Our Better History

Though the events that shaped my return-to-school itinerary were not the best, I can’t have imagined celebrating Barack Obama’s inauguration in a better way. I divided the last few weeks of Obamania between Washington and Ithaca.

I spent the weeks leading up to the inauguration doing all of the usual Washingtonian kid things: long strolls on the Mall, surveying my favorite monuments, trying to see if anything felt different. I had the unbelievable opportunity to watch the certification of the election in the front row of the House of Representatives. By law, a joint committee of Congress must meet to examine the ballots from each state to certify that they are “regular in form and authentic.” This process is overseen by the National Archives and Records Administration, home of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and my memories of the sweetest summer internship in Washington. What had felt like a dream come true was finally made real as I sat on the House floor, watching the results of the historic election being written into the Congressional record. Knowing that those ballots and the journal of the House were on their way down Constitution Avenue to be sealed forever in the National Archives was the most literal “written in the history books” that I had felt this entire election season. Even better was watching our now former! Vice President presiding over the process.

After the unbelievable experience of watching this unfold in Congress, I thought I had seen enough of the inauguration. Just as I was weighing the costs and benefits of heading back to school as scheduled or staying for some of the festivities, the economic crisis literally hit home, and I needed a few more days in the Washington area. Everything worked out beautifully, but I needed a few more days to put my Labor Law training to use.

With steady progress made on the obnoxious-undergrad-harassing-various-lawyers front, I set out at dawn on Sunday morning to watch the We Are One concert at the Lincoln Memorial. The list of stars who appeared was staggering, and my hero rocked the house not once but twice, bringing tears to my eyes both times. Singing “This Land is Your Land” along with the crowd, Bruce, and eighty-nine-year-old Pete Seeger was nothing but surreal.

I was quickly overwhelmed by the historical coincidences: MLK’s birthday, the Lincoln bicentennial, the Americans who stood in my place for the I Have a Dream speech. When President Obama proudly noted that he would not be here if it weren’t for Lincoln, the historic totality of the moment came crashing down, because I knew I wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for Lincoln, either. A half-hispanic girl from a border state probably wouldn’t have a shot in this world if the 1860s had gone the wrong way. Cornell wouldn’t be here, either, if he hadn’t signed the Morrill Land Grant Act in 1862. I had to put down my “THANKS, BRUCE” sign and take a few deep breaths before I could concentrate again on the amazing lineup.

With amazing memories, I watched the inauguration itself at my second home at Cornell. Reuniting with my friends and crowding into Ives 115 to witness today’s events, I realized that experiencing the inauguration in just Washington or just Ithaca wouldn’t have been complete. Both halves of my life came together beautifully for this amazing American celebration, and this feels like the start of a great semester and an even better eight years.

Bruce vs. Class

Winter Break is slipping away, and my feelings are predictably mixed. On the one hand, I can’t wait to see my friends, and Spring ’09 is offering an exciting set of classes and two legendary ILR professors who are rumored to destroy GPAs. On the other hand, I will ring in this semester 350 miles away from Barack Obama’s inauguration and Bruce Springsteen’s “very likely” free Lincoln Memorial concert. My house is an hour from downtown, tops, and my hero will play in front of my fourth favorite president in honor of the first president I voted for. And it’s free! Instead, I will be in the Cornell Store dropping $500 for textbooks.

How would Bruce handle this dilemma? I think he would probably understand that I treat school like a 9 to 5 job (or a 9 to midnight job sometimes, let’s be honest) at the center of my life, and sometimes it has to come before following aging Jersey shore rockers around the world. And the main reason I love Springsteen is because he works as hard as I do: he might suggest I head back to my work life safely on a charter bus rather than scrambling for a ride on Sunday night. However, he’s kind of big on genuine experiences, and draining my long-suffering checking account doesn’t really qualify as a life-changing part of history, especially since it happens every semester.

Loyal readers (that means you, mom,) please weigh in.

Pulling out of here to Win (Maybe?)

I wrapped up my last final on Wednesday night, saying goodbye to a semester of pretty sweet academics: five-person classes, veteran professors, and miraculously generous grades on so many papers. The workload was intense, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I’m so much closer to the top-notch friends in my study groups whom I barely knew last year. We finish each other’s sentences now, and not just when they’re about the National Labor Relations Act. It’s been yet another semester that has affirmed my love for my major, and I’m just getting more obnoxious about it.

