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Matt and Andy: Reunion Weekend Free-For-All

The Sun recently approached MetaEzra, asking if we wouldn't be interested in writing a reunion op-ed piece for the first collegiate member of the Associated Press. And so Andy came out of the woodwork for the first time on this side of the Sweet Sixteen. What follows is an extended version of what will run in the print edition this weekend:

Andy: Matt, it's hard to believe how long we've been at it as proto-Cornell bloggers. Or I should say, you've been at it and I've chipped in here or there on topics that I know something about. Needless to say, as someone who I imagine had the "Alma Mater" memorized before he ever set foot on campus, you leave very few gaps to fill. But that's OK, I tell myself -- I've been living a packed five years away from Ithaca (actually, four and a half, since I didn't actually graduate with the rest of you)! I've been seeing the world, getting fired from internships, exploring the world of journalism and finally deciding that, after all this, it was time for a return to academia. But not at Cornell.

Which brings me to my opening salvo in this Reunion-themed dialogue: I don't think it's worth it, at least not this soon after graduation. Over the past few months, I've invited friends who are attending to dissuade me -- to explain why I should travel up to Ithaca to relive our college days and immerse myself in nostalgia with people I haven't seen or spoken with in close to five years. No one has successfully done so, but I'll concede I may simply be set in my ways. After all, I've been back to Ithaca at least three times since I left the Hill with my last boxes in tow, and I remember each trip fondly. I often reminisce about Cornell with the many classmates I've kept in touch with. But every time I returned to Ithaca, I knew fewer and fewer people there; my connection to the place was more distant and tenuous with each passing year. My sole remaining link, and one I cherish, is the professors I remain in touch with (and who I am now permitted to call by their first names).

So, what's bringing you back on this weekend of all weekends? What am I, along with the countless others who can't or won't make it to Reunion this year, missing out on?


Matt: Other than the pleasure of my company (and a late-night rendezvous with Hot Truck) Iím not entirely certain what youíll be missing out on, Andy. But thatís the point. Ezra and Andyís Big Red Experience is so big and varied that I can only start to guess at the types of serendipitous moments youíll be missing out on this weekend.

Maybe you will drunkenly sing the alma mater with your sophomore-year crush and rekindle an old flame. Perchance youíll meet a recently hired professor who you will always call by first-name with whom you will end up co-authoring your first peer-reviewed article. Or you could make friends with somebody from the Class of 1955 who worked for the Department of State in Romania and spend an afternoon reminiscing about all of your favorite Bucharest(-ian?) haunts.

Of course, we might also just spend the entire weekend amongst old friends, rehashing inside jokes and our old debates about the role of diversity on campus and why the Sun doesnít attract wider readership (excluding the crossword and Mr. Gnu, of course). But would that really be such a waste of time, especially when we still donít have to worry about our classmates sleeping toddlers in the next room over? And besides, somebody has to live blog Skortonís State of the University address, and it might as well be us. As you and I are well aware, you never know when a Cornell President is going to use a strained metaphor about a plane trip to Bali.

What I do know is this: my Cornell education is far from over, and Iím certainly not going to pass up on an opportunity to pretend that Iím 19 and invincible again (complete with University-sanctioned revelry on the Arts Quad!) And while we probably did more on Ezraís farm than most, thereís still a bunch of stuff that I never got around to doing that I canít really do anywhere else, like sticking my hand inside the stomach of a cow, attending an Earth Sciences lecture on the mechanics behind the Haitian earthquake, or taking shots with my bros at Johnny Oís. And, well, letís just that Iím hoping to cross at least two out of the above three off my list this weekend.

Whatís still on your list, Andy? And donít tell me youíve done everything, because I doubt you had the gall to slip down to the gorges for a late-night skinny dip way back when.

Andy: You know very well I havenít done everything! And you assume correctly, Matt. My adventurousness didnít extend to airing my bare derriŤre to the waters of Fall Creek. But for the sake of preserving the sanctity of this undergraduate aspiration, letís hope all the alumni seeking a thrill donít all try on the same night. It might get crowded down there.

