In the second semester of my first year, as winter turned to spring and Columbia was just becoming mine, I’d sometimes stand in the middle of campus at night and look at Butler Library, sandwiched between the glowing trees on College Walk, still amazed I was here. As I’ve gotten older, the wonder of Columbia often seems like it has worn off, but as graduation gets closer to becoming a reality, our school’s romance has started to pop up for me again. Some nights, Butler is just as beautiful—and as daunting—as it was to me three years ago.
Columns in Spectator are usually about things that are wrong with our school, and mine have largely been no different. A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a Columbia dean, who noted that based on my columns and our conversations, it seems like I haven’t had a good experience at Columbia. But writing about being content isn’t interesting, and it doesn’t get much done. I tried to explain that overall, I’ve had a great time here, and that many of us complain and work toward change because—as previous Spectator columnists have noted—beneath all of our stress and our angst, we love our school.
College forces us to grow up fast. It’s a paradox that my first year here seems like a long time ago, but at the same time, it feels like college has gone by quickly. We arrive on campus and dive into our classes and activities—all while trying to make new friends—and it seems like the next four years will be forever. But the rush toward being a graduate happens before we know it. Soon, our classmates will start talking about their career options, and by that point, there’s no turning back.
I’ll sometimes listen to a friend talking about a job offer for next year and laugh to myself, not because this particular friend isn’t serious, but because it seems absurd that someone my age—including me—could soon be a college graduate, working at a full-time job in the real world. For a moment, I’ll think that we’re too young for this. We just got to campus, fresh from our high schools and our childhoods, and now we’re being forced out of our liminal space, into the abyss after much too short a transition phase.
Yet when I look back through my individual semesters at Columbia, I realize how much has happened. We spend our time here trying to live up to our expectations of college. To do so, we try to craft the perfect semester: Which classes will be the most fulfilling? Which activities will be the most fun? Which jobs do I have to work to make sure I can pay for it all?
Sometimes, when I’m stressed or bored or worried about the past, I think about each of my semesters here and try to figure out which one has been the best. I go through the highs and the lows, but eventually, every time, I realize each semester has been flawed in its own ways. In the mid-semester rush, days become weeks, and by Thursday night, we can’t remember what we did last weekend. Time in college operates differently—both too slow and too fast, at the same time—from the way it did before we got here and, presumably, from the way it will once we leave. Sometimes, we’ll be happiest if we accept just time in all its mysteries and frustrations.
Similarly, we should try to accept the decisions we make while we’re here. There’s no such thing as the perfect semester. If we try to plan every detail of our lives at Columbia, we’ll always be disappointed, because so much happens here in a short amount of time, and almost nothing goes exactly as planned. As time moves closer to the coming May, failures from previous semesters have become insignificant, and friends lost have given way to friends gained. None of my semesters have been perfect, but maybe none of them were so bad, either.
To this year’s first-years, who are still adjusting to our complicated, temporary home: You’ll make countless decisions in the next three years, and although some of them will be wrong, and some of them right, each one will lead to the next opportunity. None of them can be undone.
It’s no use thinking about your alternate college careers—the ones that will never happen. So focus on this one, instead. Try to plan your semesters, but accept your time here as it comes. Because by December of your senior year, even with four term papers between you and winter break, you’ll still be sad to be nearing the end.
Aaron Fisher is a Columbia College senior studying history and religion. He has an ongoing list of things he wants to do at Columbia before he graduates, the most difficult of which is going to a party at St. A’s. If you can get him in, email him at email@example.com. Catch of the Day ran alternate Tuesdays.
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