James Vincenti '15
Major: American Studies
Hometown: Dumont, NJ
Why did you choose Cornell?
When I came to visit for Cornell Days, the weather was – shockingly – not great: gray skies, muddy pathways, rain on and off. And yet, despite all that, the campus was alive with students out doing things, seeming to genuinely enjoy their time here. I figured that any school where the students could all be so lively and so happy on such a miserable day must be a pretty good place to study for four years; four years later, I can say I was not wrong. (Also, during Cornell Days I was sitting in Nasty’s and a guy in a gorilla costume randomly came up to me and invited me to a party that night. How could any other school top that?)
What is your main Cornell extracurricular activity -- why is it important to you?
I’m in three extracurricular activities, and I consider all of them to be my “main” activities: Humor Us! Sketch Comedy (my sketch comedy group), The Kappa Alpha Society (my social fraternity), and Y.O.U.R.S. (my youth mentoring program). A friend of mine once told me that I never look happier than when I’m up onstage performing with the other members of Humor Us!, but that friend hasn’t seen how happy I look when I get a big goodbye hug from one of my mentees or when one of my fraternity brothers tells me I “opened up his college life” by introducing him to KA. Each activity plays a different role in my life, but they’re all important to me for the same reason: the people. I’m certainly going to miss the Humor Us! shows, the Y.O.U.R.S. activities, and the KA events, but even more than those I’m going to miss the Humor Us! members, the Y.O.U.R.S. mentors and mentees, and the KA brothers. At the risk of sounding even more cliché than I probably have already, I can honestly say that they have touched my life in more ways than they can possibly imagine, and I hope I’ve done the same for at least a few of them.
What was your most profound turning point while at Cornell?
I feel like I’ve had a lot of turning points while at Cornell, but a relatively early one comes to mind first. I considered majoring in Computer Science my freshman year, so I took some CS and math courses (which I quickly learned were far more difficult than their high school equivalents). I had never gotten a B in a class before, so I worked and studied like mad to ace my finals and keep my streak going; it did not end well. I got two B’s during my freshman year, and though I was pretty bummed at the time, they taught me two valuable lessons: first, don’t major in CS; second, and far more importantly, the universe doesn’t implode just because you get a B. (And who knows? You may still even wind up filling out a survey for “Exceptional Seniors” four years down the line.)
What, if any, Cornell-related scholarships/special financial benefits did you receive?
I received very generous financial aid from Cornell which proved a huge help in financing my education.
What accomplishments/activities are you most proud of while at Cornell?
I saw something once that said, “In college you have to choose two of the following three: good grades, social life, enough sleep.” I think the accomplishment I’m most proud of is that I can honestly disagree with that statement; I’ve kept my grades high all four years, and I’ve still got a ton of close personal friends – both within and without the aforementioned extracurriculars – that I’m going to miss dearly when I graduate. (And because I’m good at scheduling classes, I’ve gotten a fair amount of sleep, too.)
What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?
This is easily the hardest question to answer in this survey. There are a million different things I could feasibly put here, but I’m going to have to go with something that’s not really a memory yet: Nasty’s. I’ve lived on North Campus for three out of my four years here, so with the exception of a junior-year hiatus, late-night Nasty’s runs with friends have always been a major staple of my Cornell experience. When I think of Cornell, I think of trying to cram way more people into a booth at Nasty’s than will fit – only to then have everyone stand back up so the furthest guy in can get his sandwich. And while I’ll always remember just how good the subs were, the real memory will be all of the amazing people sitting around the table.
Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most? How or why?
Every single person I’ve met here has influenced my Cornell education in some way or another, but since the spirit of the question seems to be more academic, I’ll list a few of the many faculty members who have had an impact during my time here. In no particular order, the following people will always have my sincerest gratitude: Jane Levy, for being an incredible prelaw advisor ever and putting up with my incessant questions; Glenn Altschuler, for being the best academic advisor ever and an amazing professor; Sabine Haenni, for being an amazing professor and an awesome human being; Dawn Chutkow, for offering two of my favorite classes at Cornell (and the only exam I’ve ever enjoyed taking); and C. Evan Stewart, for offering the most intense course I’ve ever taken and preparing me for my first year of law school.
How did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?
Aside from deciding against Computer Science, my beliefs and interests really haven’t changed much during my time at Cornell.
What do you value about your liberal arts education?
My liberal arts education has given me the opportunity to learn about a wide variety of things that I knew almost nothing about, especially through my major. American Studies is an interdisciplinary, so I’ve been able to take courses in subjects like popular culture, cinema, political campaigns, history, and agriculture. On one level it really has been a lot of fun to study such diverse subjects, but on a deeper level it has also been incredibly useful. American Studies is a major that requires a lot of reading and a lot of writing on subjects you may know nothing about, which makes you very good at analyzing things you’re not familiar with. I find this to be an invaluable skill to have, as it makes it very easy to adapt to different situations as they come.
What are your plans for next year; where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I will be starting at Duke Law in August. I see myself practicing law in 10 years, but what type of law and where are still uncertain.