It all began with 40s on 40 in April. All it took was classmates blasting music, singing and yelling “Class of 2018!” on Low Steps slightly past midnight for it to dawn on me that my time as a student at Columbia was not only finite, but it was also rapidly evaporating. I only had 40 days to relish my existence in this place I’d called home for the last four years. But something was strange: Upon this realization, I felt little emotion. It was easy to recognize the lack of time I had left, how post-grad life wouldn’t be nearly the same, how many of my friends would be moving to places anywhere but close to New York City – but somehow, I felt nothing.
I thought I would cry so many times in the weeks leading up to graduation – I thought it would make things easier on me, emotionally, when the day itself came. But I never did. With everything I had to do (last-minute get-togethers with friends, several formal events and finals), I had wanted to sit down, breathe and reflect – but there were very few places I could go on campus to do just that.
So, in my last two weeks at Columbia, I made a ledge on campus my home. As you ascend the steps to Low Library and turn either left or right, you can step out onto an elevated platform that protrudes above the rest of campus, overlooking Low Plaza and giving you a beautiful view of Butler, John Jay and Carman. Either alone or with friends, my visits to that ledge grew more and more frequent in those last few weeks.
From the ledge, I could see people walking briskly about campus, headphones on, destinations and goals in mind. The typical Columbia student: driven, motivated, nonstop. I can’t say I was any different in my time as a student. “Study for this exam, head to this practice, go to this party,” were thoughts that’d go through my mind every day – no stopping, no breathing, no thinking. Just doing. Impulsivity and spontaneity were attributes I’d only gotten a taste of from friends who knew how to best define the phrase carpe diem, reminding me that I should savor moments of peace – that our time at Columbia was undoubtedly short. To them, I remain eternally grateful.
The ledge was a hidden gem on our campus – it just took me four years to realize it. I could go there and the sounds of laughter, chatter and police sirens wailing outside our campus gates became nothing but buzz that faded away in the background of my introspection. It was a place I could go to think about the present, and a place I could go to deeply reflect on the past. It was a microcosm of Columbia.
On the ledge, I’d think about the friends I’d made and the memories we shared. The classes that I loved, or hated and often didn’t attend. The times I confessed my feelings, fell in love, had my heart broken and had my heart become slightly fuller. I’d sit there and just soak it all in, not worrying about what loomed on the horizon.
I thought the ledge would be the place I’d ultimately cry; it wasn’t. I almost cried on Class Day, when I stepped to the podium and saw a sea of friendly faces, many of whom I knew I might not see for a while after that day. But it actually happened two days after Commencement, when it finally dawned on me that, come August, I wouldn’t be returning to my cozy bubble on the Upper West Side. That I wouldn’t easily be able to step onto campus and just give everybody – acquaintances and friends – big hugs, with feelings of excitement that a new school year was set to begin.
I cried for the future and the fact that, as a high school senior, I never would’ve thought this place would come to occupy such a dear place in my heart. I cried for goodbyes I never gave, friends who cried on my shoulder in tough times and for those very same friends who allowed me to cry on their shoulders in even tougher times. I cried that I didn’t take more moments in my time as a student to just sit and reflect – just like I did on that ledge.
I cried because I realized that every incredible friend I made at Columbia and every memory I shared with them were worth crying for. And, at the end of the day, the number of tears I shed makes me certain that I’m pretty lucky.
Published quarterly by the Columbia College Office of Alumni Affairs and Development for alumni, students, faculty, parents and friends of Columbia College.