I've been reminded lately about how distinct places are--cities, communities, universities. Trying to talk about a place becomes very difficult and the attempt may even be futile. What does it mean to say some amazing thing about a place when it has no meaning for the person you're telling? Coming home from a vacation seems to be fitting. You've been blown away by the beauty, the people, the landscape of a place and the person says "Oh, it sounds very nice."
I've been the person telling and I've been the person told. I know how it goes. But there's something more than about taking trips and seeing beautiful places. For many of us, we've been able to spend time in a variety of settings, each playing a formative role in our development. I've been able to have those places in my life. Don't we all have such deeply held feelings about the places that have shaped and influenced us that it's difficult to articulate just what it is, especially to people who haven't been able to be there to experience it themselves?
I've just come across a really wonderful video. It was a senior project (or so I've learned) of a student here at Cornell University. In many respects, the experience of a graduate student is very different from that of an undergraduate. My "college" experience was at St. Bonaventure University. But still, this place that I have called home since January of 2009 has been a place of great meaning in my life. I've made some amazing friendships, discovered my deep love of the Cornell University Libraries, become engaged and then was married here at Cornell. I've come to truly appreciate this little city/town in the Finger Lakes that has its own friggin tofu company that is stocked at Wegmans. It has a Wegmans!
But what does any of that mean? Recently I was visiting a new city in another state and I was very mindful of first impressions and of looking at the place as deeply as possible. I know I only got a quick glimpse. I was given the quick tours of campus and neighborhood, taken to nice restaurants, and got to look over a little corner of the place from my comfortable hotel room. Two days. A very short time. But while there, I realized that I kept talking about similarities and differences from that place to my place--to Ithaca--and discovering that CTB doesn't mean a whole hell of a lot to someone as you're standing in their version of the local bagel shop.
I've said all of this because watching this brief video about Cornell and Ithaca (and its cloudy days!) made me realize how difficult it is to express what a place means to you, but also how much a single place can have such similar and distinct meanings for those individuals there. I think of my weekly meetings with a handful of juniors and seniors here. They'd talk about functions going on, what they were doing for Spring Break, and places around town...none on which I had ever heard about. But it's right here. It's on my campus. It's in my city. Sometimes, literally, it's right down the street.
But here I am, experiencing Cornell and Ithaca in my way. I say all of this because, in many respects, this video helps me to express what this place is to me. But it also tells a story for someone else. Someone who is leaving here at four years of transformation from a high school senior to a young professional...or a young artist...or a young person who's still not quite sure of who or what they want to be. This isn't my story, but it sure helps me to tell my own to those who haven't or won't ever call this place home.
Here's the video.