the Cornell Prison Education Program reunion, for current and former CPEP volunteers.  This event featured a series of panel discussions about educational programming in correctional facilities, as well as the challenges faced by those who have recently been released from prison. Among the speakers were a few ex-convicts who participated in CPEP as students while they were incarcerated in Auburn Correctional Facility, as well as Cornell alums who were themselves CPEP volunteers while they were on campus and now work with prison policy or related fields. When I listened to the ex-cons tell their stories about how getting the opportunity to take Cornell classes while incarcerated helped motivate them to turn their lives around, I was struck by the fact that each of the men mentioned that what inspired him to change his ways was the fact that they were, for the first time in their lives, receiving positive feedback on their own ideas from the likes of Ivy League students and professors. I can’t think of a better expression of the significance of personal attention and encouragement in education, especially in communities where excelling in school is seen more as a scarlet letter than something to brag about.

Finally (whew), I saw a play on campus in Risley House, the program house (special dorm) for students who are interested in theater and performing arts. I had only been to Risley once before, for the Rocky Horror Picture Show back in November, and I really like it— it looks kind of like a castle, and has a dining hall and main room that are reminiscent of Hogwarts (I guess my trip to Orlando has rubbed off on me…), as well as a few performance spaces. I was blown away by the production of The Pillowman, a play by Martin McDonagh.  The dark comedy tells of an author whose fictional stories about children dying upset the tyrannical government when it appears that some of his more gruesome stories are coming true.  It was long, nearly three hours, but also captivating and well-acted, one of the best theatrical performances I’ve seen at Cornell.

Winter is being pretty stubborn with its grip on Ithaca, which is annoying, but there are some signs that spring might soon come to upstate New York— it was warm enough after the Andrew Bird concert for my friends and I to climb the fence around the soccer field and hold a few lackluster pick-up rounds  of ultimate frisbee and tag (okay, they were only lackluster because I am quite slow and therefore severely crippled my teammate in our 2-on-2).

I also go to class and work occasionally, really…

check point

With spring break just days away, we have reached the halfway marker in this, my last semester of college (ahhh!!!!). Prelims have been popping their nasty little heads in many of my classes, forcing me to actually reflect on what I’ve learned so far and actually synthesize all that material. It’s kind of ridiculous how hard it has been to motivate myself to study— since I’m taking so few classes (and two of them pass/fail), I haven’t really gotten into a rhythm with respect to my schoolwork, and I somehow ended up getting involved in way more stuff outside of class this semester than ever before, which it turns out is incredibly time consuming.

Since I last blogged about my courses I have gone through yet ANOTHER significant schedule change— when the Technology course I was taking proved to be an unfortunate waste of time, I scrambled to figure out a way to drop it and still manage to graduate on time. Resourceful student that I am, I recalled those sneaky AP exams that I took in high school and realized that I haven’t actually used any of them as credits towards my graduation. After I took care of that, I had plenty of credits to graduate, so I was able to drop that class and reclaim Fridays for my own. Success! I also added a one credit independent study with the chair of the American Studies department, Professor Mary Katzenstein, for which I am compiling a bibliography of prison-related information for the Cornell Prison Education Program reunion in April.

In addition to my courses, I am also volunteering for the Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP), as a teaching assistant for a course on Individual Rights and the Constitution in a medium security prison. I also write and conduct interviews for the Cornell Alumni Magazine and the Weill Cornell Medicine Magazine— now that I officially get paid for my work there, I think I can call myself a freelance writer?  Then there’s FemSex, the Female Sexuality Workshop, which is a student group that meets to discuss the role of female sexuality in society. And, of course, my beloved job as a Campus Tour Guide, as well as this blog. Not to mention the job hunt, which is ongoing, as well as my obsession with live music, which is time-consuming enough to merit its own spot in my collection of extracurricular activities.

I really cannot believe how fast the semester is going by. And while I am extremely excited for my break plans, which include spending time with good friends and making a stop at Disney World in Orlando, FL (here comes the sun!), I am not so eager about what happens after spring break. Namely, the hardest part of the semester academically, and then, much scarier for me and many of my fellow second semester seniors, the end of the semester…

if I only had a driveway

One of my least favorite things about Ithaca can be summed up in a few words, significant from November through April: every other side of the street parking.

Cornell students of all years are allowed to keep a car at school, and there are many students that choose to do so.  I have mixed and matched— my first semester at Cornell, when I was living in the Collegetown dorm Sheldon Court, I did not bring my* car to Ithaca. Junior year I kept it on the street outside my Collegetown apartment, except from winter break through spring break when I brought it home to avoid the inevitable battle between car, hill and snow. This year, however, my relationship with Ithaca hit a rough patch when I decided to stick it out and keep my car here for the entirety of spring semester.

The thing is, I don’t like to drive in the snow, and especially not on the huge hill to which the title of this blog series refers. I had a scarring incident in high school involving ice, a hill, and brake failure, and ever since then I have harbored a crippling anxiety about driving in winter weather.

This can be problematic, especially considering that

a) I live on the steepest part of an incredibly steep hill

b) I don’t want to shell out $50-100/month for an off-the-street parking space

c) Ithaca gets a lot of snow

d) Street parking can be very hard to find, especially after 9 pm

and, most of all,

e) From November through April every year, much of Collegetown adopts a new parking policy to accommodate for efficient snow removal. Parking is allowed only on one side of the street each night, and it alternates every night. This means that in order to avoid parking tickets, you have to move your car from one side of the street to the other every 24 hours.

(Note to self: pay parking tickets)

Bottom line: There honestly isn’t a reason why you need to bring a car to Cornell. Despite the gargantuan acreage of Cornell (over 700 altogether, thank you very much), the longest walk to class that most students have is in the 15-25 minute range. If that seems like a long walk, there’s the extensive bus system, TCAT, that has numerous stops throughout Ithaca as well as on campus (tour fact: all students get a free bus pass for their first year at Cornell, and after the first year can still ride for free after 6 pm and all day on the weekends).  Practically no one drives to class, as an on-campus parking permit is expensive and parking scarce. Some students get parking through their Greek house, while in Collegetown some find apartments where a parking space is included in rent. But for the most part, when it comes to parking,  Collegetown residents are roaming the streets for a spot, collecting parking tickets, and sliding into the car[s] in front while parked on the hill.

(note to self: pay parking tickets)

I like to have my car here because it makes it easier to go grocery shopping, and to travel to and from home  or take day or weekend trips. However, many of my friends also have cars, so finding a ride to Wegmans or Target is never really a problem, and I could always take the Shortline bus or find a rideshare on Craigslist to wherever I’d want to go.

If you are going to brave the Collegetown streets and on-the-street parking, I would highly recommend equipping your car with a snow brush, a shovel, snow tires, and/or snow chains. Four wheel drive can’t hurt either.  (None of which I have, of course— hence this post)

*surely every member of my immediate family will object to the fact that I’ve publicly referred to it as my car, so this footnote is for you guys: the ownership of the Honda has never been proven.

Random musings of a Cornell senior.

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