© Sandra Wong Geroux
What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?
I arrived at Columbia after an awesome high school experience filled with John Hughes movies (The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles) and train rides to Manhattan when the club scene was at its peak. When I got to the College, I felt that I had already had my fun, and nothing could rival the memories I had from high school. To this point, I did not enter college looking to be a “joiner” but rather as someone ready to undertake what I fully expected to be rigorous academics and an even harder athletics program. However, the coach who recruited me to swim resigned his position right before I arrived, leaving me as the sole female freshman recruit on a team that was disjointed, in transition and without an official coach. Looking back, this situation was probably not so different from my leery vibe as a 17-year-old entering college. That year, however, I did meet my best friend, who was two years ahead of me, saw past my freshman hesitations and made me a ‘joiner.’ We remain each other’s biggest supporters to this day.
What do you remember about your first-year living situation?
My first months at Columbia were not that memorable, likely because I chose to live in Shapiro rather than Carman. For me, the allure of living in a newly built dorm with air conditioning sounded way better than what I imagined to be a raucous freshman dorm. I think many who chose Shapiro were looking for a slightly quieter experience, I don’t recall much drama or wild stories. However, when I switched to McBain after a few months (my super-early swim practice schedule was not working well with my first roommate), there was action and hallway hoopla happening all the time. The television show, Beverly Hills 90210 had just come out; I have fond memories of everyone gathering in the common room to watch — coupled with not-so-fond memories of the smell of the dead rodents in the walls, scratchy couches and old smelly rugs. The crazy thing is, I enjoyed the lively 113th street location (without air conditioning) and dilapidated McBain so much, I opted to live there again my senior year.
What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?
One hundred percent Contemporary Civilization. I took it freshman year for a reason I can’t remember and it was the one class that really intellectually pulled me into the college experience. The professor was Anders Stephanson GSAS’87 and the class was an eclectic group of spirited debaters and thinkers who wanted to make the time we spent together meaningful. I remember how Anders used to meet us outside of class at various local neighborhood spots where we took up class topics in order to continue discussion more in-depth than what we were able to do in the allotted section time. Although I did not know precisely who he was at the time, journalist David Denby ’65, JRN’66 would occasionally pop into our classes to get an ear in our compelling and even heated discussions, which makes the whole memory of that class even cooler for me. I saw Professor Stephenson over the years after I graduated, walking about Morningside Heights. We always greeted each other fondly, making me nostalgic for that class every time.
Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?
Low Steps. I really only had time to hang out there in the spring after the swim season ended, leaving me with great appreciation for having free time to be social! Columbia did turn out to be just as rigorous as I thought it would be and the Steps were my place to take a breather, catch some sun, listen to music and people watch. (I stayed in the Morningside Heights area long after graduation and when my kids were young, they too played and people-watched on those very steps.)
What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?
I would have more fully embraced and enjoyed the fleeting last years before having to be an adult in the full capacity. I imagine many people would say the same thing about youth in general. I would also rethink choosing to be both pre-med and a double science major given that the classes I seemed to have the fondest memories of (although not the better grades) in were my elective and Core classes. Despite my less traditional career path for an Ivy Leaguer, the College and Columbia Athletics afforded me such great opportunities and I will always be grateful for the experience — and especially being able to have those pure experiences WITHOUT social media. Just our good old Rolm phones and disposable cameras.