Category Archives: Real World?

My Not-So-Final Word

For a few reasons, I’d been putting off my farewell entry as long as possible. I had a nutty-but-amazing senior week, the seven days between finals and graduation when Cornell sponsors all sorts of local fun: wine tours, river rafting, paintball, et cetera. It was exactly what my friends and I needed to mentally prepare to leave Cornell: I know I would have been a wreck if I finished my ethics exam on Friday and graduated the next day. Graduation was a lovely weekend but a tiring one, my (maybe) last act of volunteering for everything — I say “maybe” because I signed up for the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network (CAAAN), for whom I hope to begin conducting informational interviews with DC-area prospective Cornellians really soon! Check out all the videos and photos here — I lucked into prime placement for being photographed by carrying the ILR School’s banner, an honor that meant so much to me. Since I’ve been home, I’ve done the usual readjustment to Maryland life (sleeping in, TV-on-DVD, hanging out with my retired father), with some job search mixed in.

But the frame store called this morning to say my diploma was ready, and now it’s sitting on my bed waiting to be hung up. As my friends said many times during the graduation ceremonies, “this is happening.”

As noted in a recent entry, I’m still not too emotional about graduation, and I really haven’t taken a lot of time to reflect. One of my friends suspects that it’s not really going to hit him until it’s August and he’s not packing up to come back to Cornell. I think the same thing will happen to me, so the waterworks are going to come after my official blogging duties have ended. But hopefully I’ll look back to this entry to stop crying: perhaps I am okay because I know that graduation is in no way the end of my Cornell life, even if I won’t be back in Ithaca for a bit. (See that? Plans to return are already in the works.) I’m glad to have a solid network of Cornell friends in DC with me, I can’t wait to start meeting prospectives through CAAAN, and I’m totally crashing all future Cornell Alumni Leadership Conventions. Academically, I’ll stay in touch with my thesis advisor and second reader as I adapt my thesis for publication in journals; I have similar plans for a bunch of other papers I wrote this semester. And I have a feeling that, if I’m lucky, my career plans will bring me back to Cornell. I’ll miss the undergraduate lifestyle, but knowing that Cornell will always be a part of me makes the transition a lot less heartbreaking.

Accordingly, there will be no weepy reflections on my four years at Cornell until I’m at a reunion and it is encouraged, instead, a confident summary of changes. I’ve grown into a person I’m truly happy with and made some amazing friends along the way. I don’t think this growth and these experiences would have been possible anywhere else; Cornell is such a unique place and was really a perfect one for my seventeen-year-old self, with interests all over history and the social sciences, ready to leave Montgomery County (again, for a bit), and eager to build a life in college. I’m thrilled that everyone who helped me find my way at Cornell will still be a part of my life as long as I have a NetID and excuses to visit. And I fully intend for that to be a long, long time.

A final shout out to one of those people who helped me along the way: Lisa Cameron-Norfleet, who coordinates our blogging program. This blog gave me a forum for leading a thoughtful and self-reflexive (to borrow a term from our friends in the Anthro department) life at Cornell, which helped me get so much more out of my undergraduate years.  For the prospective students out there, the group I most wished to address, I hope this blog been educational and a helpful look into the ILR School. If my blog has taught you anything, the answer to your next question should be clear: yes, you should apply!

The Music Library Rocks

New Orleans Music

In less than two weeks, I’ll be in New Orleans for the conference of the United Association of Labor Educators. I’m presenting a paper I wrote in my labor history seminar last semester, also known as the toughest class I’ve taken at Cornell, along with ten or so other student scholarship winners. I can’t wait. To set my excitement to music, I walked over to the Sidney Cox Library in Lincoln Hall, the music building on the Arts Quad, and checked out as much music from the region as I could find. I spent the next hour copying CDs and reading liner notes (though I had told myself I’d be able to do work while putting the music in my computer… alas.) For someone who loves both music and libraries, I was kind of shocked that this was my first time checking out CDs in four years. I fully intend to spend a whole Saturday in the library expanding my collection. But for now, Professor Longhair and James Booker have earned a rightful place in my iTunes, and I’ll have so much to listen to on the plane!

On Not Panicking

It’s no secret that this C-SPAN enthusiast plans to return to DC next year to work in politics. After four fantastic DC internships, relevant coursework, and two of my own health care research endeavors, I’ve built a solid network and learned a good deal about social policy, and I have a lot of people giving me advice and tips. But that doesn’t change the fact that the places I want to work are still a few months away from knowing what jobs will be open in July when I can start working. Thus, I am one of many students right now without clear postgraduate plans.

