A Would-be Snow Day

It seems that the snowstorm that is about to hit this part of the country very, very hard was enough to push the otherwise sedate National Weather Service to write a report that includes the phrase, “unleash its fury.” We’ve been back at school for a week now, and we’re all kind of bracing ourselves for fifteen to eighteen inches of snow. Something like a welcome back present, I guess. I’m still on campus tonight, and there’s no snow falling yet, but it’s clear the sky is about to do something. (“Unleash some fury,” I suppose!) I’m not anticipating catastrophe, because this area is generally very good about cleaning up after snow events, and there’s so much in walking distance that we’re not in real danger of being stranded. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have an always-prepared-and-on-top-of-stuff roommate: Long Island took us to Wegmans last night to restock our fridge. If any of our friends run out of food, they should know that we have endless supplies of hummus and an awful lot of ice cream for this point in the year.

Personally and selfishly, I really hope school is cancelled. Not for skipping class, as it’s way too early in the semester for me to need extra days to finish work. And I wouldn’t want to miss a Wednesday, because a favorite class meets then: GOVT 4112: The Politics of Change, a senior seminar on the first two years of the Obama administration. My desire for cancellation is more for the mythic status of a Cornell snow day. Cornell rarely closes for snow (more details in this article), so I’ve always wanted to be among the small group of Cornellians who can say they’ve ever had a snow day. I maintain that partial day closings don’t count, so the half-day we had off last fall was, to me, an insignificant aberration. The midday closings are annoyances to students but hugely hazardous to faculty and staff who have to drive to campus.  So if Cornell decides to close, I hope it’s early enough to keep people off the icy roads.

A sidenote on that Valentine’s Day closure in 2007: if I am recalling correctly, this same snowstorm left a few inches of ice in the Washington, DC area and closed schools for ten days. My hometown’s reaction to snow is a study in contrasts compared to Cornell: usually unfounded panic, a disorganized response, and BMWs with no snow tires spinning out everywhere. I hope no one tells Ed “Nation of Wusses” Rendell about us… he’d be proud of Ithaca.

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.

Cornell in Washington… Literally

I had a great first-real-weekend-of-break with little pieces of my Cornell life making their way to Maryland. My roommate (Guam) came to visit, and we hit up the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, among my favorite places in the District. It’s so underrated. A few blocks away from the rest of the Smithsonian buildings, it doesn’t get nearly as much traffic as it should. But I do my part, always showing off the collections to my family and friends when they visit, and singing its praises whenever someone has the wrong idea about which Smithsonian is best.

So seeing a portrait of Cornell professor Steve Squyres in the Americans Now exhibit only enhanced its reputation in my mind. It’s an awesome photomontage of his office, lab, and views of Cornell, showcasing his role as the principal scientist on NASA’s Mars Rover mission. Guam and I kind of flipped out in an otherwise sedate museum setting, trying to figure out what building he was in or if we knew anyone in the backgrounds. Professor Squyres’ photo shared a corner with the iconic Shepard Fairey poster of President Obama. Excellent placement for our fair Cornell, I’d say!

Courtesy the Smithsonian's Facebook page... yes, they have Facebook.
Courtesy the Smithsonian's Facebook page... yes, they have Facebook.

Proof I’m On Vacation

Tomorrow, I’m probably going to sleep until 11 a.m., decorate our Christmas tree, try a new restaurant with my dad, and watch some awful television. If this were the average Thursday during my fall semester, I’d be awake at 8 a.m., downing expresso, trying to finish the remaining reading for my history seminar that night, and skipping meals to go to class. Indeed, this semester ended as it began: crazy. I’d try to come up with a better word made of more syllables, but I used all of the big words I know in the sixty-odd pages I wrote during finals week. But my first few days of Winter Break have been quite restorative, and I’m looking forward to filling the rest of my time at home with fun.

Apartment Tour

Taking a cue from esteemed fellow blogger Adrienne, I’d like to introduce the roommates who put up with my classic rock shower singing, history books strewn everywhere, and general only child antics. As a trio, we’re a fine example of Cornell’s cultural and geographic diversity. We represent Long Island, the great state of Maryland, and Guam. We’ve been lighting a menorah this week, we ate dried mango from the Philippines earlier this month, and there’s an absurd variety of spices in our kitchen. But when it comes to academic diversity, we’re all ILR seniors with interests in public affairs. There’s a bit of diversity within those interests: Guam is currently embedded with the Global Labor Institute at the the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun (yes, it’s 23 degrees in Ithaca right now, and we get cruel daily updates about the sun and sand…), and Long Island teaches me something new every day about family-friendly workplace policies, the focus of her thesis. But we’re still your standard gung-ho ILR girls with some form of a social justice bent with the same kind of question marks about our plans next year (the subject of a future entry.)

It’s a question I often get in admissions: do ILR students mostly socialize with each other? I say there’s a good balance. There’s a spectrum within ILR of how crazy people are about it, ranging from people who just see it as their major to those who eat, sleep, and breathe the coursework and small-school culture. Needless to say, the roommates and I fall on the latter part of the spectrum, so when we’re not hanging out at our apartment, we’re in the undergrad lounge on the first floor of Ives. In a school of 13,000 undergrads, we chose roommates from the 900 in the ILR School. But on the other hand, even the hard core ILRies build strong friendships outside of the school. I am still close with friends from my freshman year dorm, only one of whom is an ILRie, and the same is true for my roommates and other ILR boosters. And I think the ILR School respects all levels of ILR commitment, though I won’t lie — it’s always more fun to talk to someone who loves the school as much as I do!

