January 6, 2016

My Friends -- Part 3: The Cornell Years

Usually, college years are filled with friendships. For me, it was just the opposite.

My first two years at Cornell were the loneliness of my life. After working during the year after high school, I enrolled in Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences. I was a day student in a college with several thousand students. Much of Cornell's social life was centered around its fraternities and sororities, but I didn't join a fraternity. I knew the names of only a few classmates and didn't make any new friends.

The tuition -- $300 per semester -- exhausted my savings midway through my sophomore year. I transferred to the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, known as the ILR School. Cornell is a mix of private schools with tuition and New York State schools where students in my day paid only $50 per semester.

It was much easier for me to make friends in the ILR school with its student body of about 300. I took a part-time job in the school library, where I manned the reference desk.

Although I transferred to the ILR School mostly for monetary reasons, I became interested in the subject matter and ended up working in that field for 40 years.

In my senior year at the ILR School, I couldn't decide what to do after graduation. So, as is so often the case, I decided to go to law school. I got some scholarships and other financial aid at Cornell Law School and continued to work at the ILR School library and also at the law school library. I managed to get by without taking on any debt.

Here's a picture of me taken outside the law school on a recent visit to Ithaca:

My Story Nearly Ended Here

This is the suspension bridge that connects the dorms and the fraternity and sorority houses on its north side with the campus. Regular bridges for cars and foot traffic cross this gorge both above and below this suspension bridge. Here's Trip Advisor's description:
The suspension bridge on the Cornell campus is an iconic location, known by all students and alumni. It crosses a deep and magnificent gorge. If you're afraid of heights you my not want to venture out to the middle of the bridge. It can sway a bit, especially if obnoxious friends want to show off, jumping up and down to scare you, but the view from the bridge is spectacular.
One of the fraternities near the bridge was Seal & Serpent, a local Cornell-only fraternity. My Ithaca buddy Paul Blanchard (one of the friends pictured at the end of yesterday's post) was a Seal & Serpent member. I attended several weekend boozing parties there.

It was a two-mile walk from the fraternity (on Ithaca's East Hill) to my family's house on South Hill, and the suspension bridge provided the shortest route. After a particularly drunken evening, I headed down to the bridge. When I got to the landing shown at the bottom of the picture, several sawhorses blocked the entrance to the bridge. No doubt there was a warning sign, too.

I vaguely remember climbing over the sawhorses and heading out onto the bridge. As you can see, the walkway was four planks wide. I didn't pay too much attention when one of those planks disappeared. Fortunately, a warning got through my alcoholic fog when I looked ahead and saw the walkway had become only two planks wide.

I turned around and took the longer but safer main road over a paved bridge. I sometimes laugh when I tell this story. But alcoholism isn't a laughing matter. Too many have died in incidents just like this.

Cornell Friends Today
I had lunch a few weeks ago with two Cornell alums who remain good friends today. Jack Golodner, on the left, was a classmate at the ILR School. Marty Convisser, at right, was a fraternity brother of Jack's; he was best man at my wedding on January 19, 1957.

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Next up -- the two friends who turned what seemed like the worst thing that could have happened to me into the best, happiest event of my life.

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