All the benevolent souls who brimmed with advice on making the most out of college pointed me in the same direction: extracurricular activities. According to them, that was the one reliable way to have a fulfilling social life and discover my passions, my two dearest ambitions for the four years to come. Of the personalities I imagined for myself, the one that involved darting around between privileged corners of campus and whipping out articles about its dramatic goings-on was the most attractive, and I decided journalism was for me.
By January of my first year, I’d finished my news training, joined the copy staff, and started showing up to the occasional Arts & Entertainment meetings. I was on my way to being a real Speccie. All that was left for me to do was write an article—and this is where things got problematic.
Once I’d taken my first assignment, the challenge became apparent. I had to chase down several professors and administrators, sweet-talk them into letting me pepper them with questions, and condense the whole experience into a compelling 500-word story. I—the queen of indecisiveness, apologizing, and taking half an hour to write a sentence—was being called upon to discard my sense of shame and pry information from people so I could share it with a few thousand others. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this.
I kept writing for another couple of months, and to be fair, I did enjoy getting to be the one to tell my peers about the new sophomore pair-up option in room selection. But around mid-April, after a few too many all-nighters and awkward phone conversations, I stopped coming to writers’ meetings. The prospect of a byline had lost its draw, and by that point, I had figured out where the real fun was to be had.
As a member of the copy staff, I got to spend three hours a week at one of the office’s paleolithic computers, correct the spelling and punctuation of finished articles, and read out the occasional, hilariously incomprehensible sentence to a crew of like-minded people. The work was subtle but mechanical enough to leave some mental energy for gossip and schoolwork-related kvetching. I had finally found the perfect setting in which to indulge my love of linguistic nitpicking, and meanwhile, I got to eavesdrop on tales of high-powered journalistic internships, private chats with President Bollinger, and the amazing feats of scheduling that allowed people to juggle the two massive commitments of being a Speccie and being a student. In my mind, there was no better place to be.
So I stayed there. I was a staffer for five semesters, first for the website, then for the daily. In the fall of my junior year, I finally applied to become an associate, thereby signing up for one long night a week of scanning articles’ final versions for dire problems. On my first night as an associate, I wished I’d taken that plunge long ago. It turned out the office came alive after 10 p.m. People I had come to know as sane, poised, and intimidatingly cool started dancing to Lady Gaga or ranting about sleep deprivation and elusive sources. I watched as editors received articles for the next day’s paper at midnight and searched frantically for writers to cover sudden twists in the ongoing drama of our Columbia experience.
Not even this semester, as I spent three nights a week editing The Eye and scrambled to keep my grades at a respectable level, did it ever occur to me that being a copy editor for Spectator was anything but an enormous privilege. The dedication of my talented fellow Speccies gave me as close a view as I could handle of the action below Columbia’s dignified, granite surface, and the guidance of a few august style experts helped me develop a skill that suited my natural inclinations. Even as I railed at the spinning rainbow wheel on my desktop and raced to finish homework between articles, I knew joining Spec had been the right decision.
The author is a Columbia College senior concentrating in French and Romance philology and German literature and cultural history. She was an associate copy editor for the 135th volume and is the head copy editor of The Eye.