I went to Spectator’s open house during the spring of my first year, half on a whim, half propelled by the relentless anxiety that everyone else was doing something and I wasn’t. I didn’t know much about Spec besides that it was a student-run newspaper. I talked to the then-deputy editors of the Arts and Entertainment section and took some stickers. I applied, thinking that I like both art and writing, then soon joined the A&E trainee class of six (soon to be three) that spring.
I planned to test the waters. I was told that Spec wasn’t “cool” and that people come and go—and indeed I knew a bunch of one-semester Speccies throughout the six semesters I ended up spending at the Spec office (at first, the office space above Pinkberry, and later, the fourth floor of Riverside Church).
Throughout those six semesters, my non-Spec friends regularly asked me questions. Why are you doing Spec? How are you devoting so much time to Spec? These were often neatly-packaged words that really meant: Why are you wasting your time?
What perplexed them most was the seeming incongruence between student journalism and my major, computer science-mathematics. Upon learning about my major, people often said something about how I’m “set,” to which I would respond with something like “I’m not interested in pursuing a career out of it for now.” I spent countless days and nights contemplating: Is it my persistent naїveté that motivates me to continue to seek knowledge above all else?
Back then, I still believed that my college experience would be about intellectual pursuit and those who share the same passion as I did. Contemporary Civilization was and is my favorite class I ever took at Columbia; little half-thinkers debating about Nietzsche and running off to Ferris afterward to have lunch was exactly how I envisioned the college experience.
The question of why I did Spec grew bigger as the idyllic vision of campus faded away, mostly under the weight of pre-professionalism and the burden of reality. Throughout my first three years, I often felt like a well-packaged commodity, ready to ship out to the labor market on demand. I was criticized for my intolerable passivity and naїveté when I resisted my commoditization. I had to think about how I would use college as a stepping stone and focus much less on what the experience entailed. Everyone else did too, it seemed.
As semesters went by, there were no more passionate discussions about Nietzsche and gossiping about our classmates in between. And more and more people began to ask: Why was I devoting so much time to something that had nothing to do with my career aspirations?
The clearest answer emerged, in retrospect, during the evening of the first day of Camp Spec in winter 2019 when most of us at Spectator went out to 1020. Our team–Sarah, Isa, and Fonda–got a booth; ordered a drink; and ardently talked about the future of our section, our frustrations toward upper management, and how we were going to restructure Arts and Entertainment. Then we moved onto the topic of what drink to order next, frustrations over relationships, and whether or not we wanted fries. I am not sure if it was the alcohol in my bloodstream or the adrenaline from building something together, but I suddenly felt as if I was watching us from afar. There I saw a couple of passionate, young students bouncing ideas and concerns off of each other about the student publication they worked for. Slightly tipsy and unable to have fun after a long day’s work without talking about work. Knowing that we’ll take care of each other at the end of the night.
That moment was what A&E—the A&E that we built—stood for. What I stood for. We had the kind of love that bore the phrase “words aren’t enough.” We taught those who looked up to us, by action, that trust always comes first. We had a shared passion for arts journalism, for our section, and for each other. This wasn’t part of how I envisioned college—because this wasn’t something you could know before you experienced it. I am eternally grateful for my anxiety-ridden first-year self who went to that open house. I am eternally grateful that I have found a home.
Enjoy leafing through our 10th issue!