I just wanted to start off my final blog entry by thanking everyone that has supported and followed my blogging. Before blogging for Cornell, I was actually a very self-conscious writer. The fact that I got so much support has given me confidence, and I think I just may pursue blogging on my own!
But to get to the meat of things…
Today was commencement.
People have been asking me how I feel, and in reality, everyone, no matter what kind of Cornell experience, feels a mixture of many different emotions. Last night, I shared my last pitcher of sangria out on the patio of Collegetown Bagels with a few friends. We laughed and joked, fencing delicately around the subject of the impending graduation, and the fact that we will be in very different places in just a week.
I think that is what I will miss the most. Cornell is beautiful, and I will certainly miss the plantation trails that I’ve run this past year, the orchards where I sipped apple cider, the slope where I would find myself lost in thought, Sage Chapel where I would sit after difficult moments in my life to play piano or find inner peace, Olin Cafe where I spent the majority of my time doing work, MVR – my homebase, Savage Hall where I spent countless hours working on my thesis, and collegetown where I spent my time hanging out with those that meant most to me. But, what I will miss the most is the people, the fact that I could call Chloe at 1AM for pastina or Phillip at any time of day for a snack or Sara late at night to take a walk or Cameron for a midnight pitcher or Joe to accompany me on a night visit to Sage to accompany me on the piano, the proximity of close friends was what made college so special.
A few hours before the sangria, I found myself sitting in Bailey Hall listening to my last Chorus and Glee Club concert (props to Olivia, who has the most beautiful voice and one of my closest friends). As they finished off with the Alma Mater shoulder to shoulder, a song that I would repeat at least five times that weekend, I found myself tearing up, once again, feeling a vast mixture of emotions, from joy to sadness to sorrow to joy. There is a Korean saying that says that still water rots, meaning that our lives must flow on in order to stay clean and grow. However, sometimes, I wish someone could install a fountain in my still water, so that I could repeat some of those best moments in my life.
I guess the future holds many different things for me, or at least that’s what people all around me have been telling me. And I am certainly excited. But as I hugged my friends one last time throughout this beautiful, blue-skied graduation Sunday, I’ve realized that whatever great things may come in the future, I could not do it without the support of human love and connection. I’ve come a far way from my sophomore year of anti-social attitude and cynicism about friendships. All connections are meaningful, as long as you yourself are mature enough to be open and malleable.
Thank you to those that have offered to me those connections: my professors, especially, Professor Lovenheim and Professor Haas for your constant support, to my mentors Tracey Hsu and Alex Payne among many others, to my close friends, to my family, and to Cornell University. Our relationships will change, but the memories that we’ve shared will remain the same.
I’m (kind of) ready, world.
It’s been a difficult two days trying to crank out two final papers that were due today. Motivation to write these papers, despite them being extremely interesting topics, were at an all time low. I might’ve spent more time on Facebook than I did this entire semester (got yelled at last night for liking too many photos and overloading a few people’s notifications).
But now that the papers were handed in at 1:17PM today, I almost wish they hadn’t been. I’ve yet to post up a status on Facebook or tweet that my undergraduate career is over because for some reason, doing so seems to confirm that it is true. (Plus I think it’s kind of annoying when every single person does it hahaha). A few minutes ago, I leisurely walked through Olin Library, through Libe Café, where I’ve spent a majority of my senior year, working on my thesis, having meetings, or chilling with friends, through the first floor desks, specifically the one on the right side closest to the doors, where I spent my times cranking out papers or emails, and through the stacks, where I spent my underclassmen years stressing out about how I was going to get through this prelim or this final or this paper.
After having handed in my paper at 1:17PM, I stopped by my advisor’s office to say hi. I told him that I just handed in my final paper and that I was off to the library to do some reading up on HIV for my job next year and to continue working on some research materials. He told me to stop and have some fun.
And so, I’ve partially listened to his demand; I’m sitting outside Olin Library, people watching, making myself feel slightly more useful by writing this blog entry. I’ve been keeping myself on the go with the purpose of not having to really stop and think about what it means to be done. Because really, what is it? Happiness? Excitement? Fear? Sadness? Or perhaps, a mixture of them all.
In fact, Cornell has had such a large impact on my life that I don’t think I will ever be done leaving this institution. I want to stay involved as an alumnus; I want to interact with students who are going through what I did these past four years.
But still, it is true that the undergraduate chapter of my life is coming to a close, and I am opening up a new chapter. As difficult as it is to leave things behind, time doesn’t stop for you, you just make the most out of what you have. And… appreciate the exciting things that are to come.
