When I first sat down to write this, I was suspended several thousand miles above the Atlantic Ocean, four hours away from touching down in New York City for my final semester at Columbia, compulsively listening to Taylor Swift’s “22” on repeat. The weight of this journey still hasn’t sunk in yet, though I know that some time in the next four months, it will.
It will hit me, as it will hit every other member of the class of 2013, when I least expect it. It will hit us when we’re scrambling to find our CUIDs to show to an East Campus security guard or when we’re waiting in line for the elevators in Hamilton Hall (before ultimately deciding to suck it up and take the stairs), that when we said goodbye to our hometowns this January, it was the biggest goodbye we’ve said since the fall of 2009. It was a goodbye tinged with uncertainty and adulthood. It was a goodbye tinged with the knowledge that in the next four months, we will make more decisions than we’ve made in the last four years.
We will think about our childhood homes, and we will try to decide whether to return to them as inhabitants or as visitors. We will slide into our pale blue graduation gowns, and we will decide what shoes to pair them with. We will look around our dorm rooms, and we will decide what belongings to carry with us when we leave. We will sit in 1020 booths with our best friends, and we will wonder which ones we will still know and love five, 10, 50 years from now. We will think back on the last four years, and we will rehearse the witty untruths we will tell people when they ask us, “So, did you like Columbia?” or, “What was your favorite thing about college?” or, “What’s your biggest regret?” We will look at our boyfriends and girlfriends, and we will ask them what will happen in May when suddenly, instead of living a few floors or blocks apart, we might be on different coasts or continents. We will dig up our old Columbia application essays, and we will try to remember who we were when we came in. Sometime in the next four months, we will decide who we’ve become since.
Still, alongside our indecision, there exists another force: experience. While on the one hand we question everything, on the other hand we will spend the next four months walking this campus with boundless certainty. After all, we know better than anybody else here how to get from Ruggles to Schermerhorn in under four minutes. We know how to write 20-page papers in 24 hours. We are unparalleled experts on the perfect Westside salad, and we are uncontested monarchs of the Morton Williams checkout queue. We know which Halal cart is best, and which one will have you sitting on the toilet for the next two days. We know which International chardonnay is cheapest, and we know where to find it. We know that O’Connell’s is actually called Cannon’s and that Amigos is actually called Campo and that “109 Gourmet Deli” will never be anything but CrackDel. We know how to get the cheapest textbooks, and we know where to find hookah in Harlem. We know which dance group is best (hint: whichever one your best friends are in), and we know the best spot from which to watch the Varsity Show. We know how to walk down The Heights’ stairs gracefully even after three margaritas. We know which boys to text and which ones to steer clear of. We know roofs, and we know tunnels. We know myths, and we know traditions. We have learned, from brutal trial and error, which mistakes are worth making.
So, for the next four months, confronted by our futures but armed with our past, we will remain precariously perched between being the most confused and most knowledgeable people on our stunning, Instagram-ready campus. We will be the taut rope in an ongoing game of tug-of-war between the lessons we’re struggling to take away and the ones we feel obligated to leave behind. We will choose constantly between our two most basic instincts as Columbia students: to ask questions and to answer them. We might get scared sometimes, and we might want to fast-forward into an adult world with adult stability and adult foresight. We might look wistfully at the gaggle of first-years stumbling out of Carman, and we might want to rewind to 2009, when we were drinking first-year drinks and making first-year decisions. We might love the next four months, or we might hate them. I don’t know.
But I know that for every lost Homecoming game, there were four free beers. For every Butler all-nighter, there was post-deadline freedom. For every Netflix-and-Chinese-food hangover, there was a great night out. And for every identity crisis, there are hundreds of thousands of Columbia alums who did this crazy, weird, incredible “graduation” thing before us. Now they run the world, and someday we will too. They’re doing okay, so we will too. But we’ll only do this once, 2013ers, so let’s vow to feel it in full, the good and the bad. As the revered and eloquent T-Swizzle puts it, “We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. It’s miserable and magical.” Oh, yeah.
Rega Jha is a Columbia College senior majoring in creative writing. Rega-rding Columbia runs alternate Thursdays.
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