“Real” adults love to continuously remind me that there will never be another time in my life in which I have as few responsibilities as I do now—that I should enjoy it, because I’ll never be allowed to be this reckless again. I have no kids, no job, nothing tying me down and, therefore, nothing holding me back.

Here I am, a young adult, standing at the precipice of a life that I can truly claim as my own, but that is still out of reach. My time at Columbia is a stepping stone to obtaining that life—a bridge over the abyss of adolescent uncertainty to the proverbial “promised land.” I hope that, after these years, I’ll be able to look back and see how it has all amounted to something greater, something more splendid. Right now, my time in college is a part of the ascent of my life, but it is not the apex.

My experiences have been a mix of onerous and exhilarating, and though the former tends to eclipse the latter, I have recently become more aware of the ways my life has been enhanced since matriculating at Columbia. I come and go as I please. I take long walks, get lost, and find my way back again. Unhindered by an 8-to-3 school day, I wake up at a reasonable hour and fall asleep as the sun rises. I answer to no one but my assignment deadlines. I am, for the most part, free.

That freedom extends beyond the physical as well. After emancipating myself from the chains of the pre-med curriculum, I was finally able to take courses tailored to my areas of interest. At Columbia, I have been more intellectually challenged than ever before. I came here seeking higher knowledge, and I have not been disappointed. As much as I may bemoan the amount of hours spent studying or reading or writing, I am doing exactly what I want to be doing. This structured time dedicated solely to learning is my nerdy dream come true, and I can’t really complain too much about something to which I willingly—and, perhaps, masochistically—subject myself.

The value of these years is most evident in the people that I’ve met, both on and off campus. I think of late-night conversations with my first-year roommate whom I was reluctant to meet because I wanted a single in John Jay. I think of the friends I made during Days on Campus and NSOP, who still smile out of the politeness of familiarity, though we’ve since lost touch. I think of neglecting homework to spend hours talking about the most disparate of topics—from the existence of God to the best on-campus dining halls. I think of impromptu, weekday sleepovers in friends’ rooms after pulling all-nighters. I think of going to art galleries and concerts with friends, new and old. I think of laughing so hard that my stomach hurts. I think of all the random strangers who have become lifelong companions by pure chance.

And there have also been times so dismal they seem to poison the splendor that once attracted me to Columbia. I’ve had countless existential crises—no doubt catalyzed by the CC readings—that make me question if my ennui is organic or a product of this environment, if I should stay or go and never return. I am constantly reevaluating my motivations for being here—if the love of knowledge is worth falling out of love with everything else. Sometimes, I wonder if the people who consider these the “best four years of our lives” even went to college at all, or just existed in a Hollywood-rendered version full of frat parties, tailgating, and experimental drug use. But, I recognize that young adulthood is a time fraught with transformation, and that this excruciating discomfort will lead to eventual growth and serenity.

It is because of my endless array of dichotomous experiences that I am reluctant to assess this period of time as “the best.” I feel that it would be solipsistic for me, at 19, to claim these years as superior to the rest when I’m not even one quarter of the way through life. I have lived so little, and I don’t know what I don’t know. One day, 60 or so years from now, I hope to look back on my life and not identify a singular “best time,” but to see an amalgamation of pleasant interactions and uncomfortable revelations, of peaks and valleys, of change and resolution. I hope to appreciate the ways in which every past experience contributed to the person I develop into, not appraise them based on the ways they may have affected me at the time. I hope to live an entire life of eventual “bests”—my time at Columbia being one of them.

“Real” adults love to continuously remind me that there will never be another time in my life in which I have as few responsibilities as I do now—that I should enjoy it, because I’ll never be allowed to be this reckless again. I have no kids, no job, nothing tying me down and, therefore, nothing holding me back.

Here I am, a young adult, standing at the precipice of a life that I can truly claim as my own, but that is still out of reach. My time at Columbia is a stepping stone to obtaining that life—a bridge over the abyss of adolescent uncertainty to the proverbial “promised land.” I hope that, after these years, I’ll be able to look back and see how it has all amounted to something greater, something more splendid. Right now, my time in college is a part of the ascent of my life, but it is not the apex.