As any senior can tell you, the first question we get after someone finds out it’s our last semester at Cornell is a variation of, “so what are you going to do next year?” The question has become a major pet peeve for a lot of people I know, and I can understand why it raises hackles. Even though I am well aware of the realities of my chosen industry, having to say, “not sure yet!” with a cute smile is getting kind of old, and it always makes me anxious that I’m not looking hard enough. I remind myself that signing onto a job now just to have one would close myself off from something I really want that won’t be open until May.

I’m this way about a lot of things in life: deliberative, selective, patient. Making a decision about my first real-life job should really be no different, but it’s so easy to get caught up in this rush to get hired. I think it seems like the natural end to getting into a great school, working hard, and doing well there; like we’re entitled to be sought after by employers months before we can start working. It certainly worked this way for plenty of my friends, who have signed onto companies that can forecast their hiring needs and have formal training programs in place for recent grads. Some of my friends even got job offers at the end of their junior summer internships, so they’ve known what they are doing for months now. But lots of my friends are in my shoes, in industries that don’t work that way and/or without the certainty that comes with going to graduate school. For many reasons, I want to shift gears and get some real Washington experience before starting (what will probably be) a JD/PhD in Political Science program.

I always thought of myself as a risk-adverse person, but one of my favorite professors recently pointed out that my tolerance for risk may surprise me, given the field I’ve chosen. So perhaps this is a new part of my personality to embrace, and let’s hope I can add some “not panicking” to that mix.  So when you see me on campus, it’s okay to ask me what I’m doing next year! Just maybe nod along when I tell you about what hiring for DC jobs is like and remind me to keep enjoying my last few months of Cornell.

Senior Year Anywhere

Back when I was touring colleges, I always made sure to pick up a copy of the school’s newspaper. It always seemed like a reasonable barometer of what was important to the campus and how engaged students were in what was going on around them, the latter being very high on my college checklist. When a couple of the schools had e-mail subscriptions for their newspapers, I happily supplied my Gmail address and kept apprised of campus news at all of my prospective schools. Since I still use the same account, I periodically get updates from these colleges, and I almost always read them. I think it’s a way to sate my curiosity about my counterfactual history; find out the person I’d be today and what I’d be thinking about if I’d bought a different hoodie in May of ’07.

So when I got a news digest from the Swarthmore Phoenix not too long ago, I couldn’t just delete it. Swarthmore was towards the very top of my list, and I am fairly confident I would have matriculated if it wasn’t for the eleventh-hour Cornell visit that made me fall in love with this place. Swarthmore had a lot of what I wanted in a campus: a small community, rigorous academics, beautiful surroundings, reasonable distance from home. In the end, it turned out a big university was the right place for me, because I needed a lot of room to explore.

I honestly don’t think back on the decision too much, but I was still surprised and touched to find a lot of common ground with a Swarthmore senior on the opinion page. Eva McKend’s opinion piece on life as a senior at my would-be university captured so many of my own feelings at the beginning of my last semester at Cornell. Though we attend very different institutions, it seems like McKend and I reached the same kind of conclusions about our finite undergraduate lives. Our successes and shortcomings as undergrads seem so small in comparison to the quote-unquote real world, where our minor victories won’t be feted and our major mistakes easily forgiven.

I wouldn’t say I’m quite as terrified about leaving school — and I haven’t seen any destroyed chairs at Cornell — but I do sometimes worry that the seamless transition to real life I’ve envisioned is just a fantasy. I wonder how well I’m going to adjust to working in a building where I don’t know everyone and there aren’t photos of me on the brochures. I am hopeful that I can find a fulfilling job and strong friendships in my next chapter, but I know it’s going to be nothing like my years at Cornell. I’ve understood that my college years are precious and fleeting for a while, and I take comfort in knowing that I’ve gotten so much out of them. I think that’s where I find peace in graduating, and I hope McKend can do the same.

Big Red on the Silver Screen

Our fair university gets a shout-out in Up in the Air: the film’s writers chose Cornell as the alma mater for Anna Kendrick’s character, an ambitious recent grad with big ideas about streamlining her firm’s operations. This sparked a lengthy debate among my friends: is she a Hotelie or an ILRie? It is conceivable that she could have wound up in her current line of work, a company contracted to fire people, with a degree from either program. Both Hotel and ILR would give her opportunities to study the workplace and the employment relationship, and the Organizational Behavior focus of her work could have been studied in either school. My vote is for Hotel, though, since it’s safe to say that the average Hotelie is a little more corporate and efficiency-minded than the average ILRie. She was also a sharp dresser, which seems to describe all of the Hotelies I know. Her smarts and intense ambition, however, could have come from any of Cornell’s seven colleges.