But, for now, I think I’ll just sit here for a while more, and appreciate whatever this is right now.
The conference was really amazing, listening in on groundbreaking nutrition research made me want to be a part of all the exciting things that were happening. The conference center was HUGE, and basically I saw all of my nutrition professors at some point in time. But, the reason I am writing this blog entry is because I wanted to recognize Dr. Haas, a professor that has truly molded me in so many different ways.
I first met Dr. Haas halfway through junior year when I was trying to figure out an honors thesis topic. I knew that I wanted to do it in global health, but data on measures of global health are very difficult to find (not to mention extremely broad, and I wasn’t sure how to narrow down what aspect of global health I was actually interested in). I met with many different professors, all of whom gave me good advice, but nothing tangible to work with. However, they all seemed to think I should talk to Dr. Haas, so I decided to shoot him an email.
He responded literally right away, inviting me to come speak with him. I showed up at his door and gave him the same talk I gave the previous professors I had talked to, expecting not to get anything at all. But Dr. Haas was different. He, right there, offered to let me use his data set of which he had just finished collecting data from a tea estate in India of an iron intervention trial. He never even questioned my GPA and did not look at my transcript. He just trusted my passion for wanting to learn more.
This was my entry into the world of international nutrition, and through working with him on my thesis, it has become an area of research that I want to pursue in the future. Dr. Haas met with me once (sometimes twice) a week throughout all of senior year, giving me as much of his time and energy as he would a PhD student. This always amazed me, that the Director of the Human Biology Program, former Director of the Nutrition program, and a professor with an endowed professorship, would be willing to give me, a senior without much to show, so much. But that is Dr. Haas, a strong mentor, who, through his belief in his students, drives them to work even harder. I can tell you that many times, when this thesis was so difficult to do, thinking of Dr. Haas’s support for me was what got me going. It is rare to find such a professor, anywhere. He even drove me to Albany two weeks ago to be there for me as I received an award, three hours there and three hours back, taking up basically a whole day’s worth of work, and undertaking this task only a few days after returning from an exhausting trip to India.
So, at Experimental Biology, when Dr. Haas received the Kellogg Prize, you could imagine how proud I was. It’s odd to say that, since Dr. Haas is my mentor, but that is truly what I felt, so much so that I was tearing up.
The Kellogg Prize is a crowning achievement in the International Nutrition Community. One person is chosen to receive it each year, and this year, it was Dr. Haas. When he was introduced, the Chair of the International Nutrition Council asked the audience who had studied under Dr. Haas as a PhD, Master’s, or undergraduate, and over a quarter of the room raised their hands. Dr. Haas has obviously impacted a great many people, and it is not just research that he was honored for that night. He was recognized for his dedication to forming the next generation of researchers, all who have benefited from Dr. Haas’s love and care.
As I near graduation and think about my future, I can already see Dr. Haas’s role. I have fallen in love with the applicability of international nutrition research, and it is an area that I will, for certain, pursue. And I am just, so grateful, so thankful, of having had exposure to such an extraordinary person and professor. There are no words to describe how special Dr. Haas has become to me, and it is my hope that all undergraduates will be able to experience someone like that during their time here, far above Cayuga’s waters.
About a week ago, a few students were honored in Albany for the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence. Among them were Melanie Berdecia, who has worked tirelessly for undocumented students and as a leader in the Latino community, and Janet Nwaukoni, who founded Project Lansing, helping troubled women at the Lansing Residential Center. These two students have done so much for the Cornell community and beyond, that I think they deserved to be recognized.
However, at the awards ceremony in Albany, Cornell failed to send a representative to represent both the schools of ILR and Human Ecology. Almost all of the SUNY schools were present, and each of the universities had brought their Presidents or Vice Presidents or Deans. But Cornell sent one professor from CALS, who happened to be going already because her student had received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award and wanted to be there for her student at such a proud moment in her life.
It feels odd for me to criticize Cornell at a time where I am a graduating senior, and I know that I am absolutely in love with this university. Don’t get me wrong, I would not trade my education or experience here for anywhere else, and I sometimes can’t hide how much I care about Cornell. However, this care also makes me want to see Cornell improve, as a university that shows its care and respect for its students’ achievements, not just when it seems best for them. Sending a representative to the awards ceremony, even if it were a Cornell alumnus in the Albany area, would in itself have been enough for the students. However, the fact that the Human Ecology and ILR students receiving the award stood in line, realizing that no one had come to represent them, was, I think, a disappointing experience.
