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.
ILR Day is a late April tradition, in which our Student Government Association debuts that year’s ILR T-shirts. But spending most of my recent days and nights in Ives Hall has made this feel much more like ILR Week.
First, the fun part: this year’s shirts are inspired. We usually go for a subtle ILR-themed double entendre (“We Always Seal the Deal” or “Tap Into My Human Resources.”) This year, however, the SGA succeeded in getting a pencil sketch of our Dean emblazoned on the T-shirt, with “Dean Katz is my Homeboy” written underneath. He takes such an active role in student life in ILR, so this was quite the fitting tribute. The shirts are fantastic, even though I’d imagine Dean Katz might be a little weirded out by seeing his face all the time. Check them out:
And the slightly less awesome part: it seemed like every group project in every upper-level ILR elective was due this week, which made for a lot of insanity around Ives Hall. It was generally fun insanity, like staying in the building past midnight after they turn off the hallway lights amid constant laughter. But, of course, sometimes the frayed nerves take over, culminating in the occasional blood fight over the two rooms in Ives that have projectors. (Thankfully, I only saw this from a distance…) Now that most of the presentations are done, I think we can go back to something like normal. Or as close to normal as the overly enthusiastic ILR crowd gets.
This Thursday, author, activist, Holocaust survivor, and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel spoke to a sold-out crowd in Bailey Hall. The line outside of Bailey started forming long before the doors opened, so I owe a major shout-out to my friend Kyle for securing such excellent seats! It was amazing to see so much of the Cornell community taking advantage of an opportunity to hear Dr. Wiesel, even if it meant a little extra planning for us.
The talk was as beautiful and inspirational as one would expect from him. Still, having read a couple of his books didn’t really prepare me for how moving it was to see him in person and hear his words in his own voice. I also had never heard him describe his time in America: he saw our country in some of the darkest periods of the Civil Rights struggle. The questions he graciously fielded from the audience were also interesting, challenging, and sincere: an Ithaca-area middle school teacher who has taught Night to over 800 students asked for a takeaway from the book straight from the source. I can’t do him justice, of course, but I think the conclusion was that it is a book of despair but also a book of hope.
Also great was getting to see my friend Eleanor introduce Dr. Wiesel. As president of Cornell Hillel, she had a huge hand in planning the entire event, and she and the other organizers of the event did a beautiful job onstage.
For a great run-down of his talk, check out the Cornell Sun’s coverage.
One learns pretty quickly that the New York City’s influence on Cornell is very strong. With a little under 50% of our undergrads coming from New York, historic ties to the state, a campus in midtown Manhattan, and many faculty from the tri-state area, it’s easy to think that this place is a tiny little pocket of the NYC in the center of the state. My first introduction to this fact was when everyone around me referred to New York City as “the city,” as if there were no other cities in the world. Or when people insisted that the bagels or pizza we have up here aren’t “real,” or when people talked smack about the South. The New York Centricity of it all can be obnoxious, but most of the time, it’s easy to ignore.
So the title of this year’s Milton Konvitz Memorial Lecture, an annual speakership in honor of a legendary ILR professor, brought a predictable eye-roll: “New York State and the Federal Constitution.” I figured all I was going to hear was why New York is sooo great and why small states don’t contribute anything to our country. (Don’t get me started on how we would have lost the Civil War if Maryland had seceded.)
However, the talk was anything but too New Yorky. The speaker, Yale Law professor and extremely prolific author Akhil Reed Amar, did a fantastic job of giving the 105 Ives Hall crowd a very different take on the Constitution. With a series of vignettes on the ratification process and the early days of the Constitution, Professor Amar painted a beautifully nuanced picture of how New York State fit into the founding, without being too self-congratulatory. Being part of a group of ILRies to meet with the speaker beforehand was quite a privilege, too, and gave me tons to think about re: graduate school. And hopefully the New Yorkers in the audience learned how to talk about their state with a little less superiority!
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.
Imagine walking down Ho Plaza after discussion section for your Supreme Court class while having a pretty high-brow conversation about Brown v. Board of Education. And all of the sudden, you see a llama in the middle of your campus. A llama! In the presence of an adorable pack animal, those intelligent insights turn to squeals pretty instantly.
We soon found out that we had the Association of Peruvian Students at Cornell to thank for the llama’s visit to Cornell. Being half Ecuadorian, I had seen llamas in the wild before, but having one show up outside of Willard Straight Hall was pretty fantastic. We hopped in the photo line and made it to the front pretty quickly, but our new llama friend was more interested in nuzzling my face than posing for a photo. Can’t say I blamed him: he probably enjoyed the Andean connection as much as I did! But needless to say, my day was made, and I can’t wait for the next time we get a llama visit.
My sincerest apologies for not writing an update in such a long time! What can I say, my life on the hill sometimes interferes with Life on the Hill. There was Spring Break, the collective jubilation that happens when it stops snowing here, and papers. So many papers. But I’m very glad that all of the prospective Cornell families out there get such frequent and high-quality updates from fellow bloggers Tim and Cullen. Kudos, gents!
