Time is a strange thing. You know how it works, sort of. You know that one moment will disappear as quickly as it was given to you, that the time between your first move-in day at college and your last will seem like no time at all.
You knew, when you walked onto campus for the first time—with boxes full of pillows, lamps, opportunity, and newness—that you only had four years. Perhaps it seemed like a lifetime then, as it may seem now to many of you, or perhaps you knew how fleeting your time here would be.
When you paused for a moment, sweaty from waiting in the hot sun and dragging your belongings this way and that, you looked up and saw your class year written in big letters. “Welcome to the class of...” it said, and you knew that you would eventually be there. You closed your eyes for a moment and saw yourself four years later, walking across the stage in your tailored blue gown, shaking hands with the leaders of your school, as they smiled and congratulated you for all you had done and become.
You knew it was coming.
But what you didn’t know, what you couldn’t know, was just who would be marching across the stage on your class day. No amount of foresight would help you see who would be cheering in ecstasy as the sultry tones of Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York” fade into Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” at Commencement, or who would quietly pick up the diploma that had your name written in bold a few days later.
Because, of course, your time here changes you in ways that you can’t predict.
You couldn’t begin to imagine the people with whom you would form unbreakable bonds: the hallmates, suitemates, classmates, professors, and staff who would be both part of the process of your growth and proud observers of it. There is no way you can foresee how the classes you take—from the most impossibly challenging to the most frustratingly simple—would influence your interests, your passions, and often your worldview. The obstacles that you will overcome will shape you in ways you may not have thought possible, and your achievements—both those that you worked for and those that came as surprises—will allow you to understand yourself through a radically different perspective.
You’ve heard, of course. You know that college is supposed to change you. Perhaps it will be the intellectual conversations you will have with your peers late into the night. Or maybe the invaluable relationships you will build with your professors. Or it will likely be the crazy nights out and comforting nights in. You can list the clichéd experiences in your sleep. So, sure, you thought you were ready.
But you were surprised every time.
No experience was like another. Every new relationship was unlike the last, and every new thought unique in its own right. You would go back to your dorm each day, adding to a growing collection of puzzle pieces which make up your character—pieces that you will still struggle to fit into place even after your time here is done.
But perhaps it would be most impossible for you to see that this college will not just change you—you will change this college. By virtue of your entrance on day one, you will change its composition. As you complete your degree and embark as an alumni, you will change its legacy. Columbia will change just as much in four years as you will, and you will be part of shaping its path as much as it will be a part of shaping yours.
The school at which I began my college career is quite different than the one from which I will graduate in a few short months—the young girl that Barnard accepted over three long years ago is only just reflected in who I am today.
I am sitting here now, about to start my senior year, writing this odd reflection in the same laundry room I used my first year. I can hear the echoes of the conversations I used to have here—the drama of our first-year defined by the struggles to adjust, the beginning of the quest to figure out who we were and what we were doing here, and the realization that our time here would all be over too soon.
I knew it would happen. We all did…
Ayelet Pearl is a Barnard College and Jewish Theological Seminary senior. Pearls of Wisdom runs alternate Wednesdays.
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