Fort Lauderdale, FL
Green Cities and Sustainable Futures
Summer College 2016
Hello! My name is Grace, and I'm a rising senior at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Throughout the school year, I participate in clubs and societies at my school like STEM Club, Math Honor Society, and a literary magazine. Although I don't have a definite career goal in mind, I know for sure that I will pursue my passion for environmental science and sustainability. I love nature; I plan to visit all of America's national parks in the future, am passionate about caring for animals, and will probably chastise you if I see you litter. In my spare time, you can find me reading, writing, or on the computer. I will be taking the Green Cities and Sustainable Futures course, and I'm very excited and even more nervous to head up to New York for the first time in my life to study at Cornell.
At 12 a.m. just after the Fourth of July, I am left to consider the wild week I have just had. Even though I have only been here for a few days, I feel like I've been here for months. So much has happened throughout this week, I can't even remember everything I've done. From watching fireworks to climbing the Cornell clock tower to walking to Collegetown to buy breakfast, my friends and I have done so much in so little time.
I walked into Green Cities on the first day with the announcement from our professor that he was not someone to be afraid of, but rather someone to learn from and talk to about the issues of sustainability and urban planning. I was worried about making friends, but I found people to talk to almost immediately. Take it from me, someone with a lot of social anxiety, Cornell makes socializing incredibly easy. I met people from all over the world, from China to Australia to Russia and Guam, I've heard and seen more types of people than I could ever have imagined. Everyone is so dedicated to doing work and learning a lot, and everyone has incredibly unique and interesting experiences.
As for the workload...there's a reason this course is typically taught over fifteen weeks instead of fifteen days. There is so much material, and so much to learn. My classmates and I spend at least seven hours a day pouring over reading material, learning about topics I never even considered prior to this class. Later, we write responses to the material presented in the readings, allowing us an outlet for our own personal ideas and thoughts about current issues. Because of this, I would definitely recommend being very strong in the English language; be able to read a very large mass of the written word and be ready to write. A lot. It is a tremendous amount of work, more than I ever thought I could do, but I have been getting it done and have met so many fantastic people along the way. I'm already planning what I'm going to do next weekend after another long week of studying and writing, and I couldn't be more excited.
I'm entering my last week of Summer College here at Cornell and I'm feeling an intense mix of emotions. When I first arrived here I was terrified, a few days in I was incredibly homesick, and now I don't even want to leave. My second week was full of studying, movies, bagels, adventures, and more studying. I took a midterm for my class, we went to watch the talent show, explored Collegetown and the Commons, watched fireworks, went to the mall, and I even went to Church on Sunday. I feel like so much has happened, and my friends and I always find ourselves puzzled that something that happened only yesterday feels like it happened weeks ago.
The class is still incredibly difficult, but I feel that my classmates and I have adjusted a little to the pressure and are now doing very well. We wake up, eat breakfast, print last night's reflection paper, attend class, go to lunch at Trillium, and get to work. Sometimes, or, a lot of times, we take naps; sometimes we accidentally fall asleep in the lounge, or someone else's room. Although the rest of our day typically consists of reading and writing, it is not so hard when surrounded by other people in the same boat. I've learned so much about everything from trees to urban agriculture to solar heating, and am each day affirmed that change can truly happen from the ground up.
This week I'm getting ready to go home, and I have one of the earliest check outs of all of my friends. It feels bittersweet, because I am more than ready to see my parents, sister, and dog again, but I can't even imagine what life will be like not seeing my new friends every day. We've already set up group chats to continue talking even after everyone leaves but I know I'll miss them all so much. Still, I know I'm really going to enjoy the last week at Cornell, and I'm very excited.
It's been about a week since I left the Summer College, and I have had a lot of time to think about my experience. Without a doubt, it has been one of the best experiences of my life thus far.
To begin with, I feel like a completely new person when it comes to being social and making friends. I am naturally a pretty introverted person, so making friends had been one of my biggest fears coming to Cornell. After going through the experience, I realize how much I enjoy being around people, and I really feel like I have been brought out of my shell and have made lifelong friends in only a matter of weeks. It was funny that before I came to the summer program I was afraid I wouldn't have someone to walk to class with or eat lunch with (both ended up being untrue), but while I was there I made real connections with people, having deep conversations under the stars, in the laundry room, or over the pile of papers we had to read for homework. It made me have no doubt that social life in college would be a breeze, and something to really enjoy rather than fear.
Another way Summer College affected me was the way I viewed the world. Although my class was intense, and I didn't always agree with everything the professor said, the message explored in the class really changed how I think about the world. The idea that cities and everyday tasks should be framed with the lives and wellbeing of others (not profit) in mind, so as to create a better world for the future was the core of all of our lessons. Although these messages seem like common knowledge, to have them explored in such depth and in real-life terms made me realize how capable we are of reaching these goals, how reasonable a request it actually is. Something that surprised me was how generally cynical my classmates and I were when beginning the course, and even towards the end, I still found many of us saying "It can't be done." The world we live in has conditioned us to question ideas that challenge the status quo, so that is something we have to break out of if we really want to create change. Instead, we have to stand strong in our ideas, plan actual civic movements, and force the world to move towards a better future.
Not everything about Summer College was perfect. I got sick at one point, there were some tensions, understandably, from spending all day every day with the same people, but thinking back, much of that was unimportant. My memories aren't of the struggles I had throughout the program, but rather the great friends I made, the many things I learned, and the new experiences I had that I wouldn't trade for anything. Although I won't see many of these people ever again, and they will go on to live their own lives, I am more than happy to have had this experience with all of them, an experience which I know changed them as much as it changed me.