Three years ago, as a first-year student during NSOP week, I was desperate to go stargazing on the rooftop of Mudd or SIPA. I was obsessed with astronomy at the time, having spent the summer before college with my friends, reclining on baseball fields making wishes on shooting stars and telling secrets on hilltops under the constellations. In spite of—or rather, because of—the infiniteness of the night sky, I never felt alone at home in California. I felt safe knowing that there were millions of other people in the world, gazing at the same sky as me, feeling a strange mixture of awe, fear, and hope.
I was sorely disappointed when I finally sneaked onto my first rooftop on campus, toward the beginning of NSOP. I looked up at the sky, and all I saw was darkness. Suddenly, all the feelings of homesickness and loneliness I had thought I evaded—no, I wasn’t going to call home and cry to mother, I thought earlier that day, as I walked down the street in search of an extra-long Ethernet cord for my Carman double—came to me. Why did I come to this strange place, I thought, where not a single shimmer of light was able to penetrate through the midnight sky?
Earlier this summer, I was terribly annoyed at all the incoming freshmen who asked me for college advice. I didn’t want to tell them where the most student-friendly yoga studios were. Or how many Core Curriculum classes they should cram into their fall semester schedule. Or whether they’d lose their virginity by Halloween. (Looking back, that question was just creepy.) I should have felt flattered, but instead I was highly jaded by the class of 2016’s enthusiasm. I bitterly wanted them to figure out Columbia and college and life on their own—just as I did, I thought (wrongly). If they can get into Columbia, they can survive without being coddled, I grumbled to myself.
I completely forgot that 18-year-old Noel spent one night of NSOP week on the roof, wondering if anyone would know her—or like her—by senior year of college. It sure didn’t feel like it at the time.
I never knew Martha Corey-Ochoa, CC ’16, and she is one freshman I regret that I will never get to know in my last year here—but there are hundreds of people at this school who I want to know.
I wouldn’t trade my college experience for anyone else’s, but I do believe that there is value in everyone’s own experience—typical or atypical, Beta or Le Baron or Butler (or all three).
As a senior now, I’ve already begun my obligatory—and obnoxious—year of nostalgia. I’ve started to look back on my years and wonder what could have been better for me. Or for that girl I saw crying in Butler on the fourth floor. Or for that guy who knocked on my door at midnight because he needed a friend to talk to. Or for Martha Corey-Ochoa. Or for Tina Bu.
To my fellow upperclassmen, most of you are already much wiser than me and are already reaching out to the new students and to your fellow classmates. For those of you who are shy—or jaded—like me, I want you to remember your NSOP week. It may have been the best week of your life. It may have been the worst week of your life. It may have been the best or worst week of your life that you don’t even remember. Either way, you made it to today. (Hopefully, without getting CAVAed.) So, reach out to your schoolmates, whether it’s through the initiatives of the Student Wellness Project or Nightline or getting coffee with someone going through a rough patch or just by helping a lost future sociology major find Knox Hall. Not everyone may share your college experience, but everyone has an experience worth sharing.
Last school year, I climbed onto the rooftop of Mudd, fueled by roti rolls and cheap vodka from a party in EC (or was it margaritas from The Heights? Or a gin and tonic from 1020? Or all three?). This time, however, I was with a close friend—lucky me, someone who had been my friend since that first day of NSOP week. Someone who had smiled at me and texted me repeatedly after I had shyly complimented the flower in her hair while we were standing awkwardly outside of Carman after move-in.
I didn’t look up this time. I looked down at the Manhattan skyline, and I saw lights flickering on and off at the other end of the island and across the river. Not quite stars, but close.
And from the corner of my eye, I saw my friend standing by my side. And I swear I saw a star—or was it a plane? To this day, I still believe it was the former, and that’s good enough for me.
Maybe during NSOP week, the stars were just too scared to shine. Maybe they just needed some time—and a chance.
Noel Duan is a Columbia College senior majoring in anthropology and concentrating in art history. She is the co-founder of Hoot magazine. Her column You Write Like a Girl will run alternate Wednesdays.