’22 Valedictorian Is “Unbelievably Grateful” to the Core

Spencer cropped
Spencer Grayson ’22 is their class’s valedictorian. Raised in Seattle, they majored in English with a particular focus on early modern women writers and queer poetics. Grayson was the managing editor of The Columbia Review as well as an assistant editor for a digital humanities project at the University of Washington. They will pursue an M.St. in English (1550–1700) at Oxford followed by a Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. When they are not reading, Grayson enjoys hiking, knitting and kayaking.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I was for the most part reserved and withdrawn, avoiding interaction with my peers to wander the city on my own. But at the same time, I was prone to take instinctive social risks — like during my first week, when I saw Hisham Matar at Westsider Books and asked him to sign the only book I had in my bag at the time. Which happened to be his novel Anatomy of a Disappearance.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I lived in a single in John Jay. I don’t remember much about that room except that I had a poster of Princess Leia on the wall! And that during NSOP in September, it was approximately a million degrees in there. Raised in a much more temperate climate that never required AC, I called my dad, sweating buckets and on the verge of tears, to tell him I shouldn’t have gone to Columbia. I’m very glad he convinced me to stick around.

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?

I most remember studying for the Lit Hum final, not because I got much studying done but because it was how I met one of my best friends. She reached out to ask how I was studying for the harrowing passage identification section of the final. I asked her to study with me — she was a prospective classics major and, as a prospective English major intimidated by anything written before the Elizabethans, I hoped she would be able to provide some guidance on Homer. We reviewed passage identifications from The Iliad for approximately 20 minutes and then talked for three hours about everything EXCEPT how to distinguish between Diomedes, Ajax and all the other Achaeans. I am so unbelievably grateful to the Core, and to that exam, for introducing me to such a treasured friend.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

One of my favorite spots on campus was the bench on upper campus, connected to Low Library and facing Lewisohn. It was a beautiful, shady place to read, people-watch or sit with a coffee.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

Because Covid-19 began midway through my sophomore year, much of what I would change about my Columbia experience — moving out, a year and a half on Zoom — is simply beyond my control. But I do wish that, during my freshman year and sophomore fall on campus, I had better appreciated the immense privilege of access to in-person education (let alone higher education at all). I think that, when handled appropriately, the in-person classroom can be a profound place: one in which people can pursue connection and understanding with and for others through the mediating object of a poem, a painting, an experiment, without giving more of themselves than they feel ready to give. I wish my first-year self recognized the potential profundity of such a space.