As this is the last column that I will write, to me it only seems natural that I would address it to you. I knew from the first moment I opened a blank Word document in the tiny printer room on the sixth floor of Butler and searched for the right words to express my feelings that I would want to eventually write this to you. In the past semester of writing these ultra-honest pieces (that will be on the Internet forever!), I have learned a great deal about myself that I didn’t know before.
Simply being at this school has shaped me in ways that were unexpected. I spent the past year reflecting on my time at Columbia in preparation for my impending graduation. While I’ve been doing this, you—the newly admitted class of 2023—have also been preparing to leave: the places you grew up, the comforts of familiarity, your families, and childhood friends—soon to settle into this campus you will call “home.”
I could finish my brief stint as a Spec columnist with clichéd advice that everyone will tell you: Keep your course load light; find extracurriculars that you enjoy; don’t fall into the stress Olympics that everyone seems so willing to participate in. But in keeping with my honesty streak, I’d rather use my platform to admit that nothing I write will shield you from what Columbia will throw at you. There are inescapable hardships attached to this place that fails to support so many of its students. You will undeniably—at one point or another—be affected by stress culture, which might permeate and put tension on your relationships; you will become disheartened; and you will face self-doubt over academic setbacks when the revelry that is NSOP ends and you fully enter this ultra-competitive environment.
There are times during the winter that you’ll try to escape the cold shadows created by the buildings between Amsterdam and Broadway to find the trees in Riverside Park. But the trees will freeze, then turn brown, then black, then gray, and then stay gray for far too long—until everything feels as if it will stay that way forever. That is, until one day, you hear birds chirping at 2 a.m. Everything will turn green seemingly all at once, and the cherry blossoms on College Walk will playfully deceive you into believing that winter never happened.
The latter moments will be what keep you going, along with those experiences that bond us together in ways you could never guess: late-night talks in Carman hallways about memes and walks to Grant’s Tomb that distract from texts that will never come. These are the images that remain ingrained in my memory as I prepare to leave Columbia.
I know that this place has instilled resilience in those that go through its ranks. Like students worldwide, we’ve been shocked by incomprehensible and tragic global events that affect our classmates and those back home. We live in a country more divided than ever and are navigating how to live in such a polarized world. Even within this prestigious university, we’ve experienced sadness because of racist classmates, prejudice from Public Safety officers, the University’s failure to properly deal with sexual assault cases, and the need for more support for low-income and immigrant students, among many other grievances. You’ll quickly find that all of that wasn’t advertised on the glossy brochure, that students here are required to learn emotional intelligence from each other, because this institution doesn’t teach it to us.
In those moments of pain, in this imperfect place, the empathy shown for one another brought me a group of people in a way I would never have believed possible. I’ve joined a group of students who have learned to articulate their frustrations and use them to fight for a university where everyone belongs and thrives. It was through voicing our discomfort that the image of ourselves as a collective became more clear, and this is when we realized we were not alone. For me, that came from the brief moments of courage when I allowed myself to be most vulnerable. For others, it came from protesting what they saw as wrong, or in smaller moments: asking their classmates how they were doing and listening to their response. I can write with conviction that when I finally admitted how I was doing, with an unfiltered, unceasing honesty, to those around me, I felt more comfortable at Columbia than ever before. Columbia isn’t great, but it was in moments like these that I witnessed the smallest semblance of community here through the desire to make this place better, not just for ourselves but for the scores of students that will arrive after.
I now leave this school in a collective with whom I have and will continue to define our own successes, celebrate differences, and cherish similarities as we move out, past the gates of College Walk, caring for one another and the world as we have learned to do here.
Now for you, class of 2023, I look forward to hearing about all you will do when you get here. My departing message: Be kind to yourself and to one another; that’s all that matters.
P.S. Join buy sell memes!
Christina Hill is a Columbia College senior studying history and Slavic studies. Send her your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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