I watched as the performers threw their Chinese yo-yos back and forth, passed them between legs, and looped them around their bodies until they finally held them out toward the audience with triumphant smiles. The group exited the stage, and I was left to mull over my thoughts as applause and murmurs of conversation filled the room. Just hours earlier, I had been at dinner with friends when we decided to check out “Passport to Columbia,” an event we understood to be some sort of school talent show. When we arrived, we were surprised at the number of people there as well as the delicious food being served. As the lights dimmed, I wondered what kinds of performances there would be—and, admittedly, whether or not I would stay the entire time. What I did not expect was a spiritual awakening that would cause me to look differently at my peers, my school, and my own place in the Columbia community.
At any university, but especially here at Columbia, high hopes and strong ambition are forces that drive students to buckle down, work hard, and succeed. That is arguably the primary goal of higher education: to acquire a deep understanding in some field of study and develop skills that will help us enter the real world and thrive. But this goal often blinds us to what is perhaps a greater purpose: to understand, appreciate, and love one another.
As I leaned back in my seat at “Passport to Columbia,” I couldn’t help but feel as though my vision had narrowed since the first time I arrived on campus. I realized that from the moment the red-hot social circles of NSOP and our first year began to cool in the waters of routine and familiarity, it became easier to look through people rather than at them. I realized that the more time I had to spend reading and doing homework, the less effort I put into caring about people who weren’t my friends. I realized that I was failing to see in others what I hoped they would see in me.
Last Saturday night helped shake me from this blindness. There was something beautiful about watching my classmates perform. Not only were they revealing the products of their labor for all to see, but they were also sharing parts of themselves. They were inviting me to explore their cultures, to embrace their identities, and to value their passions. From the bursts of hip-hop in motion by the ladies of Onyx, to the display of Chinese tradition by CU Lion Dance, to the flow of body and soul by members of Columbia Bhangra, the show reminded me of something I had forgotten. It reminded me that we all have a set of life experiences that has made us who we are, experiences that have somehow brought us to the same place at the same time.
There is something powerful about that, and in realizing its truth, we should actively alter our states of being so as to see ourselves in others and others in ourselves. Whether we’re walking to class, eating dinner in John Jay, or studying in Butler, we should love the people that surround us, even those we don’t know and may never know. If we can do this, we exponentially multiply our ability to make Columbia and the world better. This, to me, is our reason for being here. This, to me, is our greatest purpose.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore.