The metaphors are flying around orientation week. Now is evidently the time for first-years to “find their way,” “orient” themselves, and meet “rising” sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Interestingly enough, “orienting” actually means “rising,” the Orient being named after the place where the sun rises. We can’t help but think of the beginning of the year in terms of space, maybe because the concept of time is too elusive to be handled directly. A few months ago I had a nightmare that I had only one year left at Columbia. I woke up in a cold sweat and for a split second enjoyed the relief of recognizing I had been dreaming, until I remembered that it was true. I hope I am not the only senior who is disoriented knowing that graduation is a handful of months away at this point.
When I was a first-year, I regarded upperclassmen as members of a different generation. I thought there was some sort of collegiate magic that in four years made children prepared for the real world. I thought of my COÖP and NSOP leaders as intrepid, enlightened beings, and it didn’t occur to me until I came back to campus for the last time that nobody really gains any certain knowledge. We do get a little more poise and responsibility with each turn of the cycle. I’m sure this is not the last time that I will have the realization that, as Kurt Vonnegut said, “True terror is to wake up one day and discover that your high school class is running the country.”
The truth is that whatever strides I have made in self-awareness and self-knowledge, I have taken steps back in certainty about everything else. The arts and sciences are both grounded in skepticism, and Columbia has taught me well not to know anything for sure. If the Core Curriculum has a metaphor, it is definitely one of losing your bearings, not of finding yourself.
Jake Goldwasser is Columbia College senior majoring in Middle Eastern studies and linguistics. Thinking Twice runs alternate Thursdays.