I understand that this must stem from a longstanding struggle between the SUNY system at Cornell. There has always been tensions surrounding the amount of funding that Cornell should receive based on its performance. However, to recognize its students, Cornell should have stepped above that, to ensure that its students received the honor they deserved.
So, I just wanted to take a moment to honor those SUNY Chancellor’s Award recipients, like Melanie, Janet, Claudia, Elizabeth. You guys truly represent what Cornell means and the potential of Cornell students to make an impact in the real world. Congratulations.
The nice thing about traveling is that you get to take a break from normal life and put things into perspective. This spring break, thanks to my parents, I was able to go to London and Paris. I got to meet up with Sung Ho, a friend I had lived with for the past three years but who is currently about to start his mandatory service in the South Korean army, my current roommate, Phillip, and a close friend studying abroad in Denmark, Susie.
It was nice traveling with them, and for me, seeing Sung Ho after about a year of not seeing him was really great. I wouldn’t say museums are my favorite place, but wow, some of the things in London and Paris, especially the British National Museum and the Louvre, were mind-blowingly beautiful and held ancient murals, sculptures, artifacts that I had read about in textbooks.
But if I were to narrow down my favorite place throughout the whole trip, it would be Notre Dame, the cathedral at the heart of Paris.
During the trip, Sung Ho, Phillip, Susie, and I were sipping a few beers, chasing it down with London’s famous fish and chips. We talked about a great many different topics ranging from fake accents to future careers.
Among the discussions was, as it commonly is, religion. Susie, studying abroad in Denmark, told us about the Danish Church, where, people automatically give a portion of their income to the church (although they may opt out if they wished to do so). She then asked me about my opinion on the diminishing and decreasing role of religion, specially Roman Catholicism, internationally. In my half-tipsy state, I answered that it was perhaps both good and bad. Good because excess religious fanaticism has led to the suffering of many and perhaps as a results, a few more liberal ideals will find their respective places in the Catholic Church. Bad because, I literally said, “you know why…”
But, sitting in front of Notre Dame Cathedral as I wrote this reflection, I came to realize that I didn’t really understand why. These past few months, I have felt a bit farther from my religion. Part of it has to do with my failure to keep up with important traditions due to work and school, but the more major issue has been my inability to reconcile my liberal viewpoints with those of the Catholic Church.
And so, with the few beers, my actual feelings were revealed. I didn’t necessarily feel badly about even my dwindling spiritual involvement with the Catholic Church. The only difficult part was when I went home, where my parents’ joy equaled my level of “religious-ness.”
We had visited Notre Dame on Monday, but on Tuesday, I had something pulling at me to go back. I assumed it was my Catholic guilt pulling at me for having missed mass on Sunday, so I told my friends that I wanted to go take confession at the Cathedral and I would be back by 8:30PM.
The truth was, I had no idea if there was mass, only that the Cathedral was to close to tourists at 6PM. It was 5:45 when I got to there, and I went straight to the confessional. To my surprise, there was no queue. I went in, said my confession, at which point the Father notified me that there was to be mass in the Cathedral at 6:15PM. The Cathedral is large, plus I have no French, so I went full circle around ND before arriving back at the confessional where there were 6 people waiting. Coincidence that somehow I had made it at the knick of time? I eventually found the small chapel (also in the knick of time with aid from a kindly old man) and had one of the most refreshing and reflective masses I’ve had in a while, despite understanding very little of it (it was in French).
Just enough “coincidences” happened today that something clicked inside of me. The diminishing role of religion in my life had made me a little bit more selfish, less empathetic person. This was exactly what is bad about the diminishing role of religion universally. The media and politics overwhelmingly present the church hating on gay people or fighting against reproductive rights. But they never show the Church’s role in the past millennia and now in alms giving, fighting for a living wage, helping the poor in developing countries, and working towards justice for all. With fewer religious people, and fewer people entering religious life, who will be the next Dong Ha Rhee philanthropist or the next Father John Lee of Sudan? Or even, who will give the few dollars to the homeless on the streets of NYC?
The thing is, one does not need to be religious to do any of these things, but religion has and will always be, in my opinion, THE driving force of reflecting on our respective places in the world, and giving ourselves for the benefit of others. Just looking at my friends, those that are truly religious (not the ones that claim to be, and then do not show it through their actions) whether Catholic or Muslim, tend to be wiser, more understanding, as it teaches us of the important things in life, and that there is a much greater being we should all aspire to.
There are so many different cultures on this plaza at Notre Dame, and religion ties all of them together. Religion will always have its place in the world and it’s our jobs to keep it not just alive but LIVING.