Saturday was a frustrating night. Two months after being dumped by my first "serious" boyfriend, I had finally mustered the courage to see him again. I had many high hopes for what might be said that evening—would he spontaneously profess his love for me? Would he say he was sorry? Would he acknowledge that being single isn't really that cool? Instead of living up to my wildest fantasies, however, my ex-boyfriend opted to ignore me for most of the night, and I left our re-encounter wishing that he had done something much more basic: acknowledge that I existed and that I still cared about him. Saturday was a frustrating day. One year after President Barack Obama, CC '83, had officially snubbed CCSC 2011 and President Bollinger's joint invitation to speak at University Commencement, Columbia College students and alumni heard that the American president would be coming to a Morningside Heights commencement this spring. Would he profess his love for Columbia? Would he say he was sorry for the thrice-declined invitation to speak at Commencement? Would he acknowledge that being Alma Mater-less isn't really that cool? Instead of living up to our wildest fantasies, however, President Obama opted to ignore us in the most public way possible—he personally asked to speak at our sister school's commencement, even when Barnard had never seriously considered him as a potential graduation speaker. If I were to continue the ex-boyfriend comparison here, President Obama's over-the-top way of ignoring us is analogous to a scenario wherein my ex would find my best friend and make out with him, unsolicited, as I would watch, dumbfounded. Lucky for me, my ex-boyfriend has better manners. He would know that it would be more polite to find some random gentleman on another night when I was not around. That said, would we want the president to take a page from my ex-boyfriend's book? As a former student and alumnus who loves our University, I could not advocate for an alternative in which President Obama speaks at neither Columbia's nor Barnard's commencements. Surely there are many Columbia College students and alumni like myself who feel hurt by President Obama's decision, and I've used this boyfriend analogy because I do believe there is an element of heartbreak to the story. It's official—President Obama is just not that into us. Like someone who has been dumped, we're full of sadness with an extra side of rage. At this point in writing this op-ed, I got up from my desk, made a fresh cup of coffee, ripped open the curtains in my bedroom, and challenged myself to think more rationally and critically about the President's commencement address decision. Why do we feel so betrayed and entitled? Sure, we tried to win him over last year with the POTUS Project, but we were trying to win him over, not win him back. Hell, many of us were not even born when the president graduated from Columbia, and most of us have little concept of what the University was like when the president attended as a student. Between 1981 and 1983, when President Obama was a Columbia College student, females were not allowed to attend CC, the college was not considered a "residential college" and did not have a housing guarantee, and—if you can believe it—the University took undergraduate education even less seriously than it does today. For these reasons and more, it seems that the Columbia experience that recent alumni and current students know is far different from that of President Obama, and the sense of obligation that we have invented for him may just be an irrational fantasy that has managed to envelope us and create a false sense of entitlement. Considering that, I'm going to do my best to congratulate Barnard, its students, and its alumnae for their opportunity to have President Obama speak at their commencement. Barnard is an extraordinarily important institution, and we are especially reminded of this at a time when women's rights have come under a tremendous political assault. Though the pain of heartbreak persists, let us do our best to let rationality prevail and celebrate the president's decision to use this country's most selective women's college as a platform to champion women's rights. The author graduated from Columbia College in 2011. He was the senior class president of Columbia College class of 2011 and the leader of the POTUS Project, a campaign to convince President Obama to speak at the 253rd University Commencement. He is a 2011 Teach For America corps member and currently teaching middle school special education in Denver, Colo.
Columbia Spectator Staff