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Yasmine Akki / Senior Staff Photographer

Here’s a lede that is both true and to the point: Spectator is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Having been blessed with two unfailingly supportive parents, I was raised, as I suspect many of us have, to believe that I could do anything if I put my mind to it. Working at Spectator was the first time I ever questioned that claim.

The work required of students who commit to a certain level at Spectator is, put simply, colossal. And that’s not even taking into account the endless sleepless nights, the missed classes and quarter-assed papers, and the pressure to produce essential content every night.

Working at Spectator is a colossal mandate when you understand that Spectator, for lack of a better word, is an unreal place. It affords a group of barely-20-year-old kids the power to shake institutions and the ability to unearth and expand the sleeping potential of the 200 students who work here. At the same time, it is subject to all the annoying, pedantic frustrations of any organization, from office politics to the insidious subtleties of sexism.

But what stands out in my mind about my time at Spectator is this: for the first time, I was presented with the unsettling challenge of confronting my own limitations.

Working at Spectator was the first time I had to make really hard decisions and choices, about how I wanted to spend my time and what I wanted to devote my life to. It was the first time I became responsible for someone else’s personal growth, and emotional and mental well-being. It was the first time I truly understood how my actions and mistakes had profound consequences on institutions and individuals. And the truth is I was staggered, and sometimes paralyzed, by the responsibility that power holds.

So early on in my time here, I had to begin performing one of the most important parts of being an adult—-checking in with myself and asking some hard questions. Is this what I want to be doing? Can I do it? Is this even worth it? There were times when I wasn’t sure.

Although Spectator was the catalyst for those questions, it also provided me with their answers.

Every time I felt small, incapable, and overwhelmed, someone older and wiser would take hours out of their day to deliver the exact pep talk I needed to hear, making my problems seem inconsequential and reassuring me that I was strong enough to take them on. For every grueling late night in the office, there were insanely hilarious or ecstatic moments. And at the end of every mistake I made that, at the time, seemed earth-shattering, there was a hard-won lesson at the end that left me believing that I would be smarter and better next time.

This was all made possible by incredibly smart, compassionate, and loyal people at Spectator. I will be forever indebted to them for the unfailing support they have given me, for serving as my family during some of the hardest periods of my life, and for not giving up on me even when I wanted to give up. But mostly, I am indebted to them for seeing potential in me and refusing to let me be anything less.

The work we do is really hard. It should be. And there’s a lot to be said about not taking yourself too seriously. But I believe that we must view our work with the utmost seriousness, not just to fulfill our duty to make Columbia a better place for the thousands who have sacrificed so much to be here, but to fulfill our duty to each other.

To current and future Speccies, I hope that you will push yourself and the people around you to pursue the really difficult and meaningful work that leaves you a changed person. Don’t let yourself be paralyzed by the magnitude of your goals or the fear of failing to achieve them. Don’t fall back on complacency or take the easy route. Take your work seriously and challenge yourself.

I promise that if you do, by the time you’re a senior, you’ll look back at all the things you achieved that you thought you’d never be able to do, and ask, “what’s next?”

***

Acknowledgements:

Tai: It might be true that my first real memory of you entails the mishap with the box of Franzia. I think I’ve told you this already, but I wanted to cry during your publisher turkeyshoot because it was so immediately clear how much you had grown and matured. You are a tremendously hard worker, and that combined with your ability to grit your teeth and get the impossible done makes me extraordinarily excited for you and the future of B&I.

Aaron: I’m actually glad that you bombed your deputy interview, because if that had not happened, we would have had no reason to have our heart to heart at 1020. You have been such a source of joy to me on Spec: so talented, so eager to get the story, and always with a hilarious observation to mutter under your breath. I have loved every second of chasing stories with you, making memes of [redacted], and our Regional drunches. I am so excited to see what’s next for you. I’ll be here to help in any way but mostly, to cheer you on. Now go afflict the comfortable of Atlanta.

JJ: Who would have ever thought three years ago that I would find myself at a loss to describe how much our friendship has meant to me? Your friendship has been one of the best things I have taken away from Spec, and it’s been even more meaningful for me to grow alongside you. It’s true that, even in the early days when I didn’t particularly like you, your potential to be a star was immediately clear to everyone. But I really have never been prouder than to watch you when you are at your best, whether in an interview, or advocating for Spec: confident, sharp with an intuitive sense of right and wrong, and so, so quick. I know the fact that you only have one semester left is scary, but I am so excited to see you absolutely conquer it and show that same spark you did in your two most infamous interviews. On a different note, I want to thank you for being one of the most dependable, fun, empathetic friends I have. You always take the time to carefully listen to me when I most need it, are always around to unpack what’s really going on in that show, and most importantly, understand what it means to be a real person.

Sophia: It’s been a wild four years not without their bumps, but throughout it all I have known you as someone I can always go to for advice, who will listen without judgement and with empathy. I needed your support more than you know and working with you has been such a source of joy to me. You are also one of the most resilient people I know, and I know you have the strength to conquer whatever obstacles you might meet in the future.

