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College of Arts and Sciences

Aleson Laird: 'It’s a question of showing up, and not being silent, and that’s a spirit that I’ll carry with me when I leave here'

May 2, 2018

Aleson Laird

Spanish & History

Napa, CA

What was your most profound turning point while at Cornell?

My most profound turning point was definitely the semester I spent abroad. Before I left for Spain, I was lost as far as my professional future, and I felt that I wasn’t living up to the immense pressure to succeed. My time in Seville brought me into contact with people of my age who were on completely different life trajectories, with different expectations set for them by themselves, their schools, their families and their society. I left with a much healthier sense of what it means to be successful in school and beyond, and with a better appreciation of my own abilities.

How did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?

I like to think I was an open-minded and politically literate person before coming to Cornell, but I know that my study of historical trends, nationalism, popular movements and memory has better equipped me to understand the issues that we’re confronting today, and the degree to which they’re interconnected. I’ve also been lucky enough to see and experience political activism happening around me every day— my peers have been passionately and persistently fighting for four years to make Cornell a safer and more equal place of study. I’ve realized that it’s a question of showing up, and of not being silent, and that’s a spirit that I’ll carry with me when I leave here.

If you were to offer advice to an incoming first year student, what would you say?

Do your best not to measure yourself against your peers. You’re on your own path here, moving at your own pace, and these four years are your own. Don’t let the impostor syndrome get to you, because you deserve to be here. When an opportunity presents itself to you — be it an interesting class you just might have time for in your schedule, a thought-provoking talk, a lazy afternoon on the quad, a middle-of-the-night adventure with your friends — don’t let it pass you by. Your time here goes by so fast, and that opportunity might not come your way again. Don’t be afraid to try things, to ask questions, and to fail spectacularly and publicly. Ask for help when you need it — from your friends, your professors or other members of the Cornell community. Practice self-care—  no academic work should take precedence over your physical and mental well-being.

What are your plans for next year; where do you see yourself in 10 years?

If everything goes as planned, I’ll be teaching English in Spain next year. I’m not sure in what country or what field I’ll find myself in 10 years, but I hope to be doing meaningful, fulfilling and intellectually challenging work. I’m sure I’ll have incorporated my language skills into my career, perhaps working in immigration, labor or reproductive rights advocacy.