Fun debates aside, the movie somewhat underwhelmed me, possibly because it had been hyped a little too much before I saw it. But perhaps that was the director’s intent: creating a world of depersonalized social relationships in which we never connect to anything. Either way, I was impressed that the filmmakers treated subject matter, the pain of job loss and human consequences of downsizing, with great respect. It hits close to home for many viewers, me and my family included, but the emotional effects of job loss were portrayed honestly and quite sensitively. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone from the production team graduated from ILR.

Overall, not a bad effort, and pretty good for keeping my mind sharp during this very long vacation (a little past week three, with about two weeks to go = bliss.) I still preferred it to Avatar, which, though visually stunning, had a plot a little too reminiscent of Pochahontas — if Disney  spent $300 million on it.

Back in the Snow

If the true test of a vacation’s success is how little work one does, my Fall Break this year was one of the best. As I discovered on Monday night while packing to head back to school, I hadn’t even opened the backpack full of reading I brought home. No major consequences, though, I just didn’t get as far ahead on work as I had hoped. And I had an excellent time at home: Taste of Georgetown and heading over to my cousin’s house for an Ecuador soccer game on Saturday, hanging out with my nieces on Sunday, and visiting my friends at the University of Maryland on Monday.  Most definitely a break well spent!

It was wonderful to be home, since I do find myself strangely homesick these days. I never experienced it during freshman year, since I was probably too caught up in the novelty of college life to despair, and also because I was fortunate enough to have one of my best friends from high school at Cornell, too. In sophomore year, during the election season, I started to terribly miss being near Washington. This year, I miss home so  much more. Maybe it’s because I’m more certain than ever that I’m headed back after graduation. It’s also a huge “grass-is-always-greener” situation: as much as I miss working in DC and can’t wait to get back, wearing jeans and going to the library does have its benefits. I guess the key is just enjoying whatever you’re doing.

My Natural Habitat

I’m in New York City for the first time in years, and what do I do? Spend some quality time at the New York Public Library. It’s beautiful, and I think my friend Michelle was actually being serious when she said she wanted to get married here. Catherwood is still home for me, but I do understand why people love this place!

I have a few hours before I get on my train to Washington. I’m making an unexpected (and a surprise for one of my parents, so keep it on the down low!) trip home this weekend. This is the first time I’ve really left campus for a major trip that wasn’t during a break, so this week was my crash course in the intricacies of traveling in and out of Central New York. I’ve never really had to scramble for travel arrangements before now. People from the DC area are extremely fortunate to have the Cornell-Bethesda Bus, a service privately chartered by the region’s Cornell parents. It picks up on three locations on campus for all of the breaks and delivers us home to a mall in the suburbs. (Coincidentally enough, my parents met at this mall, a fact of which I am reminded every break.) Without this service, travel is much more difficult: direct flights to Washington are very hard to come by, and taking a bus to DC tends to be a sixteen-hour nightmare.

Without the ease of the CBBus, I had to really sit down and figure out my plans this week. I consulted all of my travel experts and learned quite a bit about the airport options around Ithaca (there are way more than I could have imagined) and which bus stations are sketchiest at night (sorry, Rochester.) On this leg of the journey, I took a Campus 2 Campus shuttle from Ithaca to the Cornell Club of New York City. And how awesome was it to see Cornell flags flying over East 44th Street? It was a lovely way to travel: huge leather seats, free wifi, lots of food, surrounded by bigshot Cornell seniors in the city for interviews. After the bus, I’m walking down to Penn Station and taking an Amtrak train down to DC. I’m hoping to use my considerable charm to get an earlier train, since I overbudgeted my time.

The bus this morning was a great experience, and I am definitely planning on making more trips to New York before graduation. Some of them might even might be for reasons other than concerts! Maybe this is the point in my life where I really start enjoying travel and what the rest of the world has to offer? I went to a Cornell Career Center-sponsored presentation from the State Department yesterday, and I am seriously considering going out for an internship abroad this summer. Junior year, I believe, is a very a good time to be breaking out of my old routines – the fact that I’m in a library right now is besides the point.

The Art of the Phone Interview

I’ve done four interviews for summer jobs thus far, and three of them were conducted over the phone. I chalk up this arrangement to my interest in the public sector, which is generally not known for having loads of extra cash with which to conduct on-campus recruiting. Instead of rocking a suit around Ives Hall like my friends get to do, I usually conduct my interviews in my pajamas in my room, or, as the case was on Thursday, standing in the rain on the Ag quad.