My experiences have been a mix of onerous and exhilarating, and though the former tends to eclipse the latter, I have recently become more aware of the ways my life has been enhanced since matriculating at Columbia. I come and go as I please. I take long walks, get lost, and find my way back again. Unhindered by an 8-to-3 school day, I wake up at a reasonable hour and fall asleep as the sun rises. I answer to no one but my assignment deadlines. I am, for the most part, free.

Avah Toomer is a sophomore in Columbia College majoring in medicine, literature, and society and concentrating in Francophone studies. She has experienced many existential crises since coming to Columbia, particularly due to her insatiable yearning to answer life’s elusive questions. Despite this, she appreciates the ideas and people she’s interacted with since attending, and hopes to enthusiastically continue on this path to enlightenment—no matter how stressful it may sometimes be.

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By AVAH TOOMER
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Discourse & Debate: Are these the best four years of our lives?

Are these actually the best four years of our lives? If not, how will we know when we are in the ‘best years of our lives?’

I am 16 years old, and more often than not, I am miserable. Moments in my day are demarcated by a bell that blares every 52 minutes. I dutifully take notes and study late into the night because this is what I am supposed to do. But, even on the worst nights, I prevail because I know all this sacrifice is going to be worth it. Future Me will finally be happy in college.

I am 18 years old, and finally have some autonomy. This freedom is an illusion, as I never stop working. If I’m not careful, I might catch my breath, and Doubt won’t hesitate to come pay his disrespects. “Is this all?” he asks. I close the door and barricade it with more work. I blame my unhappiness on external factors: my major, which I compromised on. My school, which is well-funded and immaculate, but not exactly how I envisioned it. Once I hone in on the source of my melancholy, I plot my way to a solution. It requires keeping secrets from my friends, and my anxiety only intensifies. But I will suffer now so Future Me doesn’t have to.

I am 20 years old, and have finally transferred to my dream school. I am studying creative writing, a subject I love. Things could not be going more according to plan. And yet, the vision has lost some of its luster. My writing professor tells me to consider therapy. I brush it off; I’m not sad, just a little dissatisfied. An Ivy League college is a good start, but it was always a means to an end. It’s a prestigious career that will truly make me happy. I refuse to consider the alternative—that this ever-rising bar of achievement is just a distraction, a way to avoid confronting the fact that this sadness is a fundamental part of who I am. That’s something for Future Me to come to terms with.

I am 27 years old, and finally starting to get noticed as a writer. Pursuing a career at the expense of my personal life was supposed to be the reason I was so unhappy. But I’ve scaled back my ambitions, found a work-life balance, and it still is not enough. A therapist helps me rationalize the void. I want to have a career and a family. There are already too few hours in the day, but I’ll make it work. Future Me deserves the best.

I am 36 years old, and have finally started a family. When I see my daughter for the first time, I am filled with a rare, indescribable feeling. She is the answer to everything. Doubt tells me that I shouldn’t stake my happiness on another person. I tell him that I don’t have time to talk, which is true. There is a child to think of, and of course, plenty left to write. I want to be able to afford the best possible future for my daughter.

I am 61 years old, and finally begin thinking about retirement. My children are forging their own paths into adulthood, and it’s about time I had a moment to think about Future Me again. She has so much freedom, and happiness to look forward to. Just as soon as I finish that final book and vanquish that last deadline.

I am 89 years old, and finally have time to look back on my life. By popular definition, my years on this Earth were a success: I have money to afford leisure, had I chosen to take it. I have friends and family who visit me often, though of course I still wish I saw them more. I can’t say my life was truly remarkable, but I’ve long come to terms with that. I hear a knock at the door and open it. It’s Doubt, and I welcome him in. He’s now my oldest friend. I tell him all that I’ve been thinking, about how much I have accomplished because of my unstoppable work ethic. When I’m done he says, “Yes, but can you say you were happy?”

I think back to the first time I traded my present happiness for the promise of something better.

I think back to all those versions of Future Me at 18, at 20, at 27, 36, 61, 89, and all the years in between, and I come to a realization.

I am Future Me, and more often than not, I was miserable.

In truth, I am not 89 years old yet. I am 20 years old and the future is still unfurling in front of me. But this essay is not for Future Me. It is for Present Me. I write this piece so that it serves as a warning, and not a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I am 16 years old, and more often than not, I am miserable. Moments in my day are demarcated by a bell that blares every 52 minutes. I dutifully take notes and study late into the night because this is what I am supposed to do. But, even on the worst nights, I prevail because I know all this sacrifice is going to be worth it. Future Me will finally be happy in college.

