Ah, Spec. A name I uttered with both glittering eyes and bone-deep fatigue. A name which served as a shortcut in conversation for my friends and me (“Wanna grab dinner?” “I can’t, I have Spec”), and one which I had to explain time and again to my parents when they asked, week after week, why, at 3 a.m., I was not in deep sleep. I hope this is not a self-fulfilling prophecy, but writing a senior column for Spectator makes me feel unequal to the task. What can I say of Spec, of Barnumbia, that hasn’t already been said? I didn’t spend every waking (or sleeping) hour writing, breathing, and living Spec. I didn’t even spend four years at Barnumbia—I graduated in two and a half. But perhaps it is exactly because I had such an unorthodox experience that I can say something different. Perhaps since I came to Barnumbia with a different perspective, stayed the outsider for the duration of my time there, and have already graduated, I see things a little more clearly than my fellow seniors gasping for air and sanity as their college years draw to a close.
I joined Spec my second semester of college. I was scared away when I had just arrived at Morningside Heights, hearing stories of months-long training and single-digit position offers (reminiscent of its host institution). But toughened by my first semester’s experiences, I waddled through knee-high snow one bright January morning over to the offices on Broadway (RIP) and decided to see for myself. I didn’t have any journalistic ambitions, but anything to do with the written word has an inexplicable draw for me. So when I saw the copy team (consisting of two or three fidgeting individuals), who introduced themselves to me as self-proclaimed grammar nerds, I knew I had found my niche.
Despite loving Spec, I didn’t want to continue “up the ranks” like most of those who stayed at Spec throughout their college career. Once I progressed from preslotter to associate copy editor and felt that I’d found my niche, I consciously didn’t participate in the “Spec first” mentality. I had already renounced the masochistic tradition of comparing workloads and sleep deprivation outside of the office—I wasn’t about to engage in it here, where it was distilled and displayed in its purest form. (Nothing says stress culture like a bunch of overachieving, intelligent kids staying up nights to report on stress culture.) But I loved the work and the people and the feeling that we were contributing to something larger than our own GPAs.
I guess that more than anything, my time at Spec reinforced something I felt in my gut but struggled to come to terms with: that sometimes, you can’t change or improve the things and people you love. You just have to decide whether you love them from afar, passively, or from right up close—whether you let someone else affect their culture and state of mind, or do it yourself. I loved Spec and my friends, and I decided early on that I was not going to love them passively, that I felt too strongly about the health of the people and the organization to watch from afar. So I stayed and spent the majority of my off-time at Spec talking my friends out of yet another white night and into a good meal and a good night’s sleep.
It took me a while to recognize that stress culture is both incredibly abstract but also very tangible. It took me longer to understand that it was not just something that existed “out there” on campus, but a phenomenon that found a welcoming home right in Spec’s own offices. Being part of Spec meant that I was tested, weekly, on my ability to shore up confidence in my own actions and not feel inadequate when I heard how others were coping with their studies. Instead of focusing on what I was doing wrong, I focused on what I felt I was doing right and tried to influence others to do the same.
My growth path at Spec was, in a way, not linear, but horizontal: Instead of up the ranks, I focused on spreading my own credo. (If I were to write a memoir of my time at Barnumbia, it would be called “THERE IS ANOTHER WAY!!”) I found that most people agreed with me that sleep was necessary, that their own bed was the best place to be after midnight, and that time management was a crucial skill. No one argued with me that their habit of sleeping four or five hours a night was healthy. Instead, I think, people believed they literally could not do it otherwise: They wanted to sleep eight hours a night, but genuinely believed that they could not maintain the level of achievement to which they aspired if they deviated even a little from the work habits they had acquired by imitation.
Now, I’m going to live up to the nickname my younger friends were annoying enough to attach to me and be a mom for a moment. Speccies, Barnumbians, future adults: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Be accountable to your own body and mind, no matter how much the culture looks down upon someone not playing through the pain and fatigue. Remember that your body is a tool, not an obstacle, as is sleep. Put immovable boundaries around necessities like time and health, and don’t let anyone—most of all yourself—intrude upon those boundaries. Be accountable to friends and let them know they can be accountable to you—support each other, and yourselves. Do what you love—by all means, come in to the Spec office every night of the week!—but do so mindfully.
And have fun, Speccies. You owe at least that much to yourselves.
Hadar Tanne was a senior at Barnard College majoring in political science. She was an associate copy editor for the 141st volume and a preslotter for the 140th volume and spent the majority of her time yelling at sports to turn down its awful music.
Senior columns are pieces in which members of Spectator’s graduating class reflect on what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown from their time at the organization, and are part of Spectator’s 2018 Commencement Issue. To respond to this senior column, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.