The Writing on the Wall: text inscribed on campus

article and photos by Angaelica LaPasta

As I see it, there are three ways in which words are literally inscribed on Cornell’s Campus.

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1. Chalking. Chalk is everywhere. It is ephemeral: here today, gone tomorrow. It is swept up by the feet of its audience, and the little, bright specks of chalk are borne all over campus from the remotest peak of the vet school to the lowest reaches of west campus. These words are momentary and express the daily needs of a campus full of humans clamoring for attention. Sometimes in the pursuit of convincing one to attend the Cordial’s auditions and sometimes to remind one that one is human.

2. Cornell’s administration would never want to be left out of the fun of writing all over random parts of campus. Their methods are more lasting: carved stone, metal letters, unreachable paint. These words are full of wisdom, corruption, death, and sometimes poetry. A few of these words seem to have been sold to the highest bidder, placing their name in unreachable places for as long as their money remains good. Many recount young lives lost, bringing death into our community of young people who so rarely experience it. My favorite is a bench outside of Goldwin Smith donated by the man himself with the words: ABOVE ALL NATIONS IS HUMANITY. It helps me think of not just the unity of the world, but also the unity of our campus; despite our many interests, we are all connected by humanity and our passions. Lastly, this bench is a reminder of corruption at Cornell because Goldwin Smith was an antisemite. Despite his wise words about the importance of looking beyond borders to find humanity, he failed to see the humanity in his fellow-man. The bench is more complex in its message than a quick glance could ever know.

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3. The last is a hybrid between the two previous: the chalk that is written over again and again. The light in the darkness that–despite its ephemeral, precarious, and easily blown away construction–persists.

“Dear God, be good to me;

The sea is so wide,

And my boat is so small.”

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This quote has been traced again and again over the last year on a bench in bright orange chalk. I am not religious, but it touches me deeply every time I see it. The ritual of its rewriting reflects the lostness and smallness that everyone at Cornell experiences at some point. This shared experience of being desperate and overwhelmed, looking for help, connects me to my fellow students though they may be unknown to me. Outside of my window Freshman year at Cornell, someone spray painted the words “I love you so much” on a bus stop building. The administration painted over it. The words were rewritten again and again. This was one of the most beautifully romantic things I have ever witnessed. It lit up the darkness that often falls on students at this institution.


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Art by Emily Sullivan


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