I’m spending my remaining time in Ithaca before (hopefully) heading home on Friday afternoon taking care of loose ends, putting in some extra hours at work to recoup my Christmas expenditures, and cleaning up this holy mess of a room. Stop the presses, I can close my closet door again. The forecast is calling for six to ten inches of snow, which would shut down my native Montgomery County for at least two weeks. I have to remember that this part of the country knows how to clear its roads and that these bus drivers are professionals. Still though, wish us luck?

Dispatch from Study Week

After all of the major papers I finished last week, I’m pretty zen about finals, if a little exhausted from all of the study guides I’ve made. I’m only taking three, and they are very nicely spaced (this Friday, next Monday, next Wednesday.) I gave myself a lot of the weekend to relax, which included Step Brothers, Tropic Thunder, WALL-E, and almost all of my Christmas shopping. I’m back to work now and joining all of my colleagues in running on very little sleep until next Friday.

I had my last American Political Thought lecture this afternoon, leaving Goldwin Smith hall with the sad realization that this would be the last class I would ever take with my favorite Government professor (well, to be fair, the only Government professor I’ve taken so far… but still!) It’s not that he teaches too few classes, it’s just that I’ve taken all of them. My last Labor Economics class last week, an intensive writing seminar with seventeen people, was pretty hard to leave behind, too. Even in a close-knit major like ILR, I only knew a handful of my classmates on the first day, but we developed rapport instantly, and had way more fun than is allowed in economics. I’m looking at some big lecture classes for next semester, so I will have to find a way to recreate this in my corner of Ives 105 and the Hollis E. Cornell auditorium.

My Government professor concluded his last lecture by quoting Julian Bond’s well-known commencement address to Washington University in St. Louis in 2000: if we were to shrink the world’s population to 100 people, keeping the existing ratios the same, only one would have a college education. My professor cautioned us to always remember how fortunate we are, and to “lead a good life and be good to people.” Even if more than four hours of sleep last night would have been great, Ithaca winters keep destroying my boots, and I’m heading for a day of reckoning in Labor Law, I know it’s an unbelieveable privilege to be here. The trick is never forgetting it.

My Hometown

I returned to Ithaca amidst a flurry of paper-writing last night, putting the finishing touches on the first of – wish I were kidding – six major assignments I have to hand in this week. No sweat, as usual: a few are close to completion, and I know I will get them all written and written well.

I was thrilled to get back to Maryland for Thanksgiving. Chalk it up to the election, but I felt my first-ever pangs of something like homesickness a handful of times this semester. Knowing that events that would forever alter the landscape of our country became hard to bear when I remembered that they were happening in a town forty minutes from my house. I miss knowing my treasured memories of the Capitol live on a few miles down Connecticut Avenue and a few stops on the red line, and it’s been hard to watch Redskins games followed by Syracuse news instead of national news. I miss my impromptu visits to the Smithsonian, the fifteen relatives in a six-mile radius, afternoons strolling the Mall, and C-SPAN on TV when I came home from school. It was a unique and wonderful place to grow up, but I love Cornell just as much.

My other friends in college tell me that there comes a point when home stops feeling like home; when enough of your life is at school that your bonds to where you grew up become only physical. At the risk of jinxing it, I think I will always stay rooted to Maryland, especially since I’m almost certain I’m heading back after Cornell. However, surely the backdrop of my defining undergraduate years will mean something, too. I’m at home in both towns, though they could not be more different. I cherish my years at Cornell, in a small, tranquil town with clean air and no traffic, especially since most of us, myself included, will follow jobs to places most unlike Ithaca. I know I can love both where I was raised and where I was educated, but I wonder if I can really have two homes. Can my heart belong to both?

Almost There

I left my Labor Law study group at 3 a.m. on a Saturday morning (!), trudging back to Bethe with a fairly good version of my monstrous ten-page legal research memo finished. Most of the people who are out and about at that hour are returning from parties and looking good; I was rocking an oversized Cornell hoodie and ripped jeans, holding up my Labor Law textbook to protect me from the wind.

Luckily, I won’t have to repeat this ritual tonight, as I finished up the paper just before dinner today. I’m sure I can make plenty of revisions, but it’s a huge weight off my shoulders. I fit what really should have been a month-long effort into Tuesday night through Saturday afternoon: there are few words more appropriate than “marathon” to describe my ridiculous work habits. To each his own, though, right? I think academic success is a matter of finding what works for you and keeping it up, even if that means writing essays in one sitting with the aid of my study group and massive quantities of Sour Patch Kids. I’m sure the candy is the literally “unhealthy” part of my essay-writing behavior.

