BANKS |The Hype is Here. The Hype is Now.


Class of 2020, I would absolutely love to ease you into this welcome column, but the times in which we live call for a more impetuous approach.

On that note, I feel compelled to stress to you that, in many ways, your acceptance into this elite institution means absolutely nothing.

Our shared identity as Cornell students carries tremendous implications for our futures, of course. But all you need to do in order to reveal the oftentimes harsh reality is to step outside of the Ivy League box and take a perfunctory glance at your surroundings. In my case, consider the following: When stripped of all the privilege, ambition and accolades, I am a black man, which means I can be restrained and executed, by gun, with little or no regard for my identity as a Cornellian.

If you’ve already decided to stop reading my column out of disagreement, shock, discomfort or confusion, then you’ve already decided, before even beginning your undergraduate journey in earnest, to reject one of the fundamental principles of higher education: intellectual engagement with conflict. However, if you stuck around to read that sentence, I thank you.

For those remaining, please allow me to elaborate.

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This summer has been an intriguing and exciting one for me, considering I’ve reached a sort of inflection point in my personal journey. Cornellians are rather fond of flaunting their professional endeavors, but I’ll simply say that I’ve been “busy” and that everything I’ve done has been in an effort to reconcile the multiple diverging paths that await me after graduation. More important to me, though, is the fact that I’ve already written enough this summer to fill my entire slate of opinion columns for senior year. And just as the current of material continues to shift and flow, life continues to fire volleys of “inspiration ammunition” at me on a daily basis.

You see, in my dreams, I’m a writer (cue the eye rolls).

So while I contemplate the merits of graduate school, I know that any choice I make will ultimately serve as a means to the true end: I just want enough stability and success to come home without the constraints of expectation stifling my creative energy. Until then, I’m an imposter of a Biology major — a clandestine agent forced to sneak furtive glances at my passions behind the backs of my peers, all the while lamenting their willingness to kill themselves in an effort to become life-saving doctors (the irony doesn’t escape me). I pass the time, mostly, by appreciating good art, because I am a self-proclaimed pseudo-hipster-aficionado of music and film (cue the second round of eye rolls).

I absorb art whenever and wherever I can, with the diabolical plan to one day convert all of these concoctions into a potent artistic surge of my own. I spend endless hours discovering new songs, artists, genres, films and television shows. In fact, I encourage all 3000+ of you to send me your top five songs and films, regardless of language or era, to Yes, I’m dead serious.

Anyway, for a significant portion of my life, I tried to convince myself that I could understand people by understanding art. For example, I’ve learned through three years here at Cornell — and here is where I will take a moment to be less than humble — that I have an astonishing ability to navigate a staggeringly wide breadth of sociocultural milieus, diffusing into communities and groups with near effortlessness. For so long, I sought to attribute this skill, at least partially, to all the art I’ve explored over the years.

The reality, though, is that my unlimited thirst for art is tempered with a limited amount of time. Fortunately, those songs and films aren’t going anywhere, and I recognize now that they can never fulfill me completely anyway. Art was never going to teach me everything I needed to know about how to understand people, nor was it going to help me facilitate their success in understanding and loving each other.

Art didn’t save Alton Sterling or Philando Castile from systemic oppression and police brutality. Art cannot help me comprehend the kind of irrational bloodlust and hatred that would lead to events like the Pulse shooting or the Baghdad bus bombing. And art, despite its potential for healing, still does relatively little for the countless victims, mostly women and girls, who’ve had their lives upended, bodies ravaged and psyches devastated by sexual violence. The world, quite simply, is much more complex and oftentimes much nastier than my beloved art. And besides, good art is contingent upon the existence of good people.

The parallel that I’m drawing, however tenuous it may be, is this: The intangibles that define us, like the prestige of your acceptance to Cornell or the love I have of art, are only as relevant to our lives insofar as we can use them to 1) create meaningful connections with real human beings and 2) create positive outcomes for ourselves.

You should certainly be grateful to attend this institution, but I hope you will recognize that the world is much larger than Cornell. Learn to deflect the tremendous pressures and astringent perspectives foisted upon you by an increasingly hyper-competitive environment. In doing so, you may find yourself untethered, able to turn instead towards achieving that which matters to you most. For me, my goals are happiness, personal growth and love. Your goals may be different, and I respect that, so long as they are in fact yours.

So yes, the hype is here and the hype is now. But please don’t get caught up in the hype.

Amiri Banks is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at

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