Meredith Kirk ’12 is a director of collections development at Art Agency, Partners in New York, an art advisory firm owned by Sotheby’s. Prior, she was a specialist for four years at Sotheby’s in the Contemporary Art Department.
What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?
I wanted to go to Columbia so badly that from the time I submitted my early decision application to when I found out that I had been accepted I wore the same Columbia sweatshirt to bed every night and refused to wash it. So I was generally a superstitious person when I arrived at Columbia. I’m happy to say that I’ve grown out of that — a bit. I was also stunned that I was finally there. I was, as I expect all first-years are to more or lesser extents, a churning mixture of nerves and excitement. I was excited to learn (that sounds so corny, but it’s true) and was almost religious about how I organized and placed the many Lit Hum books above my desk in my room. Mostly, I think I was slightly paralyzed by the anticipation of it all; being a student at Columbia was a vision that had been playing on repeat in my head for months. I was more shy then than I am now; Columbia definitely brought me out of my shell.
What do you remember about your first-year living situation?
I remember: singing “Roar, Lion, Roar” too loudly on the 1 train with my hallmates during NSOP week; the incredible sensation of being completely independent for the first time in my life; the equally powerful sensation of never feeling completely alone; countless nights spent in JJ’s Place; the exact view, from my room on the 11th floor of John Jay, of the names of great thinkers of the past carved into the façade of Butler Library; the unspeakable energy surging through campus when President Obama was elected for his first term in November of my first year; being in a packed elevator filled with nervous classmates on our way to the Lit Hum final; being reminded by that packed elevator that I was taking part in a longstanding and profoundly meaningful tradition of learning that stretched far beyond me into both the past and the future; moving out at the end of the year and knowing that the summer would be endless as I waited to go back to Columbia.
Most importantly, I remember when I met each of my five best friends, all of whom lived in rooms around me in the same southwest corner of John Jay 11. I often think that the six of us represent the quintessence of the Columbia experience: different backgrounds, different interests, different majors, different extracurricular pursuits and now, different careers, brought together by the Columbia experience and stronger for our differences, for the varied perspectives we continue to bring to our discussions and for the almost 10 years (where did the time go?!) of life-changing friendship.
What class do you most remember and why?
This is a tough one, as there are a few that burn particularly bright in my mind. The class that was perhaps the most directly impactful in terms of determining the next few years of my life was Branden Joseph’s “Neo-Dada and Pop Art” survey course. This was the class that convinced me to focus the remainder of my studies — and my early career it turns out — on art from the second half of the 20th century. In another, perhaps more abstract way, Lit Hum was the class that had the most memorable effect on me. Even though I had done well in school growing up, I always doubted how smart I was and that self-doubt often made me insecure in class. When I began taking Lit Hum, those ever-present fears started to fade. I felt so safe and so encouraged to speak my mind; I felt valued for my opinions, and learned the courage of my convictions; I learned what it was like to be a strong participant in an active, healthy debate. More so than anything I learned at the College, perhaps it was the personal insight I gained from my Lit Hum experience that has determined most significantly who I am today.
Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?
I love the Sundial. The campus was the first thing that I fell in love with, and from the Sundial you can take in almost all of it. Whenever I come back to campus I stop there and look from Low to Butler — what an amazing sightline that is. It gets me every time.
What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?
I would love more than anything to go back and do it all over, but not because I regret anything. I can imagine pursuing 1,000 completely different paths at Columbia and still graduating with a grin on my face and the sincere and lasting feeling that I had just experienced four years of something incredibly special.