Years ago, I was asked to be a part of The Cornell Daily Sun’s “Humans of Cornell” project, riffing on Humans of New York. I participated in an interview over the phone while I was driving home from Binghamton, where I got my second COVID-19 vaccination shot. Former Sun Opinion Editor Odeya Roseband ‘22 asked me a few simple questions: “What’s your greatest fear?” “Who is the most influential person in your life?” “What’s a dream you have?” Of course, like any good columnist, I love the sound of my own voice, so I answered her questions so thoughtfully and for so long that I forgot to get off the highway and ended up all the way in Cortland.
The Humans of Cornell project entailed a picture on the Cornell Sun Instagram with a long quote from the interview. For whatever reason, I never published mine. I don’t think I liked the quote that was selected. Or maybe I just got a case of stage fright. Either way, I let the project move on without me.
I don’t regret it at all, but I do think about my decision from time to time. I was both figuratively and literally lost in the thoughts of humanity, and then I decided I didn’t like those thoughts enough to share them with the world. Ironically, I don’t think it gets more human than that. We love and we feel shame and we toil between pride and humility, as dumb as it feels.
Coming to the end of my time at Cornell, I’ve found myself giggling at the little things I see around campus. A group of friends poses for a picture; they even retake it a couple times to get the perfect shot. A student running across the Arts Quad in the rain; they’re soaking wet, sacrificing their backpack to use as an umbrella. A driver gets angry at another for not knowing where to go; each of them is both frustrated and ridiculous at the same time.
What does it mean to be a human of Cornell? Is it to have great fears and dreams, like the project originally asked about? Is it to simply exist in the present moment, affecting others and letting yourself be affected in return? Is there a difference?
I look around a lot more these days than I did when I was younger. The faces around me on campus or in Ithaca have begun to seem more familiar. Memories appear in faces and outfits or fading voices heard in the distance. Chances are we’ve crossed paths before. Walking to class along Feeney Way, you and I have probably brushed shoulders.
The most important lesson I’ve learned in my senior year of college is to appreciate the beauty of humanity. I think that means to be grateful for the complexities of ourselves and others and to believe in the very real dreams and fears that each human has.
Hope and gratitude are the crucial pieces to the puzzle of human existence. There is no reason to carry on without hope, and there is no reason to look back if not with gratitude. These ideals, however, are not easy to uphold.
How are we to maintain hope when it’s so easy to feel only bleak? For us seniors, who enter into a sporadic job market amid existential fears of the climate crisis, expanding restrictions on rights and violence spreading across the country, hope isn’t always at the top of the list of emotions we’re feeling. To where should we direct our gratitude? Our college experience was ripped at the seams; we’ve faced hurdle after hurdle to get where we are now.
There’s a fight against hopelessness and resent that we must win, at all costs. Maybe there is some bleakness out there! Who’s to say there’s not? But when we’re faced with a whole lot of bad, it means that there’s a whole lot of good to do, and a whole lot of good that can be done. There is so much we can learn from, and so many opportunities to use what we learn.
We have those dreams and fears that you can talk about until you forget to get off the highway; we owe it to ourselves and to each other to believe in them and to be grateful for them. Hope and gratitude are what makes us human and what makes humanity so great.
I owe my understanding of this message to Cornell. This place has taught me so much about the beauty around us and how to appreciate it. If there’s anything I hope to leave here, it’s a continuation of that lesson. Breathe in the Ithaca air. Relish in togetherness and embrace solitude. Embark on as many adventures and escapes as humanly possible. Love your time here as much as you can.
As I walk through campus for the last few times during these final days in May, as I walk the stage on graduation and as I walk through the many more phases of life to come, I’ll reflect earnestly on what Cornell has taught me about gratitude, hope and humanity. We, as Cornellians, as students, as humans, are in a beautiful place to be.
Daniel Bernstein (he/him) is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. This is the final installment of his column Feel The Bern.