Blog post by Allie Malakoff ’20 and dedicated to the class of 2020.
It is physically impossible to draw a perfect circle. Inevitably, one half will be lopsided or the point where each end meets is revealed by the slight adjustment of one side to reach the other. As an elementary school kid with the budding will to never accept anything but perfection, this was a theory I was overly determined to debunk. I began constantly doodling circles on notebook paper thinking each time this would be the one that was a textbook 360 degrees when in fact it was always far from it. This grit didn’t stop at the age of 6. Fast forward 15 years to March 2020 and you would have found the same fiercely strongminded girl who was finally just inches away from completing the perfect circle.
I began working in the Costume and Textile Collection (now known as the Cornell Fashion + Textile Collection) in September 2016, my first month of college— what truly feels like yesterday. On display in the FSAD wing of the Human Ecology building was The Biggest Little Fashion City: Ithaca and Silent Film Style, a fashion exhibit that featured film star Irene Castle. I was hooked. Four years later, still starry-eyed by the rich history and romantic stories behind the garments, I have spent my countless hours in the collection researching, discovering and learning.
I decided to use spring 2020—my last semester at Cornell— pursuing my own research project. The result of the project would be two displays: one representing my future and the other representing my past. Both displays were to be symbolic of the age old saying that life always comes full circle. In the first display I planned to show the history of undergarments. This research was inspired by both my next chapter at Calvin Klein in their underwear group and also my grandpa’s successful career in undergarment manufacturing. I was excited to dedicate this display to the beauty of the circle of life— the passing of the bouton from one generation to the next. The second display was to be a cumulation of all the projects and experiences I had proudly worked on throughout my four years in the collection. A dress donated by my grandmother, Scaasi’s upon Scaasi’s, and pieces in memory of my fellow collection co-worker and teaching assistant Rachel Doran were all set to be showcased during graduation for my parents and other visitors to see. This was going to be a special moment as my parents never got to see the collection nor meet the people who made it so fulfilling. Altogether, these two exhibition projects seemed like the final curve that would meet the beginning of the circle at a perfect 360 degrees. It had seemed like I had done what I set out to do 15 years ago—I thought I was about to complete a perfect circle.
However, as everyone knows, COVID-19 hit and Cornell shut its classrooms and collections, abruptly ending my senior year in the most unsettling way possible. In this unexpected moment, it didn’t just feel like my circle was now imperfect, but instead, it felt like the circle was incomplete—never to be finished. So how did I handle this? I cried. Cried to my friends, my family, my professors. I cried to anyone who would listen. The past four years of tedious hard work, both inside and outside the Cornell Fashion + Textile Collection, and nothing to show for it. It was an unimaginable overwhelmingness that every senior across the world so beautifully united together in feeling. As the days unfolded and with this feeling still ever present in my mind, I struggled with the thought that I might never feel closure. It wasn’t until a few days after the announcement that classes would be suspended until April 6 that I was tasked by one of my professors to reflect on my purpose in life. As one can imagine, this is not an easy question to answer yet as I read over my response I came to a realization about both my past and my future.
Four years ago I knew I had a purpose in life but I wasn’t really sure what that purpose was and where it would lead me to go. I was an introvert, so when I made that initial step to set up a meeting with Professor Green to ask about working in the collection, I couldn’t help but feel proud of myself for already stepping out of my comfort zone so early in my college career. It was this success story that gave me the confidence to broaden my horizons across all aspects of my freshman year. I quickly made friends who have shaped my four years more than I could possibly formulate into words. Friends who have pushed me to grow even further outside my comfort zone, given me memories I will hold on to for life, and who will support me far into the future. It was these friends who then gave me a deep love for Cornell, and it was my deep love for Cornell that made the abrupt end of my time on campus so hard to face. It then dawned on me that this minor step in securing a role as a research assistant in the collection, in fact, had started a chain reaction that set me in my path as a Cornellian. Life did come full circle—just different than I had drawn it in my head.
So while I won’t be able to display my independent study work in the FSAD wing of the Human Ecology building, seamlessly closing the “perfect circle” I worked so hard in my mind to draw, it doesn’t mean my time at Cornell is ending unfinished— in fact, it is ending stronger than it would have before. It is because of these imperfections in the circle that I have come to realize the purpose the past four years have revealed to me— happiness. Embarking on my journey 4 years ago at Cornell I never would have imagined it would allow me to so perfectly fulfill that purpose. While I had to abruptly leave the place I have so proudly called home and end my college career on a difficult note, I find comfort in knowing that I will be able to find this purpose—happiness—in the most unexpected of places. And as for my lifelong quest to draw the perfect circle, I have come to realize I like imperfections because without imperfections you can’t rise above.