Clara: It’s an understatement to say that we’ve been through it all together, from our first forays as foolish deputies to when we’ll walk across the stage together as infinitely wiser people. It’s been such a privilege to watch you grow from a quietly determined freshman into the outspoken HBIC you now are, and I always felt blessed to know that I had someone by myself who got what really mattered. You have sat with me in the war room during some of the toughest moments of Spec (and I’ll never forgot the challah incident), and I hope you know how much that has meant.

Anurak: I wanted to start off this acknowledgement by citing one of your most famous quotes, but for the sake of gentility, I’m going to paraphrase and hope you get the reference: you were involved in and had influence over many activities, having a hand in everything B&I. While your odd sayings and “quirky” sense of humor always kept me sane, and often laughing at the most inappropriate of times, that opening statement is true. You have been a pillar of B&I, and left it in the hands of two capable leaders, one of the most important accomplishments of any publisher. Even though I hate you and McKinsey for your meal per diem, I know you’re going to absolutely kill it there.

Caroline: Your ability to cut through the bullshit and noise and your steely determination and persistence inspired me, first when I was news editor, and inspired me again even more profoundly when I became editor. You were there as a compassionate but firm mentor and support system for me during some of my toughest times at Spec, and I will never forget the drunch we had at the Heights, when you made me feel better after I felt so awful I momentarily questioned whether Spec was worth it. I learned so much from your resiliency, strength, and grit, and even now, post-graduation, it is so impressive to see you truly taking charge. I can’t wait to see what’s next for you.

Sam: You’re one of the first editors I met with at Spec, and I was so excited and inspired to see not only a fellow Barnard woman running news, but, as we said, a true HBIC. It really wasn’t until later in my Spec career that I realized how important that was, but it’s so true: you never took anyone’s bullshit and (at least seemed) to never be afraid to tell anyone exactly what needed to be done. You’ve been so supportive over the last few years, and I’m very grateful for that.

Daniel: It’s actually somewhat mind boggling to consider that three years ago we barely knew each other, much less than best friends. Someone currently on staff, who shall remain anonymous, once characterized you in the most concise and accurate of ways: “just the best human.” You have earned that title a hundred times over, in your capacity to listen carefully and without judgement, your ability to calmly and empathetically approach problems (without taking any bullshit), and your ambition to think different. You were a lifeline to me when I needed it most, someone who I felt comfortable telling exactly how I was feeling, which is no small feat. I’m so excited to continue our friendship and to be there as you have for me, although you can redirect any more baby stories elsewhere. You’re in such an exciting and promising stage of your life, and I know that your wise mind and never failing sense of ambition will lead you to amazing places.

Michael: When I was a freshman, I distinctly remember you g-chatting me and saying that there was no reason I shouldn’t work for The New York Times after graduation, and I distinctly remember thinking what an absurd, overblown statement that was. But I also remember feeling a tiny spark of hope, that if even a part of you thought that, maybe there was a miniscule chance. I’ve told you that anecdote, but I think it best encapsulates one of your best talents: your ability to see potential in people when they don’t see it in themselves, your determination to push for something until you get it, and above all, how strongly you believe in people. When I was a freshman, I was scared of not being good enough and of making decisions on my own, even though I desperately wanted to be a commanding, inspiring force. If it wasn’t for you, I would not have been tormented by “hi” texts, but I also would never believe, as I do now, that I am capable of being the person I want to be. And I know for a fact this is true of a huge number of people at Spec, and I know that neither they or I will ever forget that. The past couple of months for me have been, as you said, nostalgia central, and there are so many flashbulb memories I have, plotting in the war room or interviewing an administrator. Most of them, though, revolve around the friend you have been to me these past few years: me calling you in a panic about the latest disaster at Spec and dear God what do I do now, or the time freshman year when I ran from the office to check in on my friend who was doing very badly and you came and delivered my backpack and a YoCrunch, and sat and listened to me. You have always been there for me without fail, and I hope to be the same for you. Thank you for everything.

Aley, Spec’s resident fun adviser: You basically lived alone for the first two and half years at Barnard. Thank you for putting up with my absentee roommate-ism, hopping out of parties early or not going at all to do Spec, and generally being a wet blanket. Laughing about our collective absurdities and washing it all down with some 94 Corner Cafe has been one of the best things to happen me. Thank you for skipping class with me to go to Eataly and for being my partner in crime throughout our darkest periods. I’m so grateful that you always pushed me to do things that were good for me, even when I didn’t want to do them. It made these last three years so much more fun and exciting and I honestly could not have gotten through them without you.

Catie Edmondson is a Barnard College senior majoring in English. She was a news deputy editor for the 139th volume, a news editor for the 140th volume, and the editor in chief and president for the 141st volume.

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 opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

Senior Columns Class of 2018
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