Walking Contradiction

Before my freshmean year my mom told me that college is an individual journey surrounded by a lot of different people, and I truly believe that. My experience at Cornell has been amazing, exceeded all of my expectations, and I wouldn’t change a damn thing. Through the good and bad, I am a proud Cornellian. That being said, I think there are ways with which Cornell can be even better, and at least in my eyes it begins with pushing all of us who call Cornell home to understand each other.                                          

 To provide some background on myself, I am a fraternity member and a student athlete. I was born in Belgium, grew up in an upper class suburb in Houston with parents who met at Penn. I have aunts and uncles on both sides of my family that also went to Penn, my sister graduated from Emory, and my cousins graduated from Yale and UNC. I come from a highly educated family with expectations mirroring the loftiness of educational achievement. I am also black. My story, my upbringing is atypical. I am lucky to have been afforded this incredible amount of opportunity, and I am doing my best to make sure I make the most of it. However, perception is reality. An average American will undoubtedly have implicit biases against me if they saw me casually on the street. There is no explaining my education, there is no referencing my achievements, there is just me and what I look like. And what I look like, for some, is a threat. For others, my academic and personal achievements are threats. An infringement, a reason to keep their eye out. It’s a strange feeling to be visually accosted, to have your very presence perturb someone else’s. I am proudly, and keenly aware, that I am a walking contradiction. Myself and many of my peers here at Cornell shoulder a silent burden. To be exceptional beyond reproach. To be so successful, we cannot be ignored. We do this, as others have, to further the future generation like us. It is a continuous process paving the path of opportunity, and I feel an innate need to do my part. I don’t want the next generation of African American Ivy Leaguers to feel that way, to know that reality. Their reality should be filled with unobscured possibility. Future admissions offices of the Ivy League should be littered with the over qualified resumes, and poignant essays of qualified black youth. Diversity won’t be a focus, tagline, or target. It will be an omnipresent representation of advancement. Shoulder to shoulder, I hope our future leaders will stand as a reflective amalgam of what America truly is; a uniquely distinct and diverse set of cultures striving to continuously better ourselves. There will always be divisions, but the goal is to limit them. Perception may be reality, but work can be done to make that very perception much clearer.

Ideally, I hope that every black Cornellians experience is like mine. Every semester here has been better than the last, and I have enjoyed every minute. I recognize that others may not have had that. They may not look back on their time here with nothing but positivity, and I hope that by sharing a bit of my experience, I can somehow change that. Cornell has, is, and will continue to present opportunity, and for myself and others like me, opportunity is all we need.


Dez Fleming

Cornell University CO ‘17