Last weekend, I took the swim test, satisfying my last Core requirement (and shaming myself before my peers). Last Tuesday, I moderated my last debate for the political group I’ve been involved in since my first year. On Friday, I was dancing at the last Eurotrash I’ll attend and heard the performers for the last Bacchanal I’ll go to announced. On Saturday, I emailed my editor to make sure that this column (this one, that you’re reading right now) is my second to last, and not my very last. On Sunday, I concluded what will (hopefully) be the last major round of edits on my thesis. Every day, at least once a day, I catch myself thinking about all of the last times I’m doing. It’s not that I don’t think I should think about last times, but rather that I’m thinking about lasts in the wrong way.
This is not the first time I have agonized over my last times. Before my term as editorial page editor came to an end, I noted the last op-ed and column I edited, the last editorial board meeting I oversaw, and the last night that I worked in the Spectator office. Before I flew home from my semester abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia, I thought about my last walk by the Neva River, my last metro ride on the different lines, and my last coffee purchased in the so bad it’s good Starbucks imposter, Kofe Haus.
In hindsight, though, I do not think of either of those as last times. Safely tucked away, covered by veils of memory, they have become first times. The first time I found something at Columbia to throw myself into. The first time I went to Russia. And they have, in turn, given way to other firsts that couldn’t have happened had I not let go of the lasts.
It is always tempting (for me, anyway) to measure sections of one’s life chronologically or temporally, to start the clock and watch the countdown, and even more so when those sections have predetermined time limits (i.e. college), just as it is tempting to give in to the feeling that is something like nostalgia for a place I’m still in (I believe they call this “dread”). But, though the only way to resist temptation may be to give into it (I know, it’s Wilde advice), I do not believe that that is what we should do.
I know, or at least believe, that I—that we—will look back on our time at Columbia and remember all of the things that began here, and all of the things that were able to begin thereafter. But I don’t think we should wait till we graduate to see it as that. I don’t think any of us should spend our remaining time here—be that years, or months, or weeks—thinking of a countdown (unless it is Beyoncé’s song, “Countdown,” in which case, yes, we should be thinking of it at all times).
On Wednesday, I began to let go of my student group. On Friday, I danced at Il Cibreo for the first time. On Saturday, I wrote something new. On Sunday, I got one step closer to completing what is by far my most major writing project thus far (I mean “major” both as in “considerable” and as in the Victoria Beckham catchphrase). On every day, I am contributing to a time in my life that was a first in so many ways, some which I already know, and some which I might never comprehend. Maybe I’ll try not to comprehend or over-think them at all.
That would be a first.
Emily Tamkin is a Columbia College senior majoring in Russian literature and culture. She is the general manager of the Columbia Political Union, vice chair of the Senior Fund, literary criticism editor of The Birch, and a former Spectator editorial page editor. Back to the Future runs alternate Wednesdays.