MICHAEL JAY McCLURE
Wright made use of both her College English major and concentration in art history in several professional roles: As the director of communications for the Museum of Wisconsin Art, she immersed herself in the state’s art scene (it’s not all paintings of cows and farms, she stresses). And while the associate editor of Country Woman and Farm & Ranch Living magazines she picked up a gnome-making habit and now understands why particular tractor brands enjoy a cult-like following. A life-long swimming nerd (she was a record-holding member and captain of Columbia’s swim team), she has been a content contributor to the popular swimming blogs Swim Swam and FloSwimming. She hasn’t swum in years because getting to the pool at 5:30 a.m. is pretty difficult when you’re raising a 5-year-old, but she does ride her Peloton often and posts annoyingly about it on social media.
What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?
I was a relatively naive Michigander who couldn’t wait to explore everything that New York City and the College had to offer. I was swimming-obsessed, and the Percy Uris Natatorium quickly became my second home. It was exhilarating to meet classmates from every corner of the world. I felt excited about everything, and I also knew I was “home.” Columbia was the right fit for me, and I honestly never wanted to graduate.
What do you remember about your first-year living situation?
I lived in a single on John Jay 11; I quickly became close friends with my next-door neighbor and many others on the floor with whom I am still close. I remember discussing the Great Books over pints of Ben and Jerry’s and feeling awed by my classmates’ insights and intellectual curiosity. A small group of us became huge Dawson’s Creek fans (don’t judge), and we’d gather in one person’s room each Wednesday night to watch together. This was before Netflix, so binge-watching really wasn’t a thing; Dawson’s Creek night was sacred.
What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?
I’d never taken an art history class in high school, so Art Hum was a yearlong collection of lightbulb moments. I declared art history as my concentration as soon as I could. Every class felt like a journey to another time period or country or mindset. My favorite classes were “Arts of Africa,” “Arts of China” and a course on German Expressionism. Studying art history in New York City is an unparalleled experience. I reveled in hopping on the subway to see masterpieces of art in person. How easy it was to stroll into The Met and see Chinese calligraphy, then cross the street to the Neue Galerie to be greeted by Klimt’s massive masterpieces. And I was awed by my professors’ passion for their subjects and the way they immersed us in it — my Arts of Africa professor transported us to his home continent during each class. One of my favorite memories from senior year is the end-of-the-year party that he threw, when he insisted that everyone dress in traditional African garments and dance up and down the halls of Schermerhorn.
Today, I am happy to see that the College is committed to expanding the Core to reflect a far more diverse array of experiences and voices and visions. I’m jealous that current and future Columbians will delve into a Core that can ideally foster equity and inclusion, inspiring bigger and tougher questions to be asked and solutions to societal problems to be found.
Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?
Low Steps. I’m a pretty social person, so a prime spot on a sunny day was my happy place. I’d sit there for hours, catching up with friends or interrupting the production of major motion pictures — when Spider-Man was filmed on campus in spring 2002, I was part of a crowd on the Steps that was repeatedly chastised for not being quiet on the set. (Apologies to Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire.)
What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?
I would definitely take a few political science classes, as I feel that I missed the opportunity to learn from some of the country’s greatest political science minds. And I’d also try just a little harder to find that tiny owl in the folds of Alma Mater’s robe.