With furrowed brows and a pencil at the ready, I perused the “Iliad” while dining in Ferris Booth. I had ordered and devoured a salad as quickly as I could—it had too much Italian dressing—and exchanged a few comments while standing in line about how awful John Jay elevators are. Sitting outside, I thought of the scarce thirty minutes separating me from my next class and I cursed the hierarchical registration process that had left me the least convenient sections. As I turned the pages of my worn-down book, my thoughts perched atop the mountain of homework growing by my bed, and…
“I don’t know about you, but I waited four years to be here.”
Suddenly, the words of a girl sitting nearby penetrated dense descriptions of Maegros’ ancestry and easily tickled my curiosity. I fixated my eyes on my book, unconvincingly pretending to read, and listened.
“There was a fear that it wouldn’t be everything you ever wanted, you know, but when you step outside, eat here and sleep here, it is.”
I wrinkled my nose. Of course, my immediate reaction was to discard these comments as shortsighted and childish—a longing for a college ideal that doesn’t exist and lulls the insecure into believing there is only one experience worth having. Orientation nights come to mind, as they were often reduced to a misguided search for the place to be, quickly followed by incipient understanding that there was none. After the disappointments reality had accorded me already, I found it much too easy to reject this girl’s proclaimed self-fulfillment. Columbia could not possibly be “everything,” and anyone who thought otherwise could only be lacking maturity and introspection.
Yet, there was something undeniably admirable about this stranger’s words: They were genuine. Behind my wall of self-assurance, it was time I accepted that when it comes to finding a niche in this dynamic place, one extreme is no better than the other. Approaching college life with rosy-colored plans or apathetic retreats is equally pointless: One of them moves in circles and the other does not move at all. In this case, I will be the first to admit, I was doing the retreating, resigning myself dramatically to the burden of realism.
Then again, let’s just be honest. It’s absurd to act like jaded experts when the class of 2015 has been inside this oasis of stunning buildings and whispered history for only three weeks. Amidst odd feelings of transience, we still wake up with a few certainties at hand: We are at Columbia University in the City of New York, and we are not exactly sure why. Naturally then, the appeal behind registering for eight classes, scoffing at calculus homework and whining that Frontiers of Science is pointless—even though we have attended a total of three classes—becomes apparent. In a practice we blindly trust, indulging in complaints about administrative processes—the few in which we have engaged—gives us a shaky common ground. Whether they are honest or not, whines about quotidian life appear to bring us closer to the life of a Columbia student.
But we didn’t come here to be just a Columbia student. The anonymity surrounding the title negates the academic curiosity of the student body and rejects the opportunities this school has in store for us. Amidst the frenzy to find dinner partners and raise our hand in class first, we are forgetting a certainty more useful than the last. We arrived here as individuals—with the help of many along the way—and the ultimate goal is to exit as (will I dare?) better-rounded ones.
So next time you feel the allure of claiming Columbia has turned out to be tragically subpar, take a step back and rediscover where you are. After all, even John Jay elevators eventually arrive on time.
The author is a Columbia College first-year.