I generally try to do my best, as a well-conditioned 21st-century male, to shield myself from expressing genuine emotions (still really meaning to take that gender relations class that assures me, à la “Good Will Hunting,” that I’m allowed to cry). It’s one of the reasons I’m the most terrified for senior year—not the prospect of finding a job, or being homeless, or even leaving Columbia, but the fact that this year is essentially one long campaign of goodbyes and remembering and talking about the good old days and how crazy it is that we’re already graduating.
It seems like just yesterday we were furtively sneaking bottles of Four Loko from CrackDel into John Jay for cramped parties in singles! I don’t think I’ve had a conversation so far this year with someone in my class that hasn’t involved one of the aforementioned talking points or, if I’m talking with someone in a younger class, hasn’t involved, “Can you believe you’re already a senior?” It’s really been a double whammy, too, because study abroad was already a surreally intense experience packed into five months that felt like a lot more, so the last few weeks of my program followed an incredibly similar narrative of wistfully recollecting over memories.
Most of us came into our first year after an 18-year-old continuity that was all we had known—generally living in the same place (maybe with a few detours), the same family and support network, the same friends. And then the continuity broke and we were thrown into the most intensive transition the majority of us had ever experienced. Our natural reaction is obviously to start home-building and community-building—to rapidly create new families, or people to share the burden of this rapid change with.
This is one of the central reasons I so strongly love the pre-orientation program that I’ve been involved with for all four years here (and am convinced that it’s a full-blown cult)—when people come here in that incredibly vulnerable state, as I did three years ago, they need that tailor-made community to rely on and build off of. And it’s inevitable that it will breed particularly strong and intense relationships in very short amounts of time. In contrast to when we were growing up and had years to develop and mature relationships, college is a concentrated experience where we spend every minute together, and everyone is looking for the same escape from the loneliness of transition.
And perhaps more powerfully, in my experience at least, even with all these factors, the real friends you find here generally aren’t friends of convenience. Growing up, most relationships are formed and entrenched solely in shared experience—we went through war together (aka puberty and high school), and, like ’Nam, that shit makes you brothers and sisters—and here, with no shared experience or memory to work off of, relationships can actually be formed based on commonality. And I know for me at least, I found a lot more common ground with people here than in my upper-middle-class Jewish suburban hometown.
“Nostos is a bitch,” quoth Odysseus. (You’ll have to forgive me, it’s been a while since Lit Hum, and I’m paraphrasing.) It’s one of those Core buzzwords that’s stuck with me, because I’ve always associated it with the idea of nostalgia. This pain or longing for the past, or for a lost idea of home. The problem with college is that it, too, is an intense, concentrated experience, but inherently a transient one. It’s so rapid, and each year is a little life in itself, with a new place to live and classes and ways to fill your time—and with that, change the people you’re surrounded with. And like I said, I try to stay away from emotions, but here at least I can hide behind my byline, and I’m a sucker for talking about shared experience.
It’s where nostalgia has always hit me strongest and hit me hard: just thinking about the fact that I’ve had these very powerful and very intimate relationships through my whole life—and especially in the past eight years—that are just gone now, or skeletons of their former selves.
The experiences themselves don’t really matter, and you may remember them more vividly at the surface level, but when you really try to recall the past (for me, thinking of the eight years I spent at a camp in the Berkshires, or road trips I did in high school, or even the shenanigans of my first year), the people are at the core. And I’m not too naive to know that no matter how intense relationships are, with distance, except for the most powerful ones, they gradually fall apart. Of my friends from high school—and I had a great group of friends by my senior year of high school—there’s only a handful of them that I would still consider myself close with.
So during this protracted one-year farewell campaign of Columbia, I will definitely be appreciating this insanely hilarious and absurd group of people that I came through the ranks with. And the younger ones, who are equally awesome, if not quite as wise as all of us elders. And most of all, let’s do the opposite of what I just did for 900 words, and not wallow in all this sappy shit (except when we stumble to Low Steps and have intense three-hour conversations just like three years ago) because life is too goddamn short. To the class of 2014—(insert something cliche and inspirational). I got it—let’s make this year one to remember.
Leo Schwartz is a Columbia College senior majoring in political science and Latin American studies. Rationalizing the Irrational runs alternate Fridays.
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