Iíve surely told you about the most embarrassing item on my Cornell ďbucket listĒ: never having attended a Big Red hockey game. I still hope to remedy that oversight, but going to Reunion wonít help, unfortunately. What youíve done is make an excellent case for the two of us spending a weekend in Ithaca. Itís been too long since we last had a chance to bicker about Cornelliana in person -- I think the last time was at a certain Cornell sporting event (there were sticks with nets involved).

In fact, Iíve already planned an excursion to Ithaca this summer. Itís just not on a weekend when all the restaurants will be booked. It, too, will be for a special occasion: A professor of mine is retiring. It will be a true opportunity to remember some cherished moments from the classroom and interact with over a generation of thankful students -- the kind of reunion where no one will beg for donations. I bet the weather will be great. What are you doing later in June?

Matt: A late-June pilgrimage to Ithaca sounds lovely, Andy. Unfortunately I havenít looked past Reunion Weekend on my calendar because thereís just too much to be excited about. Wine tours! Canoeing on Beebe Lake! A tour of the space sciences building! (Maybe I can even drive the Mars rover...!) A reception with the Class of 1955! Cornelliana Night! And huge tents on the Arts Quad with free and unlimited beverages! Imagine that -- all of the Cornell Orchardís cider you can drink!

I can probably surmise the real reason why youíre being bashful with Reunions. Youíre afraid that others will learn that you donít actually know the lyrics to the Alma Mater, to say nothing of Davy and My Old Cornell. But fear not. This is the 21st century and if you misplace the lyrics Iím certain you can always google it on your iPhone.

But enough with my unbridled earnestness. I want to circle back to one of your other points about Uncle Ezra putting out his spare change cup for us this weekend. I donít think thatís really the point. Especially as young alumni, weíre a lot of more useful to the University by engaging with it -- interacting with older alumni, mentoring current students, supporting the student groups we were involved with, etc. -- than we are by cutting a check. And thatís why we agreed to do this back and forth for the Sun, right?

Iíll concede that emptying our pockets is probably the point of all of this in the long run. But I donít think thatís a reason to be cynical. After all, Cornell was one of the best things to ever happen to me, and I know that I handsomely benefited from the generosity of others, including some of the members of the Class of 1955 who Iíll hopefully meet at our class reception with them over the weekend. And a big part of me would like to help ensure current students are provided with all of the same opportunities I had when I was a student. That, and it would be really cool if Cornell scientists found life on Mars and I could tell my grandchildren: ďI funded thatĒ.

I think my broader point is that life is a chaotic combination of both purposeful and coincidental events, and that our times at Cornell could best be described in the same fashion. And it was largely coincidence that we ended up at Cornell, right? I decided on a last minute whim to bypass my dream school of Notre Dame for a much more unknown experience at Cornell, and, if my memory serves me correctly, you were taken off the waitlist over the summer. Imagine the luck. But by attending reunion I think weíre able to engage with the broader University community and make it a bit more purposeful. Am I right, or am I just looking at things too idealistically?

Andy: Isnít the whole point of Cornell being a ďtransnational universityĒ that the broader community can be found all over the world? When we both volunteered to interview applicants in our respective hometowns, didnít we do so out of dedication to that larger, potential Cornell community -- not solely the one of the past? I, for one, am more interested in creating new bonds with people who share an affinity for our alma mater. For example, thereís real serendipity to be found at the regular gatherings for young alumni in New York, D.C., and every other major city. (If there were other young alumni in Buffalo, Iím sure theyíd have meet-ups for you to attend, too. Just kidding -- I know Buffalo isnít a major city.) As for the official Reunion up on the Hill, I truly wish my classmates fond memories. To those I missed, look me up in New York! Weíll talk about the good old days over drinks at the Cornell Club.

Matt: Touche, Andy.

Just know that for one stunning weekend in June, you wonít be able to deeply breathe the Cayuga-misted air, marvel at the rushing echoes of the gorges, or enjoy the expansiveness of the view from Libe Slope with thousands of your Cornellian brethren. And that makes all the difference.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on June 09, 2010 (#)

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