It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then there are remarkable moments when I’m reminded that I did, in fact, learn things in college. For example, this morning I remembered that I knew what a fusiform gyrus is. That’s a good thing, too, because it’s what this column’s about.
The fusiform gyrus’ face area is a very specific, dense little bundle of nerves no larger than the size of a golf ball, responsible for a very, very specific type of memory—facial recognition. If someone were to do an fMRI of my brain when I dive into my deep (and all-too-frequent) nostalgia sessions about my four years here at Columbia, they’d find that little guy going nuts.
Reminiscing is bizarre because of the memories that did and didn’t stick. For me, every pivotal moment over the last four years, every high and every low, is fundamentally tied to a specific face. My first time going to Cannon’s is encoded with the face of former Spec Sports Editor Daniel Radov walking to the table with a pitcher of Bud Light, smiling from ear to ear with ridiculous boyish excitement.
The lunch immediately after ending the relationship with my ex is distinguished by the face of my roommate, Simon Schwartz, when he heard the news and, without hesitation, smiled and responded, “Does this mean I’m number one on your brunch power rankings again?”
Somehow the strongest association I have of Spec is the face of former Managing Editor Ben Libman shining in anticipation when dropping a meme in the Slack channel that he knew was going to make me laugh at a horribly inappropriate moment.
Amid the innumerable events that have transpired over the past four years, those faces—as seemingly insignificant as they seem—are what stick with me the most. And I think that’s crazy revealing.
My friends make fun of me for adopting the mannerisms of an old man recounting tales of days past when I give retrospective advice, so for authenticity, imagine the remainder of this column being narrated by my elderly raconteur alter ego—old man Mohan.
The fusiform gyrus thing is so important because it harks back to the most unexpectedly defining source of pride or regret: the way I treated the people around me. It’s so easy to get tunnel vision, prioritize professional success, and forget about the people we share our lives with. But when the dust clears, I assure you the people will be what matters most.
At Columbia, at Spectator, we have a serious perspective problem—one I was very much a contributor to. We’re all culprits. Two months ago, after coming back from an all-nighter in Butler, my suitemate Forrest Davis made a passing comment about how exhausted I looked and I snapped back at him for no apparent reason. I now have zero recollection of what I stayed up that night for, but I absolutely remember the look of guilt on Forrest’s face that I had so callously conjured. That’s regret.
The good news is that it’s not just negative memories that stick. Be active in seeking out opportunities to share positive experiences. You'll remember those, too, by the raw emotions you accrued. Different people might encode that empathy in slightly different ways than facial representation, but one fact is constant: the experience of empathy has tremendous staying power.
For instance, think of your most memorable TV moment. For me, it’s the last scene of season one of “How I Met Your Mother,” when Ted comes home to find Marshall crying on their porch after breaking up with Lily. Marshall’s face in that scene is the most poignantly memorable visual for the show even after having seen it five or six times through. Regardless of how you encode your memory of your favorite scene, the way it stands apart from the hours and hours of the show you’ve probably watched, that’s what your memory of college is going to be—snapshots of moments of empathy captured in particular scenes.
The best thing you can do for yourself is make sure the moments you capture are good ones. That logic doesn’t apply to just friends, by the way. Your professors, the kid next to you in the library, your fellow Spectator staffers—their faces will all be stuck in your head to mark the time you spent together.
And if you don’t treat them properly, your fusiform gyrus is sure as hell gonna make you pay for it.
The author is a SEAS senior studying biomedical engineering. He held various associate and deputy positions across news, events, and sales for the 137th and 138th volumes, served as head of product for Spectator’s 139th volume, revenue director for Spectator’s 139th volume, and publisher for Spectator’s 140th volume. He has been using his newfound free time since retiring to explore his hobbies, crocheting and scrapbooking. He requests that praise be directed to his school email, firstname.lastname@example.org, and negative feedback be sent to his junk email, email@example.com.
To respond to this senior column, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.