What you were like when you arrived at Columbia?
I was pretty overwhelmed by NYC and I was already having significant doubts about leaving my family behind on the West Coast. After a challenging flight out, my father and I took a taxi to campus and the ride was wild — the driver was tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, speeding through lights. Along the way, I noticed litter and graffiti scattered about and homeless people tucked in the entryways of buildings and along the sidewalks. All I kept thinking was “What am I doing here?” By the time we arrived at campus I was completely stressed and exhausted. Now, I just laugh about it — obviously, when we get a bit of life behind us, we gain better perspective. But in the moment when I first stepped foot on campus, I was not my best self.
Thankfully, I had the women’s cross-country and track & field teams — they became instant “family.” And once classes started, I found that I could hold my own and I settled into a nice routine.
What do you remember about your first-year living situation?
I was on the third floor of McBain, facing Broadway. Many of my floormates were involved in sports as well, so we saw a lot of each other at Dodge. Living in McBain made me feel very independent as it was a full three blocks away from the main entrance of campus. I remember how difficult it was to sleep at first because the city was excessively noisy, 24-7 — very, very different than my rural home on Vashon Island. I remember my first trip home after spending a semester away — I couldn’t sleep because it was too quiet!
I relocated to the all-female 13th floor of Carman before the start of second semester. My room was the last at the end of the hall, facing downtown; the view from my window was absolutely amazing, so I didn’t care that I was living in a cinderblock echo chamber. I remember older students always pulling the fire alarm during midterms and finals. Being the daughter of a career fireman, I dutifully exited the building each time — my quads and hams got quite a workout on the stairs!
In those days, I wrote a lot of letters — it was how we all kept in touch pre-email, pre-texting, pre-social media. The mailroom located in Carman was a lifeline for many of us.
What class do you most remember and why?
In the spring of my freshman year, I took Art Humanities. We were instructed to create a collage; I made mine on the inside of an apple sauce jar. I used a permanent pen to color half the lid black while the other half remained white. I used some of my old track spikes to cover the bottom. When it was time for the class to select a project to analyze, mine was chosen. I felt completely validated as an “artist” and appreciated having the opportunity to be creative in a way other than writing. I also remember going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the very first time and experiencing the Impressionist paintings I had only ever seen in books. The colors, the textures, the scale were all so impressive. I spent hours studying the paintings from multiple perspectives, not as part of my assignment, but just to soak it all in.
Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?
I greatly enjoyed Butler Library. If I felt social, I would go to the reading room. Contrary to its name, no one worked seriously in there; it was a place to gather and “study” while enjoying lively conversation. The reading room had really old wooden card catalogs, furniture and finishes — it had history. But if I needed to focus, I spent time in the study room across from the entrance to the stacks. It was a bright open room with a very scholarly atmosphere. Being surrounded by books always made me feel a little bit smarter.
What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?
I would have spent more time getting to know the professional foodservice crew at John Jay. I worked there my first two years on campus before I discovered that I could choose a less physically demanding work-study job. I did learn some great recipes like chicken cordon bleu and baked ziti, which I still prepare from time to time. But I didn’t ask my co-workers about their life stories, which was ultimately the more important knowledge to have acquired.
Otherwise, I have often said I would redo my Columbia experience in a heartbeat. It’s why I trek across the country every five years to participate in Reunion Weekend — all of the perks, with no stress of papers, projects, midterms or finals!