I’d say they have all gone well, except for the one I unwisely scheduled for a few minutes after a demoralizing prelim. I’ve been able to express my interests, background, and experience pretty coherently, even mastering a cogent response to, “that sounds like quite an interesting major. Tell me more about it!”

Despite how many I have done this year and last year, I still find it disorienting to be able to hear someone but not see their gestures or expressions. Since I unashamedly talk with my hands, I also feel like I overcompensate for not being able to gesture or smile by – wish I were kidding – giggling! I’m actually quite professional and serious in person (sometimes too professional…) so hopefully it hasn’t cast any doubts about my qualifications.

Hopefully, I’ll have commited to a job by the middle of April, and then I can replace my phone interview attire with something a little more snazzy. I can honestly say that I would love to work in any of the organizations on my list, so I think it should be a great summer, even if I’m not yet the master of the phone interview.

Domestic Affairs

Every Thursday night is reserved for weekly reunion dinners with the ILRies I don’t get to see anymore. For a school as small as ILR, it’s actually quite possible to lose track of people when you don’t have classes with them. Accordingly, I dined with one of my dear friends from Stats and Labor Law, who caught us up with her exciting credit internship plans for junior year. It seems that everywhere I go, another ILRie tells me about their choice to go abroad or how they are brushing up on their German or spending a semester in Asia.

On the other hand, I have no plans to leave Ives Hall or even take a foreign language. Since my parents almost never take vacations, I’ve never been one for traveling. It took me eighteen years to get to Europe, and my motivation was a lot less cultural discovery than it was seeing the last show on the last Europe leg on the Magic tour. To date, I’ve only visited Spanish-speaking countries, one of which contains approximately 80% of my relatives. I haven’t exactly breached my “comfort zone,” and I have no interest in doing so. Does that make me a self-centered American? My usual excuse is that I want time to work on an honors thesis in senior year with no need to rush. The real answer is something more along the lines of having more courses I want to take than could fit into four years.

And besides, the world has a funny way of coming to Cornell: I went to see Sergio Farjado, former mayor of Medellín, Colombia, which was once considered the most dangerous city in the world. Farjado’s transformation of the city, with its heavy focus on participatory action and including historically marginalized groups, was freaking inspiring. I had to wonder if the same principles will work in our fragmented, pluralistic society, but I am sure that Farjado’s critics told him the same thing. One week later, I had an extended discussion with a State Department official at the Non-Profit and Government Career Fair: he told me that I seemed like an “international person” anyways, and that ILR fields are relevant in any country, especially during this recovery period for our image abroad.

As usual, no worries about this choice. I’m going to cherish the – yikes! – four complete semesters I have left.

A Brief Break from Statistics

It was a big week, though certainly not as big as the previous one. On Wednesday, my friends and I signed a lease for an apartment off-campus next year! Finding a place to live was pure turmoil from the first night someone mentioned, “so hey, what should we do next year?” Different people, different preferences: of the twelve of us who at one time considered living together, we had eight distinct majors and almost all seven colleges represented (sorry, HumEc.) As a result, it was hard to agree on the best part of campus: North, a good location for Ag students and avid swimmers like myself? West, with good prices and close proximity to fantastic dining halls and a very nice gym? Collegetown, a short walk for engineers with tons of restaurants?

The group inevitably split, with my half opting for a nicely-located property on North Campus. It’s a short jaunt across the Suspension Bridge to the Arts Quad and a leisurely (read: no Libe Slope) walk to Helen Newman, my favorite fitness center. I’m looking forward to having a real kitchen and big rooms, though part of me will definitely miss all of the cool events on West Campus. I ended up with friends who share my general living habits, sense of humor, and terrible taste in television, so I think we’re in for a good year.

I’m happy we’ve put it to bed, though the pressure hasn’t really lifted after a good two months of nonstop housing worries. I’m sure I’ll wake up in a few days and be thrilled with our choice. I have to admit that carrying my checkbook around for all of Wednesday made me feel like way too much of an adult.

Otherwise, pre-enroll went well for me. I’m sure I will change my schedule around during Add/Drop, but all is well for now. On Tuesday, I handed in two massive papers of twelve and six pages, respectively, after having written the bulk of them in the previous weekend. Two papers in two days was a terrible mistake that should not (but probably will be) repeated. Wednesday night was Bethe’s Twice-Annual Invite a Professor to Dinner: I had the privilege of dining with Isaac Kramnick, Government professor and founder of the West Campus House System. I spent last night contra dancing (!) with my beloved guest blogger Michelle, which was a fun adventure for someone with no internal sense of rhythm. We joined a Graduate Residence Fellow a handful of students from Keeton House, where I manage to spend much of my time. I’ve never enjoyed something that I was so terrible at quite as much!