What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?
I graduated from Stuyvesant, a very competitive high school in NYC. Hundreds of my friends were going to the other Ivy League schools; however, I did not have any close friends attending the College with me. I was open to new experiences. I remember being hypnotized at an event during Orientation and being told I was “Tarzan.” I was on stage in front of a couple hundred other first-years. The hypnotist told me to go find “Jane.” He told me to be careful and to not jump off the stage. I promptly saw my Jane, leapt into the audience and brought her onto the stage. Throughout my four years at Columbia, people would come up to me and ask if I was Tarzan.
What do you remember about your first-year living situation?
My first year was spent in John Jay on the 14th floor. Those rooms had a desk, a closet, a bed and a sink. But my room made a great place to focus on chemistry, physics and Contemporary Civilization, as I could close my door and study in peace. I worked at the cafeteria in John Jay for work-study. I loved being in the Columbia University Marching Band, traveling the East Coast by bus with 50 of my closest friends on weekends for football games. After a long weekend away, my room served as a refuge to get back to work. Our resident assistant was a graduate student getting her M.B.A.; she was our R.A., and also our therapist and our friend. Her door was always open.
What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?
Freshman English [now called University Writing] was where I learned how to write. We wrote every day. In 1981, the College was still all-male — we were once given an assignment to describe the “perfect woman.” Of course today, that would be considered sexist and narrow-minded. I had a long-term relationship from high school so I thought this assignment would be a snap. I wrote about her physical characteristics and her goals in life. I had always had a preference for brunettes. The first sentence in my paper — “I hate blondes” — would also be considered politically incorrect in 2021 but it did catch my professor’s attention; he asked me to read it aloud in class. I remember getting an A.
Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?
I loved the Low Steps. They were majestic. They had a great view of the campus. I would go there to read on occasion. One night, I kept falling asleep reading Descartes, so at 11 p.m. on a chilly February night, I sat on the Steps and tried to get through 10 pages of the most verbose and obtuse literature ever produced. After about 30 minutes I had frozen fingertips and had only read five pages, but I was determined to finish. I looked up to see a gentleman bundled in jackets walk by me to a nearby garbage can. He unabashedly unzipped his pants and urinated. I thought it was divine intervention. I retreated to my dorm room having accepted defeat.
What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Columbia. I stayed on campus at my fraternity, Tau Epsilon Phi, on West 110th street for the summer after graduation. I was a TA for general chemistry and tutored high school students for the math portion of the SAT. It was a great transition to medical school. I really appreciated the warm summer nights with friends, lying on a blanket in the grass watching movies projected onto a big screen. My fraternity brothers and I would go down to the Village on the 1 train for food and to dance. I would love to relive that summer of fun and carelessness on campus.