So I will try to sum up the big events of late in a cogent list. (It’s not my specialty.)
- The fences. Cornell’s recent high-profile suicides shook me pretty deeply. Though I did not know any of the students personally, it truly hurts when its one of your own, and the agony their families must be feeling is still so hard to fathom. I’m not taking such a hard line against the fences, because I do think they are a successful, if temporary, deterrent. Still, if Cornell’s only response to these tragedies is to build a fence without doing a critical self-assessment, I will be very disappointed. Ultimately, I think this kind of review is going to be student-driven, rather than forming a university committee that takes months to set up a meeting. I hope my friends who are involved with “Don’t Fence Us In” keep pressuring the administration and generating good solutions. And I’m looking forward to the huge party we throw when they get torn down.
- Cornell Men’s Basketball! Our unprecedented victories this year certainly helped lift our spirits a little. I watched Cornell dominate Wisconsin with friends at the Cornell in Washington center, a place I would surely be if I did not get enough of DC during my summers. We were a small but vocal crowd, and it was a trip to see Cornell alums rocking red t-shirts when we walked around Dupont Circle later that night. Of course, the loss to Kentucky was hard to watch, but I think most of us were so proud of Cornell that the outcome didn’t hurt too badly. I will never forget the day of the Wisconsin game, though. My beloved university dominating a Big 10 team on the same day that health care reform passes? I couldn’t ask for anything sweeter.
- Cornell Days. I’ve said it before, but Cornell Days is one of my very times of the year here. I vividly remember the agony of picking colleges, but not quite as much as I remember falling in love with Cornell when I visited three years ago tomorrow. (Yikes, I’m getting old!) I’m game to do anything to help students and families make as a great a choice as we did back in the day.
- Pre-enroll. I got into every class I wanted today, which is a first. In past years, I would make an elaborate game plan of what to take if a certain class was full, with classes ranked by preferences and how difficult they would be to get into. This year, I scribbled down six course numbers on a post-it, and signed up for all of my classes in less than five minutes, and then went back to sleep. It’s good to be a rising senior sometimes.
Time to pack up: I am literally being asked to leave Catherwood right now. More frequent updates to come, I promise!
It’s pretty easy to tell when one’s ordinarily polished friends are in the middle of midterms. My stylish friend lamented on Facebook today that she’s “slumming in Olin wearing sweatpants.” I’m no exception: I took my midterm tonight in baggy jeans and old band T-shirt. Styling my hair or putting in contacts was way too much to ask, and the sidebangs I obviously cut myself are pointing in every direction but the way they should. However, despite this overall crazy, at least one part of my outfit is right: I’m rocking my Cornell hoodie, carrying a Cornell backpack, and drinking from a Cornell water bottle.
All things considered, it’s been a pretty great week. My good luck tends to come in waves, and this is one of those exceptionally good times. I know something is going right when I’ve enjoyed my week despite spending the majority of it in a library. You know that point in the evening where everything is suddenly hilarious? I’ve reached it every night this week. Thankfully, I’ve been with my friends, so I’m not just disturbing the peace with obnoxious laughter alone. The five “good luck!” texts tonight have been so very encouraging, too.
Coming soon: my quickly materializing summer plans! Very excited to (almost) have it all figured out.
Ithaca’s beautiful State Theatre is one of those best-kept secrets that you could spend your entire time at Cornell never seeing. Thankfully, I was introduced to it last year, when my friends in Keeton House hooked me up with free tickets to the Blind Boys of Alabama and Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Side note: just bought this album, and it’s amazing.) I loved the concert and the venue, and fortunately I got to go back this weekend to see one of my very favorite bands: The Avett Brothers. Imagine the best parts of folk, punk, classical cello, and bluegrass combined into one supremely talented foursome. Throw in beautiful lyrics, extremely high-energy performances, amazing chemistry between the musicians, and a growing but dedicated fan base… and I feel much better about still having a band to follow around the world when the E Street Band stops touring.
I went with one of the few people in the world I can trust to not judge me when I sing and dance along — badly and loudly — to the music I love. And she dutifully learned all of the songs I lent to her, plus everything she could find on YouTube, plus shoved me to the front of the pit at the end of the show when Scott Avett shook everyone’s hands. That’s friendship right there. The show was incredible — they managed to include nearly every song of personal importance to me. Two of those songs, Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise and Backwards with Time, seem to capture life in this liminal period so beautifully. Being towards the front of the pit with such a dedicated and friendly crowd made it all the more special. It was clear that the band was so happy to be in Ithaca. I think our town has the kind of sensibility that matches the band: the crowd had just the right mix of hippies, preppy kids, folk musicians, country people, vest-wearers, and whatever weird combination of those groups Michelle and I occupy. Maybe a category for people who love great live performances, historic theaters, and life in Ithaca?