I am 18 years old, and finally have some autonomy. This freedom is an illusion, as I never stop working. If I’m not careful, I might catch my breath, and Doubt won’t hesitate to come pay his disrespects. “Is this all?” he asks. I close the door and barricade it with more work. I blame my unhappiness on external factors: my major, which I compromised on. My school, which is well-funded and immaculate, but not exactly how I envisioned it. Once I hone in on the source of my melancholy, I plot my way to a solution. It requires keeping secrets from my friends, and my anxiety only intensifies. But I will suffer now so Future Me doesn’t have to.

I am 20 years old, and have finally transferred to my dream school. I am studying creative writing, a subject I love. Things could not be going more according to plan. And yet, the vision has lost some of its luster. My writing professor tells me to consider therapy. I brush it off; I’m not sad, just a little dissatisfied. An Ivy League college is a good start, but it was always a means to an end. It’s a prestigious career that will truly make me happy. I refuse to consider the alternative—that this ever-rising bar of achievement is just a distraction, a way to avoid confronting the fact that this sadness is a fundamental part of who I am. That’s something for Future Me to come to terms with.

Mimi is a junior in Columbia College studying creative writing. She likes to write opinion pieces, satire, and thinly-veiled autobiographies. Love letters can be sent to mae2160@columbia.edu.

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By MIMI EVANS
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Last April, I sat on the steps of Low Plaza at 10 in the morning and admired the campus that I would later call my home. As I sat in awe of the architecture and amount of dogs wandering around, a bunch of seniors adorned in Pantone 292 blue robes rushed to take a picture on top of Alma. With my own high school graduation in a couple of months, I could not help but be overwhelmed with immense excitement for the coming semester.

Going to college meant that I could be independent, pursue my passions, and meet some inspiring people. So far I’ve been able to take advantage of the amazing opportunities that Columbia offers and make some really amazing friends. However, my mental health is the worst it has ever been as a result of my first year here. It’s like I’m drowning and CPS is asking me to wait two business days for a life raft.

There’s not a poetic way to say it. In college, specifically at Columbia, it feels like no one cares if you live or die as long as you keep showing up to classes and fulfilling your duties. Everyone’s competing to get the highest grade, cop the hottest internship, or run for an executive position, so it becomes incredibly hard for someone with mental health issues to feel all right with taking a day off for their own sanity. Students literally joke about killing themselves, but mental health reform is incredibly stagnant. Many teachers make it impossible to take a mental day off by forcing students to provide medical notes for absences, CPS makes it incredibly difficult to book an appointment and limits the amount of visits per student, and the administration thinks drinking bubble tea at a “Wellness Event” will cure my depression. I can’t even seek help without risking the chance of the University deeming me too great of a burden to keep on campus.

My mental health also takes a hit every time I am made aware of just how corrupt this world is. I’ve been forced to become aware of my complicity and role in corruption as a student at a university that upholds hegemonic systems. My dilemma for these past two semesters has been that I could either drop out and go back to my low-income upbringing or utilize this institution as a tool for social mobility and unintentionally uphold the same systems that seek to destroy my people. I’ve tried to tell myself that by being at this institution I will be able to change it from the inside, but my greatest fear is that I will become an agent of oppression.

Throughout my academic career I was a part of many gifted and talented or “magnet” programs, as I assume most of us here were. My cohort and I were essentially segregated from the other “on level” students. Teachers would fill us magnet kids up with hot air and convince us that we were somehow above our peers. Of course, some students subconsciously internalized the praise they received and would look down upon the “on level” students. Those “gifted” students remind me of just about every student I’ve met at Columbia, who believe that just because they can analyze a Foucault quote, they can adopt a paternalistic and condescending attitude toward those in a lower social class. This condescending attitude is most disheartening when coming from a person of color because it is a reminder that the divide-and-conquer tactic utilized by white colonizers worked.

When white people went around stealing people of color’s lands they would place other people of color in charge of plantations, factories, farms, etc. in order to ensure the people whose land they stole did not team up and revolt. Nowadays various institutions tokenize black and brown students in order to create the illusion of a post-racial society. These black and brown students are tasked with the job of assimilating into the hegemonic system and silencing those below them. I am afraid I am unknowingly fulfilling that role.

