Columbia College | Columbia University in the City of New York
Symington started making films when she discovered a video camera in her basement at the age of 11, and hasn’t stopped. Through the years, she has backpacked solo to 19 countries and visited 25 more. After graduating with a B.A. in film studies, Symington’s twin passions for film and travel came together at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts program in Singapore, where she earned an M.F.A. Her thesis film, Tether, shot on location in Guatemala, screened at several prestigious film festivals and won the best graduate film award at NYU’s Fusion Film Festival in 2015. Since moving to L.A., Symington has produced films for the AFI Directing Workshop for Women and the Alliance of Women Directors, and spent several years assisting producer/director Rob Lorenz (American Sniper, Million Dollar Baby). She directs commercials and produces branded videos for BuzzFeed, has written four award-winning screenplays and is in development on her next feature film. When not on set, Symington loves deep diving into L.A.’s food scene, devouring books and movies, and planning her next trip.
What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?
I arrived from the Connecticut suburbs, so eager to dig into city living and college challenges. I was ready to chart my own life, which wound up involving — among other things — very, very long walks around the city. I was quickly humbled to find that I was one of many academic overachievers, but I was also in heaven among so much reading and thinking. I knew from day one that I wanted to major in film studies and that I wanted to study abroad (I ended up doing my junior year in Senegal; an incredible experience). Generally, I was giddy with excitement about everything, from classes to new friends to work-study paychecks to free museum entries to parties. I wanted to do it all! Thank goodness for youthful stamina — and 15-minute naps. I’ll admit, sometimes I was homesick, too. My mom is probably glad that this pre-dated smartphones, or I might have been a real pest.
What do you remember about your first-year living situation?
I lived on the 10th floor of Carman, and boy was it lively. I was assigned to room with Shaina Molano ’10, a bioarcheologist and just about the nicest person ever. I was lucky to befriend a rowdy group down on the sixth floor with whom I moved through the rest of college. Many of us are still good friends! I always loved living right in the middle of the action so that I could participate, then sneak off to bed without anyone noticing.
What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?
Well, I’m terrible at favorites so I’m going to do a Top Three:
1. My Contemporary Civilization instructor was a then-Ph.D. candidate, David Ratzan GSAS’11, who came to class every day with a truly impressive passion for the material, no matter how dense. The students in my class had a wide variety of majors and it could be challenging to corral interest in some of the more esoteric texts. At the end of the year, some of my creative classmates had the idea to put together a scrapbook for him in which each student took on a philosopher and distilled his/her thinking into a pithy first-person line about the merits of CC and Professor Ratzan’s teachings. I just found the email chain in which we planned this, and I’m touched by everyone’s enthusiasm.
2. For my science requirement, I took “Physics for Poets,” taught by Amber Miller. Despite the class name, it was a rigorous and challenging course that opened our eyes to the practical and fascinating applications of physics in the real world, while sparing us arty types the tough math problems. I remember being really surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
3. Finally, my experience with Music Humanities (taught by Professor Ellen Gray) shows how even within the structured path of the Core Curriculum, there is still room for individual expression. For my final paper, I (giddily) wrote an analysis of a David Bowie music video, tying his work in with many of the themes we’d discussed during the semester. I love how the Core taught us to apply foundational knowledge and classical themes to our own interests.
Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?
I have always been an early riser, and I get my best thinking done first thing in the morning. During those heady undergrad years, Low Library was notably empty between the hours of, say, 7:00 and 10:00 a.m., especially on the weekends. I loved the echoey walls, the colorful tiles and the smell of the stacks.
What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?
I’ve been mulling this one over, and I can honestly say I have no regrets. Even my excesses, mistakes or, ahem, occasional poor decisions all made me who I am and helped me live my experience to the fullest.