I’m off to watch my friend rock the alto saxophone in Cornell Wind Symphony tonight! And we’re so close to Thanksgiving Break. This election season has made me miss my hometown more than ever before. I am so eager to make a trip into DC to see if it feels any different (and not just for the newly-renovated Smithsonian Museum of American History, I swear.) The last eight years – almost half of my life – and all of my professional experiences have taken place during Bush’s presidency. Perhaps the pendulum swing in administration we’re about to see in just two months will already be in sight.

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!

Working on a Dream

My ILR table inside William Keeton House on West Campus just finished watching President-Elect Obama (I totally had to backspace over “Senator” right there!) deliver his acceptance speech. I have to admit that I’ve never heard ILR kids this silent.

Calling the last four hours of watching returns in the Keeton dining hall “surreal” would be an understatement. As state after state broke for Senator Obama, we slowly put away all of the open books and laptops and concentrated on the history we were witnessing.

I got a little choked up when CNN broke the news, but I felt much better knowing my parents were reacting in almost the same way. This historic election is the reason my dad came to America, why he has voted in every election since he became a citizen, and why he has always believed America can change.

Senator Obama stands for an America that can reflect and reform, correct its past missteps, and reclaim its righftul place as a moral force for good. Yes, I know I have made that exact same statement about Bruce Springsteen, but I can’t come up with a better way to express how I’m feeling at this historic hour.

Guest Blog from the Hostess with the Mostest

Hello American prospective students,

This is “Mich,” Patricia’s awesome and cute and slightly hyperactive personal-space-sharer (aka friend). We’re coming to you live from Keeton House, which is where I live on West Campus, in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 Presidential Elections!  I spent all day today (after class, of course) downtown at the Obama Campaign local headquarters, calling people in swing states like Florida and Colorado and telling them to get out and vote. Patricia had class, so I naturally did double time on her behalf.  Hopefully, those of you eligible non-felons did your part and supported whichever candidate you felt was the best. I have to admit; Cornell is honestly one of the most exciting places in the country to be in times like these. We get the benefit of living in the “college bubble,” while still living and working side by side with the future activists and leaders of our time.

Overall, I’d like to take this opportunity of guest-bloggyness (yes, I know, I make things up) to let everyone out there know how CRAZY COOL and WONDERFUL Cornell is. If not Cornell, another school, and that’s fine by me, but Cornell is just so amazing. We have no limitations on our speech here, as there is at some schools, because overall students respect each other. Being at such an open-minded research institution allows for some verrrrry interesting discussion, but for the most part (since I can’t speak for every single one of the 13,000) there is minimal hostility. Speak your mind! Be heard! And learn some fun new things and maybe change your own opinions along the way!

And be nice to everyone you meet. Just a little life lesson.

Love and a little bit of psychosis,
Mich

PS- Patricia would like everyone to please note that every state that Bruce Springsteen visited went Obama. She’s just saying.

Counting Down

I’m back in the swing of things after a surprisingly quiet Halloween weekend. I haven’t been one for dressing up for quite a while, though I have to admit that my mom sewed some pretty spectacular costumes back in the mid-90s. Accordingly, a few of us picked Friday afternoon to tour some off-campus housing for next year, a process that actually does have to start this early. We were pretty thrilled with what we saw, but we were too exhausted from our marathon walking around campus periphery that we couldn’t even muster the energy to throw together last-minute costumes.

Instead, I successfully dragged one of my friends to a free Halloween organ concert in Sage Chapel, our beautiful multifaith place of worship right in the middle of campus. I had attended a handful of panel discussions and Sage Wednesdays there, but this event was one of my first concerts. I loved it, and we made sure to pay our regards to founders Andy and Ezra, who chose Sage Chapel as their final resting place. Talk about loving our university.

My parents came up to visit on Sunday, which is always a treat for me. Knowing that your biggest fans are cheering you on every step of the way is an indispensable help in a semester like this, and all I needed was a few minutes with them to remember.

I’m so excited for Election Day tomorrow! Talk about lucky that my American Political Thought class is Tuesday-Thursday: I can’t wait for what Isaac Kramnick has to say.

The ILR Experience from Ithaca and Beyond

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