I called writing "my first love" in my college personal statement, and I've done a lot of it during my four years at Columbia. I've written pages on Dante, Descartes, Foucault, and Faulkner, and countless blue books-worth of term identifications and passage analyses. I've close read, I've compared and contrasted, I've problematized. Veni, vidi, vici. As the last few weeks of the semester race by and I struggle to tie a pretty red bow on my college career, I wonder whether those double-spaced Word documents were it—whether the thesis statements written in Butler study rooms somehow capture the life I've led here. In my room back home, there's an ever-growing stack of folders and notebooks from semesters past, and I wonder whether those pages are accurate articulations of those semesters at all. Yes, I have opinions on things now, and I can capitalize words like "the Other" and see allusions to "The Odyssey" everywhere, but was that what my sixteen-year-old self meant by "first love"? We all had those first loves we carried with us to Columbia, and Columbia makes it remarkably easy to let those loves die. I noticed it my first year. Those moments of small talk waiting for elevators or lingering after closing time at JJ's always seemed to rotate around the same conversational fixture—how much work you had to do and how little time you had to complete it. But we were learning quickly: how to skim, what to underline, how to construct arguments, what made good essay topics. As time went on, our feats became more impressive—a paper due on Monday we hadn't begun research on, a paper due tomorrow on a book we hadn't read yet. We wrote and received a letter grade in return. There was something rote about our intellectual process, something safe. But that's not love. Love is a thought that won't let go, at once both haunting and promising. It keeps you up at night and not because you're fueled on Red Bull or because a deadline looms overhead or because you need anything in return at all. Somewhere along the way to finals week, we forget that. Perhaps it's because we're not in high school anymore, and we no longer feel the need to impress a college admissions committee with our genuine curiosity and extraordinary talents, that we let both fall to the wayside. Or maybe it's because we feel the opposite, the pressure of graduate schools and competitive job markets that care little for our passions and pursuits. Either way, it's a compromise we can't allow ourselves to make. Mark Twain famously declared that he never let his schooling interfere with his education. That's all very witty and fine, but it's particularly difficult to follow his advice when that schooling is the Core, when those old Greek names etched onto Butler's façade stare down at you expectantly. Perhaps what keeps us from living and learning with the kind of pure, naïve love we felt before coming here is just fear. It's far less scary to go through the motions of an education than to take the emotional leap of faith necessary to actually pursue one—to be affected by what we read, to write driven by desire, not word count. If Graduation is Judgment Day—and as mine approaches, the metaphor becomes more and more apt—I really hope I have more to show for the past four years than a stack of papers in the corner of my room. What these years have meant to me won't be in the lines but between them. I won't remember the grade I received on my first Lit Hum final, but I will remember studying for it with friends over pizza at Pinnacle, answering questions that never showed up on the exam. I'll remember the sleepless dark nights spent writing stories more vividly than the workshops after. I'll throw away those old notebooks in time, but I'll never forget the way the world outside looks just a little bit different after walking out of an amazing lecture. Those were moments of true love my sixteen-year-old self wanted me to have. Those were moments I felt closest to those Greek names on Butler. If the deadening weight of school ever threatens to extinguish the love you came here with, don't let it. We were wiser than we knew when we wrote those college personal statements. Remember the person that naïve teenager wanted to be. Be that person, and more. Aarti Iyer is a Columbia College senior majoring in creative writing. She is the former editor-in-chief of The Fed. Culture Vulture runs alternate Tuesdays.
Columbia Spectator Staff