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Keep Calm and Ar-Chive On. - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
Keep Calm and Ar-Chive On.
(I've never really understood that riff on the WWII "keep calm" trope, which I often see on car bumpers and windows-

-but I recognise it enough to use it here.  If anyone can explain, I'd be most grateful.)

An old friend from these parts is planning a long-distance move, and mentioned the need to weed out lots of paperwork, including a ton of old college papers.  On that count, at least, I thought I was pretty clear- I've saved my undergraduate thesis and a small number of mostly literature-ish textbooks, but that's it

Only it isn't.  Because something reminded me that Cornell's library has been digitizing the entire 135-year history of the independent Daily Sun's print editions, including not only images of the original pages but a searchable database of all those words.... including searches by the author's by-line.

My undergraduate clutter just got a lot bigger.

I count 20 or so entries responsive to by first-and-last name search. (More turn up if you use just the last name- 1940s references to my fairly famous but distant relative who was an American General in the Pacific Theater, and some others to a Seemingly Scandalous State Senator Stephen S. (try that three times fast) from 1913.)  And most of those are, how should I put this?, borrrrr-innnnng.  I was on the trustee beat in my senior year, and there was much ado about how Cornell cast its proxy votes on stock holdings with companies doing business with the then-racist white regime in South Africa.  In my final fall, I covered local elections; we ran a black editorial page the morning after Reagan's election, and I was tasked with calling a couple of law professors late on Election Night to comment on whether Jimmy Carter would try replacing the older liberal Justices on the Supreme Court before his term ran out. (He never did; their only comments were obscenities about me calling so late.)

About the only one with any redeeming social value was my final writing for The Sun- at least that I can remember. (Some alums got to put their rarified post-graduate cents into the pot; I don't think I ever did.)  This was from our Senior Issue, done gradually in the weeks before graduation and filled with final farewell opportunities for those of us moving on.  The senior editors all got to write columns.  And mine, which I still have clipped someplace, is now in Internet Ink for all time.

You can see what it looked like in print here, including the graphic that our composing room muse (and later Ithaca City Councilman) John Schroeder picked for it-

- but the digitized text follows below.  I've corrected any misteeks in it that I saw (Why may this text contain mistakes?), preserved the one best line in the thing, and otherwise present it as evidence of where my mind was not quite 35 years ago:

Wretched Excesses.
Most pre-adolescents, I guess, have some sort of imaginary playmate to comfort them in time of crisis or keep them awake in times of boredom. I know I did, at least: I can't remember his name, or even if he had one, but I do remember that as a quasi-only child in a fairly deserted neighborhood of Suburbia, he was often an aid to keeping sane.

He's grown up right along with me. For one thing, he's not a he anymore but an it: that same inner voice that evaluated the relative sanity of the world then is what I now call my sense of better judgment, or SOBJ for short. (It's what you get when you cross a son of a bitch with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.) My sense of better judgment now evaluates its four years in this place, where aids to keeping sane are vital to survival, and where such aids are often distributed at a highly marked-up price. At the conclusion of the evaluation, my sense of better judgment is not pleased. It is offended by the degree to which the University condones and promotes obsession and excess in children between 17 and 22. It realizes that Cornell is indeed preparing its students for the real world, as Ezra would have wanted, but it also wonders whether that preparation also includes the introduction to the quality of life that Andrew Dickson White would have wished.

Thanks to a statistical phenomenon called "range restriction," it is not surprising that most Cornell students are well-prepared to compete with one another in the academic and social arenas of Ithaca. The surprise, to me at least, comes in the excessive degree to which they do compete. My sense of better judgment had always been struck by tales of excess, such as reports of competitive pre-nursery schools in some American cities. One such account quoted a professional woman who sent her three-year-old to such a school on the condition that it design a program for her son by which he would be guaranteed a seat in Harvard Law School.


Upon my arrival at Cornell, my sense of better judgment was shocked at the tacit tolerance of excessive lines that students here display. It was pleased when compassionate Cornell officials (in the Registrar's office, perhaps the only place where compassionate administrators will ever be found) canceled the Grand Course Exchange and its excessive queueing. but it was shocked still more a year later when those same administrators were forced by student demand to bring it back. It took a little longer — perhaps a month — to realize that the queues of Cornell were a metaphor for excesses elsewhere. It became obvious that being good at something here would not be noticed unless you were best at it (or were at least in the Top Five or so). I recall a discussion with a freshman pre-med two years ago. She was delighted because her CS 100 grade from her summer high school stay at Cornell had not made it onto her transcript. She could now take the course again for a higher grade. Higher than what? A lowly B-plus, she replied. What's wrong with that? "Well, when you're pre-med, A-minuses and B-plusses just don't cut it." My sense of better judgment spun in its cerebral cortex.


By junior year, I realized, to my sense of better judgment's dismay, that I, too, was demonstrating how Cornell served as a growth medium for the Magnificent Obsession. First it was my campus job, then my position at Ithaca's Only Morning Newspaper, that motivated me to excel. But how far is excellence from excessiveness? Can one (to use an arts college figure of speech) be qualified for many aspects of life without having to be proficient in one? My sense of better judgment tells me that it is possible, but I still wait for the evidence. It won't come from little old Proficient - on - the - Printed-Page Me.

But perhaps it will. As Uncle Frank will doubtless tell us Sunday, commencement is not an end but a beginning. My sense of better judgment tells me that he'll be only half right in such an assertion. Graduation can be a beginning because it marks an end. With the excesses of the past behind (but still cast in the relative permanence of transcripts and resumes), I can choose to pursue that at which I'm best, or opt for the cliched "new beginning" and try to become a person excessive only in the number of things at which I'm non-excessively qualified. My sense of better judgment urges the latter course, but its message to me may be obsolete under the realities of the year 1981. For the sake of the collective sense of better judgment of the Class of 1981, I hope it's not.

Ray, former Senior Editor of The Sun, will be in Ithaca this summer writing for a newspaper. His sense of better judgment will be traveling the continent, trying to find itself.

One thing I remember about the piece was hearing, months later, that my father had actually read it and clipped a copy of it. He seemed confused about the tagline, thinking I was literally planning a mid-education-crisis backpack trip. (Not with a buttload of school loans and three more years of incurring them ahead of me, Dad.) But it was one of the few specific things about all the effort I ever made in school that he paid the least bit of attention to. I try to do better, not only noticing Emily's accomplishments but making sure she knows I notice them. After all, it seems, in my better judgment, the thing to do.
2 comments or Leave a comment
puppy_ciao From: puppy_ciao Date: March 22nd, 2016 07:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's from thechive.com, I don't know why they use that tagline but from what I've seen it's a website that is like Buzzfeed if you strip away all the good parts of Buzzfeed.
captainsblog From: captainsblog Date: March 23rd, 2016 12:05 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you. So, I won't believe these 15 clickbait sites I should never waste my time with?
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