'The mythical allure of "Ithaca" reminded me of Odysseus’ epic return home'

Sarah Young

Warren, N.J.

Why did you choose Cornell?

person eating pizza

Cornell was one of the first universities I visited in my college search, during my sophomore year of high school. Even though it was late April, I was immediately greeted by sub-freezing temperatures and an intense blizzard — not common spring weather back in New Jersey. Despite the unseasonal weather, the beauty of the campus captivated me. I was entranced by the snowy gorges, the students laughing and sledding down the slope and the commanding clock tower looking down upon it all. Before I was back in the car, I had decided that Cornell was my dream school. As a future English major, the university’s academic prestige and association with notable authors enticed me – Toni Morrison and Kurt Vonnegut were two names "dropped" on my tour that had me exchanging glances of intrigue with my parents. Beyond reputational factors, Cornell’s serene campus setting struck me as the perfect place to foster a strong sense of community, something that I was eager to do in the early stages of my adult life. Moreover, the mythical allure of "Ithaca" reminded me of Odysseus’ epic return home – the Odyssey’s inclusion on my high school’s sophomore reading list may have influenced this association. While my own journey to Cornell was substantially shorter, only a 3 ½ hour drive, I envisioned it representing a similarly profound homecoming. The way I saw it, Cornell’s Ithaca could become my "Ithaca": a place where I could form lasting intellectual and personal connections and to which I would always eagerly await opportunities to journey back, no matter the distance. 

What was your favorite class and why?  

My favorite class at Cornell was English 2270 Shakespeare, taught by Professor Philip Lorenz. While not the most advanced Shakespeare class that I have taken, it was this introductory course that ignited my interest in the Bard’s work. Before this class, I would say that my interest in Shakespeare was typical for a 19-year-old. I begrudgingly endured Shakespeare units in high school, often struggling to stay awake, and felt relief when we moved onto what seemed like more relevant modern literature. After a week in Prof. Lorenz’s  class, I realized that this perception was entirely wrong. English 2270 showed me that Shakespeare’s genius encompasses far more than any high school introduction can reveal. His sentences are like puzzles, with each individual line of text yielding a multitude of meanings and interpretations. Shakespeare’s characters reflect anxieties, personalities and sentiments that persist into the 21st century, and his plays deliver messages that remain relevant even 500 years after their writing. Since taking this class, I have become aware of the Shakespearean themes and inspirations present in nearly every piece of media that I encounter. In addition to transforming my views on Shakespeare, this class shaped my academic path: I subsequently chose Shakespeare’s works as both the concentration of my English major and also as the focus for my honors thesis. No matter how much I analyze and explore Shakespeare’s canon, I feel that there is always so much more to say. No other class has had this kind of effect on me. 

person feeding a swan

What is your main extracurricular activity and why is it important to you? 

My time at Cornell has included a multitude of extracurriculars: I have spent four years on the Daily Sun, including a stint as assistant editor; I was a part of Electric Buffalo Records, spending a year as the assistant director of artist relations; and I even briefly played on an intramural volleyball team. While I enjoyed all of these activities immensely, I would say that my main extracurricular activity is more of a personal project. During my latter years at Cornell, I have spent most of my free time meticulously plotting out and writing a fiction novel. While I do not know if this particular book will be the break-out for me, I see its completion as the first step in a journey that will hopefully lead me to an eventual career as an author. 

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?       

Earlier this year, for my 22nd birthday, my friends threw me a surprise "Bob Ross Painting Night" party. I will always remember returning from dinner to the sight of canvases and paints splattered across my apartment’s living room floor, and my friends screaming and cheering en masse around the door. When we all eventually calmed down and began to follow Bob Ross’ tutorial, we were disappointed to find how difficult it really was — he makes it look so easy! In the end, we produced landscapes of poorly mixed colors and unidentifiable blobs — nothing remotely close to the beautiful scene depicted on the screen in front of us. Still, I looked around at my friends, all completely covered with paint — arms, faces, legs — and began to laugh and cry at the same time. 

a person on a longboard

What have you accomplished as a Cornell student that you are most proud of?

It would be a disservice to label anything other than my honors thesis as my proudest accomplishment at Cornell. This thesis, although completed entirely within my senior year, brings together ideas and research that I have accumulated throughout my entire academic career, specifically within the fields of English and feminist, gender and sexuality studies. My interest in the specific focus of my thesis, Shakespeare’s bed trick, came about during my time abroad at Trinity College, Dublin, where I was given the opportunity to deeply explore Shakespeare’s "Measure for Measure" in a term paper. This exploration, I found, allowed me to produce original ideas as they related to this play, eventually leading to a fixation on the bed trick plot device, which I perceived as an unquestionable case of rape. My thesis exploration, centered around this plot device and its position as an example of much-ignored female-on-male sexual violence, ended up being the most challenging academic pursuit of my life. Likely because of this, it also ended up being the most rewarding. Now that it is done, I am more confident in myself and my academic ability than ever before — this thesis is the final product of my Cornell education, and something that I will carry with me long after graduation. 


Every year, our faculty nominate graduating Arts & Sciences students to be featured as part of our Extraordinary Journeys series. Read more about the Class of 2024.

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Sarah Young