I'm writing to you as I finish up my first year of college and as you finish your second-to-last year of high school. You've considered attending several excellent schools over the past few months, but none of them match up to the community I think you could find here. With your numerous talents, academic excellence, and your warm, good-natured personality, it almost pains me to imagine you at any other university.
But this letter isn't just for you—it's for all Columbia students and alumni, especially those who may need a reminder of why our University is so remarkable. In light of a recent Spectator column challenging brutal honesty on campus tours, I think it's time to change the conversation from "stop complaining" to "start admiring."
To state the obvious, Barnard is a small, elite liberal arts college. And while I understand your hesitation in looking at Barnard specifically as it is a women's college and is smaller than Columbia, I still feel that I enjoy all the benefits of the greater Columbia community. Regardless of which of the four undergraduate colleges you would attend, you would still be part of an Ivy League institution full of passionate students who worked hard to get there.
How do I know this? During one of the events I attended for NSOP, first-years gathered in the gym as some application essays were read out loud. Despite what people say about this school being full of rich, white, legacy kids, students here come from all walks of life and have overcome all kinds of obstacles. And you, Michelle, are a brilliant student, in the top tier of your class at a huge public school where it can be difficult to shine. If you were to join the Columbia community, your shine would only be intensified by the incredible people around you.
But this University isn't special just because of its accomplished, bright students. The professors can be some of the most inspirational and fascinating people you will ever meet. I don't know where else you would find a queer literature Ph.D. who lives on frat row with her tiny dog (that she brought to class once, by the way), teaching an English class called Legacy of the Mediterranean. And though some professors may fall into the classic category of the dull, lecture-type older folk with years of research behind and ahead of them, many still carry an energetic spirit of academia. After all, they did choose to pursue a career in education at one of the best universities in the world.
And sometimes, a professor may be more intimidating than inspirational. But, I'm telling you: It is worth making a connection with these professors anyway for the moments of revelation they can create. It's quite reassuring when you go to their office hours for homework help, and they tell you, "Oh, I read your column in Spec!" To know that they take a genuine interest in your life is truly great.
But professors can only take you so far. Columbia also has many clubs, communities, and leadership opportunities that are just waiting to be seized. Whatever your cause of choice becomes, you'll have the space to find it, pursue it, and make a change at Columbia.
Although it has long been the trend and tradition to lambast "the system" for many reasons worth noting—climate change divestment, the minimum wage fight, winter housing, and so on—I still believe Columbia is worthy of recognition for its strong, albeit sometimes unsung, merits.
Whatever you decide, Michelle, know that Barnard or Columbia proper would be a wonderful place for you to challenge yourself and grow as an intellectual. You'll surround yourself with other great minds, professors and students alike. And though at times this environment can be tough, stressful, and even painful, the kinds of friendships you could cultivate here would support you through all the horrors of college.
In the end, I know you will choose the best place for you. Just know that it would be my privilege to have my sister here in Morningside Heights with me.
Jackie Hajdenberg is a Barnard College first-year with a prospective major in comparative politics. All the Rest is Commentary runs alternate Thursdays.
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