Take Five with Georgia Essig ’20

Georgia Essig ’20 is her class’s valedictorian. She grew up in Burlington, Vt., but graduated from high school in St. Petersburg, Russia, which led to her combination of interests at the College. A major in computer science with a concentration in Russian language and culture, Essig will start work as a software engineer at Google at the end of the summer.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I showed up to Morningside Heights slightly terrified, tentatively excited and realistically overconfident. I knew nothing about Columbia — my roommate had to show me how to get from Carman to the Lawns. I was about as undecided as you can be, thinking I would study environmental science or comparative literature or maybe math … I was scared to make friends but thought it would be relatively easy and natural since everyone was in the same position. You can imagine how shocked I was to find out that everyone had been in group chats since getting accepted and these group chat members knew where all the parties were. Even worse were the people who didn’t have to go to the horrifying Carman parties because they had found their lifelong best friends during COOP. Not to mention the fact that everyone I talked to not only knew their major, but also actually knew every class they were going to take until graduation and their entire life plan until death. I walked onto campus with a firm belief that I knew everything the College had to offer and exactly what it would throw at me. I was very wrong. Despite my tough arrival, everything I had hoped I would get — amazing friends, a major I was passionate about and countless irreplaceable experiences on- and off-campus — came in due time.

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

My roommate and I lived in the typical Carman cinder-block double (sadly, the year before the renovations), next to a similar double with which we shared a bathroom. We had an incredible view of campus and the GW Bridge. It was the kind of view my mother promptly informed me I would never again be able to afford in New York. She was definitely right. We lived next to basketball players who would casually come into our suite to hang out or use our bathroom for reasons none of us understood. We used to hang out outside of our suite after nights out and people coming home would just stop by to chat and eat Goldfish with us. Carman 11 was where I met almost all of my closest friends; I look back on it with a deep love and also serious confusion as to how we functioned.

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

I was unbelievably lucky with my Core classes. Every single one of my professors was incredible, from my Art Hum professor, whose class inspired me to rush to MoMA before it closed last summer, to my CC professor, who introduced me to Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, a book I bring up in conversation to this day. If I had to pick one class, though, I would have to choose Lit Hum. It was my introduction to the Core, it was where I met one of my best friends, it was the class that almost convinced me to be a literature major, it was the first college class that I felt comfortable participating in and it was an amazing introduction into the next four years of my life.

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

I think my favorite spot changed through the years. Freshman year I loved sitting on the little lamppost plateaus on the side of Low. It felt very “Columbia” and had a cool view.

Sophomore year I would have to say my favorite spot on campus was Amigos. OK, so maybe it’s not technically on campus — and it also went out of business after the first semester that year — but in fall 2017 I frequented Amigos almost as often as I frequented Butler 209.

Junior year was all about roofs. Not to incriminate myself, but I hear you can climb up the fire escape of Woodbridge and the roof has a great view over Morningside Park and the Hudson. Mudd’s roof also has an incredible view of lower Manhattan.

Senior year my favorite spot became my dorm room. Our EC suite wasn’t just a place to sleep, it was also a home. For someone who had been the type to return from the library only to go to bed, it was novel and exciting for me to do work at home.

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

I really regret not taking more courses. I wish I had taken a sociology course, a gender studies course, a critical race course, another anthropology course, more Global Core and maybe different courses within my major. But this desire is entirely based on the knowledge I have now, which there is no way I could’ve had going in. I took plenty of non-required courses, but there will just always be more I wish I could’ve taken!