My privilege of attending the only school whose diploma I felt could leave me fulfilled came at a profound cost: I had to write two college essays. Despite teaching me plenty, four years at two universities have failed to give me any greater confidence in my ability to produce concise profundity. So in this, my first and last opinion piece for Spectator, I’ll hope only to avoid the nonsense and pretention that we all recently learned—with a large sigh of relief—was not unique to our own novice attempts at self-defining wisdom. Instead, I'll try to hammer home the most important thing I’ve learned in four years: Happiness matters.
It really does. As those Contemporary Civilization debates taught us, it’s pretty damn hard to argue that it isn’t all that matters. In our time here, most of us latch onto the notion that sacrificing today will pay dividends tomorrow, from one or four or eight years down the road until we’re too arthritic to have sex—a revised form of the high-school promise that missed house parties and unwatched “Friends” marathons would yield collegiate riches.
At a certain point, though, we have to start living. The “work now, reward later” mentality also misses the point that happiness is as much a habit as hard work. Learning how to achieve an enduring version of it, in our formative years here, is an important part of college we often forget. To the supposed underclasspeople reading this, I urge you to start drilling it now—you’ll want it to be second nature when it comes time for the training wheels of EC parties and midnight breakfasts to come off, pried loose by Papa PrezBo as you stand idly by, smiling and terrified. (Oh, how those metal bleachers haunt my waking dreams.)
Those who frequent the Spectator office know about sacrifice. They develop inside jokes with the night-shifters at Westside, become intimate with black coffee and red sofas, and mark the days since they haven’t seen a Morningside sunrise. Spectator is a wonderful thing that, if you’re not diligent, can seduce away your soul.
And sometimes, it feels great. Diving so fully into something—making it the most important thing in my life—gave me that level of fulfillment I didn’t know existed but had come here to find. The value of an activity that can make you feel unique and purposed on a campus teeming with stupid amounts of talent and accomplishment is hard to overstate, and that’s what Spectator has done for so many people. Each of us plays an absolutely essential and irreplaceable role every day—or, for the sake of accuracy, five days a week—to put out a newspaper. (The fact that we’ve been able to find progressively more talented replacements annually for 136 years is beside the point.) And that sacrifice we make is for much more than ourselves. We’ve made an adult commitment few have the opportunity to experience in college.
The problem is, when one activity begins to define you, the frustrations and disappointments it inevitably delivers hit hard. A critical comment on your theater review attacks you at your core. Disagreements with colleagues induce unquenchable rage (sorry again, Alex). Getting passed up for the position that had become such an integral part of your life plan leaves you feeling worthless and lost. And regardless of how much success you’ve found in the time you’ve called Spectator home, you’ll have a hell of a time figuring out who you are when it comes to an end.
Sometimes it feels like the risk of enduring such crushing blows is the necessary price we pay for that profound accomplishment, that feeling of shared dedication, that participation in something bigger than ourselves.
When you go all in, everything gets amplified. The key to tempering the lows, for me, has been diversity. When frustrations with editors and administrators felt unrelenting, the Catskill Mountains offered respite. And it was only the ability to step on a stage, mustachioed and British, to argue with and get eaten by my bear-daughter’s fiancé, that kept me from lopping of the heads of my fellow board members when deliberations to choose our successors reached their 100th hour. This is most certainly not the real world—and though getting the introduction to it that we at Spectator extol has been more worthwhile than I can express, we’re all afforded four years before we have to take the plunge. None of us came here to specialize, and if you ask me, our amateur status is too valuable to squander.
So dive in, find passion and love, experience frustration and joy, and remember to come up for air. Try things once and quit, meet people you’ll never see again. Experience as much as you can. Treat the critical, insurmountable problems of the day as the transient learning opportunities that they are. This is who you are and who you’re going to be, so make damn sure that happiness is part of the equation.
To all of those who helped me find balance, who introduced me to all the riches this beautiful place has to offer, and who helped me stay sane while exploiting them: I can’t thank you enough.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in economics. He was an associate sports editor for the 135th associate board, deputy sports editor for the 136th deputy board, and chief revenue officer for the 136th managing board.
Read the rest of this year's senior columns here.