I do not take the privilege of higher education lightly, which is why I am overall extremely grateful to attend this university. However, sometimes it is a pain in the ass. I’m not asking for a collegiate experience devoid of struggles. Rough times, while they make you uncomfortable, are opportunities for growth. Besides, I don’t think that one can truly be happy for long periods of time. Nowadays, for my own sanity, I try to find find happiness in the little things—my friendships, calls from home, playing with random dogs on campus, reciting vines, and bonding with classmates over Timothée Chalamet.

No matter what locals on Twitter may say, I don’t think college will be the best four years of my life, just like high school was not the best four years of my life. As Hannah Montana once said, "Life’s what you make it.” We should avoid measuring our lives in increments, since it distracts us from living in the present. As cliché as it may sound, we just have to live each day as if it were our last one on earth in order to live a fulfilling life. So get out of Butler and pet a dog, hug a friend, call your family, watch Black Panther for the fifth time—because life is too short to be worrying about whether or not college will be the best four years of your life.

Last April, I sat on the steps of Low Plaza at 10 in the morning and admired the campus that I would later call my home. As I sat in awe of the architecture and amount of dogs wandering around, a bunch of seniors adorned in Pantone 292 blue robes rushed to take a picture on top of Alma. With my own high school graduation in a couple of months, I could not help but be overwhelmed with immense excitement for the coming semester.

Going to college meant that I could be independent, pursue my passions, and meet some inspiring people. So far I’ve been able to take advantage of the amazing opportunities that Columbia offers and make some really amazing friends. However, my mental health is the worst it has ever been as a result of my first year here. It’s like I’m drowning and CPS is asking me to wait two business days for a life raft.

Heven Haile is a first-year majoring in African-American studies and political science. She got through this semester by listening religiously to the Walmart yodeling boy, stalking Timothée Chalamet, and petting random dogs on College Walk. Her hobbies include angering conservatives and stanning black women.

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By HEVEN HAILE

I believe that for many people, their four undergraduate years at a college like Columbia will not be the best of their lives. However, I will argue that even if they are not the happiest psychologically, they are laying a foundation for a happy life and creating the opportunity for deep fulfillment.

Personally, I look back upon my early childhood as the happiest time of my life, as I was privileged to grow up with loving parents and a secure household. I think that, generally, childhood is marked by security and an obliviousness to the chaos and difficulty of life. All of these factors of our childhoods coalesce as blissful ignorance.

As we get older, we gain more autonomy and liberty in regards to the management of our own lives. With this freedom comes more responsibility as well. College bridges the gap between a period of life in which others were primarily responsible for us and a period in which we are responsible for ourselves. Even though I would say that childhood is by default the most consistently happy time for many people, I believe that with the newfound liberties and responsibilities of adulthood, the threshold of possible happiness is higher. The simple, and largely egotistical, pleasures of childhood cannot compare to the fulfilment of long-term goals as an adult.

College is a time during which we set the course for the rest of our lives and determine which long-term goals we want to set. Attending an institution like Columbia affords incredible opportunities and opens many doors.

We are in the company of some of the most brilliant young minds in the world, being taught by some of the most knowledgeable and influential professors in their respective fields, and being exposed to work by many of the most brilliant minds in history. Yet these opportunities come at a price; we are undergoing one of the most difficult and consuming educations possible today. In order to cope with our tasking workload and not suffer extreme stress, we must develop responsible habits.

In my experience, it has been difficult to develop the skills necessary to balance my work with the other experiences I want to get out of my time at Columbia. However, I believe that once one develops the discipline and maturity to live responsibly in college, one is much better equipped to enter the real world, and if one manages to get past the late nights, caffeine overloads, and anxiety-ridden exam seasons, one can emerge from college a more complete person.

Furthermore, in college, we have the ability to look beyond ourselves and attempt to work to make the world a better place. We are at a school with a vested interest in the fate of marginalized and disadvantaged communities. We can use our education to actively make the world a better place for those who did not have the same opportunities as us, and there is evidence that when we counterbalance both acting in our own rational self-interest and altruism, we are personally happier.

