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Senior Gala Facebook Event, February 8, 2020 / Courtesy of

Throughout the week, hundreds of Columbia students pass through the fourth floor of Riverside Church, where the Spectator offices are located. The green-striped walls lining the halls left of the elevator bank reveal rooms full of string lights, stained carpets, and students gathered over laptops while (probably) drinking leftover White Claws.

During one production night, I turned to my Arts and Entertainment team in between editing articles and told them: “If I had to pick a song to sum up my Spec experience, it would be ‘Top of the World’ by The Carpenters.” They laughed, and with good reason. The 1972 folk-pop hit is hardly what one would think of when picturing college parties and late-night studying while waiting for the editor in chief to look over a draft. But from there on out, whenever my best friends and I were walking through campus or lounging on Low Steps on a particularly sunny day, they would turn to me and say, “Isa, look. Not a cloud in the sky,” in a nod to the song’s first verse.

On a beautiful spring day on campus much like the one sung about by The Carpenters, the one thing blocking an otherwise crystal clear Columbia-blue sky might be the bell tower at Riverside. Throughout college, it has been reassuring to know that no matter the time of day or night, if I look for the string lights hanging near the bell tower, a member of our staff will be sitting inside chipping away at an article.

Inside Riverside is a scene as collegiate as any other, though it comes with the natural question of just how we ended up finding a home for our beloved newspaper in halls traditionally reserved for worship. Though the building houses Spectator, its role as my anchor extends past the organization, leaving me to wonder what its presence will mean to me after graduation.

I arrived at Riverside for Sunday service during my sophomore year before ever knowing it was home to the Spectator offices. I would take the 1 train from the West Village all the way up toward Morningside, having not yet learned that taking the express to 96th Street would have been far more convenient. My transfer application hadn’t even been sent out yet, and I would walk from the 116th Street stop toward 120th without setting a foot on either campus, being careful not to be confused for a Columbia student. On one such visit, I sat next to two recent Barnard transfer students in the pew and listened intently as they shared application tips with me and advice on how to transition seamlessly to Morningside.

Once I was accepted and moved 100 blocks closer to Riverside, I was surprised to find that the student organization I wanted to join most at Columbia was located in a building with which I had already familiarized myself. As the semesters unfolded, Riverside was not only where I prayed on Sundays but also where I met the greatest friends I’ve ever had, where I cried over articles that didn't go my way, and where I ultimately became the journalist I am now.

Before arriving at Riverside, I had never seen a woman lead a congregation or a whole slew of them take charge of a college newspaper, and I found that I could draw parallels between my time in the nave and my secret life four floors above it. Or maybe my secret life was in the nave, the place so many of my peers had no idea I visited following a Saturday night at Mel’s. It became difficult to distinguish my memories of the two spaces as time went on.

Even after my time as a Spectator staffer had come to an end, I still showed up at the stained-glass nave for Sunday service every chance I got, relishing in the joy of having finally found a church whose inclusive preachings echoed my own beliefs so deeply. Riverside no longer reflects one part of me or another; it symbolizes how these two very different parts of my life could find a way to coexist in the same building. Still, this has created a unique problem as I prepare to launch into my post-grad life in New York City. Does it make sense to keep returning to Morningside to attend a church in a building whose fourth floor I no longer work on? I'm not sure what the answer is, but I will keep looking for the Riverside bell tower on the Manhattan skyline no matter my vantage point on the island.

Acknowledgments:

Everyone who knew me at Spectator knew what this experience meant to me. They watched me fall in love with the work we were doing and gave me space to allow the honeymoon phase to last forever. Nothing about Spectator is perfect, but the work we did was and will always continue to be important. I never had the chance to run for higher leadership positions as I had hoped, but what every member of the staff taught me above all else is that leaning into your passion is one of the easiest ways to fall in love with your life.

Sarah, Gia, and Sarah: You are my best memories. The three of you are my missing pieces—the smarter, funnier, kinder, and most authentic parts of me. Beyond anything we produced in the newsroom, nothing will compare to the karaoke sessions, countless glasses of wine, senior nights, Diana dinners, and evenings spent laughing until we cried on the floors of Broadway or 620 or 420 together. You are the only people in the world who could listen to me talk about my latest Shakespeare play, forgive me when I obsess over an article, complain about a bad date, and gush about a great one all in one sitting.

Sam: You are the artist and the journalist—my inspiration on both ends. I have no doubt that the entire world was made to be your canvas and that we’ll keep making art, singing songs, and sharing beers for years to come. You are the person that has pushed me the most. You never let me settle for less than I was capable of, both in my writing and within myself.

Fonda: I have never met someone with such a steady hand. Thank you for showing me what it means to listen, ask tough questions, then listen some more. You are an anchor in times of crisis, not even daring to wake me up when you went to the emergency room in the middle of the night during a sleepover. Getting to spend those last few hours on campus lounging on the lawns in front of Butler with you is a memory I am so grateful to hold for the rest of my life.

Lizzie: My little sister who I look up to more than anyone else. I am in awe of how much light one person can hold. Everything about your smile and energy is contagious to those around you, and I’ll be here to remind you of that every step of the way. You have been my partner in crime, reminding me of what hard work and steadfast focus on the things I love looks like.

A&E: Every person who has been a part of these past two-and-a-half years—starting with Sophie and culminating with Abby—has played a part in making this the dream come true that it was. This is the team that made me a journalist and having you witness my growth has been the greatest honor of all. I extend that gratitude especially to Lizzie, Henry, Esterah, and Anya for trusting in me as a pod leader and giving me space to make mistakes along the way.

Rahil: I don't think either one of us expected to spend as much time together as we did. Thank you for your patience, for listening to every single idea, and for showing me what compassionate and results-driven leadership looks like. The Diversity Report remains what I am most proud to have left behind. But most of all, thank you for looking out for A&E.

Raeedah: You reminded me that there are always people left to meet and love at Spec. I can think of no greater leader to push this organization into new heights through your incredible talents, drive for diversity, and contagious laughter.

Katherine: Boy am I glad that you didn’t hire me as a photographer. I am grateful for the incredible parallels that we had throughout this time. You never made me feel embarrassed for asking a question or for having big dreams. In fact, you always told me to make them even bigger. Having you in my corner has opened me up to understand Spectator and journalism in ways that would have been impossible otherwise.

Enjoy leafing through our 10th issue!

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