The Longest Two Weeks

Finals at Cornell are spread out over a ten-day period, with the time of the final determined by the start time of the course during the week. (For a painstakingly detailed description of this process, check out the registrar’s version.) Somehow, all of my final exam periods fall during the first week of exams, which is both good and bad. Good in that I get an extra week or so of winter break and thus more time to do interviews for my thesis, and bad that I have an insane number of pages to write before December 10. Over the years, I have discovered that I am more a “paper person” than a “prelim person,” meaning I’d rather write an essay than sit for an exam, and I’ve chosen classes accordingly. But contemplating the eighty or so pages that have to get written almost makes me wish I had a sit-down exam I could knock out in an hour and a half and move on with my life. Ah well, you can’t always get what you want, right?

Superstar Author and Mentor

Seth in Action
Seth in Action

Earlier this week, I had yet another one of those my-time-at-Cornell-has-come-full-circle moments: I finally got to see my alumni mentor, whom I met before freshman year, on campus. The summer before my first year here, I requested an alumni mentor through the Cornell Alumni-Student Mentoring Program, and I was matched with Seth Stern ’97, an ILR grad and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Little did I know then that we shared an interest in history and politics, and that he was basically leading my dream life — having a present- and future-oriented job in public affairs while writing history on the side. We’ve been able to meet when I’m home and stay in touch over e-mail since then. In October, his biography of Supreme Court Justice William Brennan hit the shelves, and he came up to Cornell this week to meet with students and talk about his subject, the writing process, and time as a student here. It was pretty awesome to see him in his old stomping grounds after having accomplished so much. I also recommend everyone check out the book. The reviews have been glowing, and I’m so looking forward to reading it when I get some downtime.

A Sign to Slow Down

I’d like to think I’m a pretty humble person, but when it comes to my immune system, I’m pretty well known among my friends for bragging about how I never get sick. So you can imagine my surprise (and disappointment!) to find that my lingering cold was in fact an untreated sinus infection that became bronchitis. The intervention of several concerned friends and roommates (“that cough is disgusting, you need to do something about it”) brought me to Gannett, Cornell’s health center, on Wednesday. This weekend, I’m following the doctor’s orders, including taking the first prescription I’ve gotten in five years. Five years!

I know beating up oneself for getting sick is counterproductive and silly, but I know my ridiculous lifestyle was a major contributor to where I am now. Senior year has been busier than ever, defying my idyllic expectations of sleeping in every day and going to class whenever I felt like it. But no, I’m crazy overscheduled and barely keeping on top of my favorite class, not to mention letting my thesis slide like crazy. This is happening to all the seniors I know: there’s a peculiar way in which all of the little responsibilities you accrue over the years just all overwhelm you when you’re the finally the leader of a club or important in your workplace (or both.) A good measure of how slammed I am is how quickly I run out of business casual clothes, and the rate of their disappearance makes me really happy I live 30 minutes from a Banana Republic at home.

I’d like to end this on a high note, saying I’m going to change… but I know myself and my commitments. It’s not looking good. Perhaps this is a good segue into what my work life will probably be like, if I get to go back to DC and work in politics — connected to a BlackBerry with more projects amassing than I can ever finish. This year, though, I’ll just be thrilled when I’m feeling healthier — the chicken soup tonight should help, as should the company of the lovely friends who have been looking out for me.

Election Night Eve

I am viewing the midterm election tomorrow (!) with a healthy level of interest — not quite obsession, but enough to feel like a good citizen — and a little bit of trepidation. As my interest has moved from the politics of campaigns to the politics of actually getting the job done in Washington, I’ve become a lot less nuts about printing out blank maps of the United States and coloring them in. However, there’s been no shortage of good information on campus about the major candidates and issues at stake. A lot of friends are involved in getting out the vote and helping out at the polls on election day. I saw about a million Christine O’Donnells on Halloween (witch hat + suit + pearls), and the New York governors’ race has captured the interest of many of my friends who aren’t usually involved in politics (usually some variation of, “Really? You picked that guy?”) Being on both the  Cornell Republicans’ and Democrats’ list-servs is an excellent way to keep one’s finger on the pulse of political activity around here.
But I’m going to pass on all of the returns watch parties, because I’d rather just share (what could be) grief with a selected few. I’m not predicting the terrible bloodbath it feels like the media called two months ago. Way to make sure people actually go to the polls. I think the losses will be pretty commensurate with any midterm election, and I doubt that losing the House will be as detrimental as many predict. It’s often a more genuine negotiation when the two houses of Congress are controlled by different parties. (At least that’s what it says in my thesis. More on this later.) Though the election going the wrong way might make it harder for me to find a job next year, I’m not too worried, and I am hoping to be proved something like right tomorrow night.

The ILR Experience from Ithaca and Beyond

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