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Stephanie Koo / Staff Illustrator

Dear class of 2023: Live a wide existence.

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading a New York Times opinion article on online dating and was struck by a phrase that really resonated with me. In this article, the writer introspects on the constraints she’s placed on her romantic life and goes on to write: “I remember lying in bed and reading the memoirs of the French writer Blaise Cendrars; I couldn’t stop marveling at the boundlessness of that man’s existence … How narrow was my own existence, I thought then, and how it continued to narrow by the day.” Describing his existence as boundless and her own as not only narrow, but narrowing, I began to ponder the parameters of my own existence since I’ve been at Columbia.

At a school as academically challenging and demanding as ours, it’s easy to be consumed by an evergreen stress culture that goads us to never think about anything besides schoolwork. As well as demanding a lot of time, for some of us, our academic achievements will cement themselves at the center of our identity. Not only does this cause us to place a lot of pressure on ourselves, but I see it as an extremely narrow way to define who we are. I’ve seen the consequences of that narrow definition of identity first hand. During my first year, I struggled to catch up to my peers and didn’t do as well as I thought I would. At the time, those quiz grades and test scores signified the end of the world to me and ended up clouding the bigger picture. If I could go back, I would define my freshman year in a much wider way, making room for valuing my experience, friends, triumphs, and challenges.

The people who cross our path here at Columbia also contribute to the wideness or narrowness of our existence. There are people from all over the world here. In that geographical diversity also comes socioeconomic and racial diversity that is slowly getting there, though it definitely still needs some work.. So many of us are daughters and granddaughters of immigrants and some are even immigrants ourselves. Rather than advocating for getting outside of your comfort zone—because I know I didn’t really do that my freshman year, despite trying hard—I’d rather just remind you that there are resilient and great people here (including you), and I hope they make your existence wider and introduce you to new and challenging ideas. Also, this pertains not only to your fellow students and classes but also to the faculty and staff, who have also taught me so much and made my experience so much more enriching. In one case, it was a friendship I made with someone at Ferris that helped my homesickness my first semester and pushed me through a couple of rough patches.

It’s going to be hard to define your life and your success in a way that isn’t narrow, but I hope you give it a shot. Remember your goals, interests, hobbies, and passions, and hold them close for when you need to take a step back and look at the big picture.

The author is a third-year environmental engineering student minoring in political science.

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

first years advice SEAS 2023
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