Depending on where you start counting — end of classes? Last exam? Start of my job? — I am well beyond halfway through my summer in Ithaca. Indeed, I have a little under a month before I head home to conduct some interviews with Congressional staff for my research project. Because of a bunch of setbacks this summer, mostly in the form of problems in my off-campus apartment, I’m not exactly where I want to be with the project. But given the way I write papers, I’m still pretty confident I can pull off a good product in a short amount of time. I did the math, and completing slightly more than half a page per day is well under my average in paper-heavy weeks during the school year, after all.
This summer hasn’t been everything I had hoped it would be. Of course, it didn’t help that my expectations were astronomical. I had insanely high hopes for finishing a great research project, making a solid contribution in ILR Admissions, and really getting to know another side of Ithaca. I’m still trying to do all those in the next few weeks, but I know I’ll have some choices to make from the big list of things I had hoped to accomplish — kayaking, hiking, hosting a barbeque, getting good at frisbee, spending lazy afternoons on the Arts Quad, the list goes on.
I think I made some miscalculations in deciding that I could enjoy living alone and without air conditioning, and that I wouldn’t terribly miss the excitement of Washington in the frenzied rush up to August recess. Always the straight-laced one, I had half-joked to a lot of friends that this would be my “hippie summer,” since I had let my hair grow past my shoulders, and my job didn’t require a suit. But maybe you can take the girl out of the fast-paced world of politics, but not the other way around. I’ve found it hard to stay motivated without the dynamic backdrop of Washington to add excitement and meaning to my work. Throw an apartment full of problems into that mix, and you have yourself a disappointing couple of months.
On a much-needed trip home last week, I ended up cutting off about four inches of the hippie hair I tried to enjoy. I’m back at school today making some major progress on my work and trying to refocus. My hopes are high — but not too high — for salvaging the next few weeks. The handful of great adventures and conversations I’ve had in the midst of all this crazy have been encouraging for what life will be like from here on out. Whatever happens, hopefully I’ll look back on this summer as a wise choice to explore something out of my comfort zone and truly test and refine my academic interests, or at least one that reaffirms my desire to work in DC by sending me running back to it. And I think I’ll still fulfill part of my hippie quota this Saturday at Grassroots, a beloved festival of folk music and dance in nearby Trumansburg. My hair is a little too short, but I think can still enjoy it.
My semester ended as it usually does: a triumphant all-nighter. Finishing my last paper and most of my packing at 4:50 a.m., I departed Ithaca just a few hours later to enjoy some downtime at home before I come back to Cornell. Being at home and knowing I’m heading out soon is a very weird feeling. I have never spent a summer away from my family and Washington, but it’s not like I’m going to an unfamiliar place. It’s strange to be so apprehensive about spending two extra months in a town where I spend ten months every year. Is my comfort zone really this small? Maybe I’m just reacting to not having an overly-scheduled summer for the first time since childhood — and my last four summers of DC internships have been the most scheduled of any of them… the three-hour round trip commute tends to do that. So this summer is going to be a new experience, which I suppose college is all about! I’m sure when I get back to school and find a good rhythm, all of these fears are going to be allayed.
Ever reach the end of something and vividly remember how you imagined it would be in the beginning? Somewhere between pages five and six of this massive take-home final I am writing today, I had a flashback to the first day of my Spring ’10 semester, being fresh-faced and eager to learn in my Supreme Court class. It’s been an incredible test of how well I can handle an 8:40 class in a twenty-credit semester, which has had its ups and downs. Four months later, here I am in Mann Library, working on a Supreme Court paper, my last assignment ever in this amazing semester. I can’t even count how many hours I have logged in this library or any others this term, but I know it’s a lot. And I know I’m going to enjoy my last late night of Spring ’10 as much as I have enjoyed the others: junk food (did you know the restaurants around here deliver to libraries?!), great friends, disturbing the peace with laughter and pranks, turning out some high-quality work, and then catching up on Glee to celebrate. This semester has been a bear, to be sure, but I don’t think I’ve had one I’ve enjoyed more. I can’t believe it will be over so soon.
Well, not too soon. I have about five pages and an entire third of my argument to finish. Wow, though, if I’m getting nostalgic over a term paper, imagine what a mess I’m going to be when I actually have to graduate. Thank goodness I get another year and summer here at Cornell.
Back to my paper.
One of my favorite items on the 161 Things to Do Before You Graduate from Cornell is about to come to fruition: “enjoy Ithaca’s two months of warm weather by spending a summer here.” It’s official: this summer, I’ll be up in Ithaca working on a health care research project of my own design. I was able to secure a research grant from ILR, mostly thanks to the fantastic ILR faculty members who tolerate my penchant for doing everything down to the wire. The process of putting together the grant application was daunting, but it came together beautifully in the end, while also giving me a scary preview of what life is going to be like when I’m a grad student.
Right now, the plan is to focus on non-profit health care cooperatives, another alternative to the employer-based health care system in the U.S. These co-ops provide the same kind of health insurance as any for-profit company, but operate more like a mutual fund. For a few brief moments in June 2009, it seemed like the co-op proposal had solved the rancorous health care debate, occupying a crucial middle ground between a government-run public option and prohibitively expensive private health insurance. However, talk of the co-op plan seemed to drop off the map in July. This summer, I am hoping to find out why, assessing both the policy merits of this plan and looking at the broader legislative process that led to its defeat.
When I’m not researching or travelling, I’ll be working in ILR’s Admission office, continuing all of the fun I’ve had this April during Cornell Days. I think my two jobs this summer will compliment each other well, plus I get a semi-legitimate outlet for expressing my love for ILR for at least a few more months. Even better, I have many friends staying up here for the summer, whether they are taking classes, conducting research, working as TAs, or just enjoying the town, so I know I’m never going to get bored. I’ve wanted to spend a summer in Ithaca since I found out it was an option, and I am thrilled that it’s finally coming true.