In short, our various Columbia experiences will be different for a variety of factors, but for many of us they will not always be the happiest or most carefree years of life. However, amidst the stress and the frenetic scramble to finish our work, we can sow the seeds for a deeply meaningful life. I am personally trying to cultivate the habits and learn the skills necessary for life as an adult. Although the Ivy League workload is extremely difficult at times, I hope to look back at this time with fondness, knowing that the work I put in now allowed me to live a fulfilling and enriching life after I graduated. I firmly believe that, depending on what we make of it, we can look back on this time as the most valuable and fulfilling years of our lives.

I believe that for many people, their four undergraduate years at a college like Columbia will not be the best of their lives. However, I will argue that even if they are not the happiest psychologically, they are laying a foundation for a happy life and creating the opportunity for deep fulfillment.

Personally, I look back upon my early childhood as the happiest time of my life, as I was privileged to grow up with loving parents and a secure household. I think that, generally, childhood is marked by security and an obliviousness to the chaos and difficulty of life. All of these factors of our childhoods coalesce as blissful ignorance.

Ethan is a sophomore in Columbia College studying philosophy and economics. His talents include putting down his phone to do his CC readings and falling directly into REM sleep during lectures. Email him at ehh2133@columbia.edu to wage a war of ideas with him.

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By ETHAN HASTINGS

If those who say that college constitutes the best years of life truly meant it, their words would be conveyed in a tone of sorrow rather than typical cheer. That the highlight of one’s existence would occur so early on, and with such predictability, is surely cause for dismay. I suspect the idea most often communicated by this platitude is that college represents a unique experience in life, and that availing oneself of that experience is important.

But what this experience amounts to varies widely. For some, higher education is a 48-month exercise in self-debauchery. Others are focused on setting themselves up for the most lucrative career possible. Still other students experience college under the constraint of poverty, where their more affluent peers need never think of money unless considering how to spend it. But for most, college is the final vestige of a burdenless childhood, a median separating earlier and easier years from later and more stressful ones. This partly explains the retrospective fondness that often accompanies praise regarding the college experience, and it also suggests an ideal function for the four years of undergraduate life.

These years should be spent in the manner most likely to result in the student’s happiness in the long run. Clearly this description encompasses a wide range of behavior, as what precisely it means varies by person. Therefore, I think it would make the most sense for me to lay out how I would like to spend my time as an undergraduate.

My primary concern at this point is to better understand the world. College, then, is merely a means to this end: I am trying to learn as much as I can now and to position myself most favorably to continue learning at a future date. Thus, I would like my undergraduate life to be spent studying various academic disciplines in as much depth as possible, strengthening my grip on the current state of scientific research, and exposing my mind to current events and disparate interpretations of them. This course of action, joined to an undogmatic state of mind, seems quite likely to fulfill my desire for understanding. After I graduate, I will continue on a similar path and either study for a PhD or go into journalism. These years are simply preparing me for those, and I see no greater purpose to them.

College will certainly not make up the best years of my life. Although I feel fortunate to be studying at Columbia, the value of this opportunity seems to lie in how well it will prepare me for my future. Hopefully, then, my best years will come when I am far older and in possession of expertise, along with a congenial job and the resources to cease performing it whenever I feel so inclined. With luck, I will have had success in my personal life as well and will be able to take pride in children who comprehend the importance of knowledge and virtue. The four years of university may not be sufficient to confer lasting satisfaction, but, if passed in the right manner, they can help to bring about the conditions that will grant happiness.

If those who say that college constitutes the best years of life truly meant it, their words would be conveyed in a tone of sorrow rather than typical cheer. That the highlight of one’s existence would occur so early on, and with such predictability, is surely cause for dismay. I suspect the idea most often communicated by this platitude is that college represents a unique experience in life, and that availing oneself of that experience is important.

But what this experience amounts to varies widely. For some, higher education is a 48-month exercise in self-debauchery. Others are focused on setting themselves up for the most lucrative career possible. Still other students experience college under the constraint of poverty, where their more affluent peers need never think of money unless considering how to spend it. But for most, college is the final vestige of a burdenless childhood, a median separating earlier and easier years from later and more stressful ones. This partly explains the retrospective fondness that often accompanies praise regarding the college experience, and it also suggests an ideal function for the four years of undergraduate life.

Shane Brasil-Wadsworth is a junior in Columbia College majoring in philosophy and history. Please email him at sb4056@columbia.edu to discuss his writing.

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By SHANE BRASIL-WADSWORTH

To respond to this installment of Discourse & Debate, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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