Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What it's Like at Cornell

Oddly enough, I again haven't found anything particularly interesting to write about today. I'll therefore be digging up an old piece I wrote that I think is worth sharing. Here's an article I wrote for a journalism class I took at Cornell...

When people hear that I go to Cornell, they almost invariably ask me three questions:

  1. “Aren’t there a lot of suicides there?”
  2. “Isn’t that a really difficult school? Everyone there must be so smart!”
  3. “It must be really cold there, huh?”

In answer, respectively, not anymore, it depends on what classes you take, and yes, but the wind is the killer.

Conveniently, the fourth floor of the Class of 1918 dorm on West campus (the floor that I inhabit this semester) provides a wonderful microcosm of the rest of the university in regards to these questions, and even manages to address two out of the three! I suppose it could be said to address all three if you want to call the absence of suicides among my floor-mates evidence against the presence of suicides at the University in general, but that seems to be an awfully small sample size. Also, it’s just not a fun thing to talk about, so we’ll leave that whole bit behind now and move on to the more interesting stuff.

“Isn’t that a really difficult school? Everyone there must be so smart!”

Here’s the thing about Cornell, there are certainly plenty of smart people, but there are so many of us (over 13,600 undergrads last time I checked) that a few dull bulbs are bound to show up every once in a while. On my hall, two doors down from me, there are two brothers, transfers from Brazil, which fit the “dull bulb” category perfectly.

Just last night, in fact, these two strapping, dark, handsome, six-foot-something, tan college guys were in the floor lounge having an animated discussion about the extinction of the dinosaurs - so animated that it managed to piss off my roommate who was trying to get some sleep at the time.

I suppose it is a testament to the academic interest of those participating in the discussion that they would be loudly arguing about meteor impacts at 12:30 AM on a Wednesday night. However, the ideas and facts that were being tossed around could be debunked by any 7th grade science teacher (and hopefully their students, though I make no presumptions on that score what with public schools being as they are nowadays). There are just some basic facts around regarding the dinosaur extinction, things that everyone should know, and yet they failed to make an appearance last night. Well, that or they showed up but cleverly disguised (meteorites became comets, that sort of thing). While the discussion itself was of an interesting and academic sort, the brainpower being trained on the discussion was somewhat less than one would expect for Cornell.

On the other end of the spectrum, my roommate was so miffed by the whole debate outside our door that he started one in our room. We spent a solid 20 minutes talking about what killed a bunch of big lizards 65 million years ago. Two college guys, awake at midnight, discussing something other than sports or video games! He and I even checked our facts (though I’m the first to admit that our primary source is Wikipedia – not the most accurate but certainly the most easily accessible).

So, to rehash my above statement, there are lots of smart people here, but they are by no means the only sort of people you find at Cornell.

“It must be really cold there, huh?”

Yes. It’s pretty cold here. Leaving the windows open overnight once October 1st has passed means you wake up in the morning with your teeth chattering and your nose running. That said, it’s not the cold that really gets you. You can deal with cold by wrapping an extra scarf around your neck, putting on a hat, and throwing on a jacket. No, it’s the wind that really chills your bones at Cornell.

Returning again to my dorm, just last night (a night that, upon reflection, seems particularly well suited to provide examples for this paper) I was sitting at my desk and marveling at the howling sound my windows were making. After noting its presence, however, I gave it only marginal attention. I mean really, how long can you look at trees flapping around? As it turns out, the wind did a bit more than blow some leaves last night.

Sitting at my desk inside my dorm I thought I was safely hidden from the wind. I was wrong. Out of the blue there is a loud bang and my entire desk shakes. Upon investigation I discovered that the wind had managed to blow my 3 pound fan, which had been seated on the windowsill, right off the windowsill and into my desk as it plummeted towards the ground. Blowing leaves is one thing, but this was just too much – the wind had begun attacking my stuff! In my room! If I’m not safe from the weather in my own room, what hope is there?!

So that’s what I mean when I say the wind is a killer. It doesn’t just ruffle posters taped to the wall; it actually blows heavy objects about. Take that one logical step further and you’ll realize that when people, being little more than moving objects themselves, go outside they, too, will get blown. Once the standing temperatures drop down to below freezing the wind almost becomes personified in conversations around campus due to its amplification of the cold weather. “That wind is evil!” “Why won’t it just go away?!” “That damn weather-control device in the basement of Day Hall is a terrible, terrible machine. Why won’t they stop this wind?!”

Well, that last one is a bit different, being as how it refers to the legend of the weather control device in one of the Cornell administrative buildings. Regardless, you get the point – Cornell is certainly cold, but it’s that damn blasted wind that’ll really screw with you.

“Aren’t there a lot of suicides there?”

It’s unfair of me to mention the suicide thing and then not give it its own section, so here’s what I’ve got to say on that subject. In my time at Cornell I have not been made aware of any suicides. I know of a few deaths, but those are bound to happen just based on the sheer number of people around here (and the fact that they’re mostly 20-somethings who like to get drunk on Friday nights). Basically, they don’t happen here any more than anywhere else, and the reputation we have for suicides is both outdated and due to the spectacular nature of someone swan diving into a gorge.

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Suicide is not something I associate with Cornell very strongly at all, and it’s certainly not as prominent in day-to-day life as the weather or the caliber of intellectual discussion to be found here. So, next time you run into someone from Cornell, do them a favor – don’t ask about the suicides and don’t remind them about the weather. Ask about their favorite discussion section or their most entertaining professor. Those are the reasons I’m here, and those are the memories I’m taking with me when I leave.

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