Was it Worth It?
Updated: Sep 4
Stumbling bleary-eyed out of Butler as the sun begins to peer bashfully over the horizon, one often struggles to free oneself from a clenching of the mind, perhaps manifest on such an occasion as infrared flashes of panic or as languorous treacle clouds of despondence rolling across the field of consciousness. It’s easy for these moments to figure most prominently in an erratic lattice of memory that is intricate and consequential enough to prompt judgements of ‘worth’; the most intense moments are also the most vivid and therefore the most memorable. Society is structured in such a way that we enter the next phase of our lives with this set of experiences in hand, legible to others and compared to their own, the fuzzy backdrop against which the individual drama of adulthood will be performed. It is difficult, practically impossible, to assess any kind of value in the absence of the points of reference that are sure to litter the coming years—but maybe, just maybe, even now, it was all worth it.
Even amidst the (purported) sterility of contemporary academia and the mysterious momentum that compels most of the student body towards courses that can probably already be taught by computers, there is real inspiration to be found. There are so many professors whose enthusiasm for their fields is infectious and inspirational, who are, for certain individuals, in possession of the spark bright enough to furnish years of illumination and purpose. We are surrounded by some of the most brilliant people in the world and they are available to us.
New York is a baptism of fire, that has so much, too much to offer, and in hindsight, however one experiences it, however one copes, horizons are broadened, often violently, by the crowbar of sensory overload. There are the endlessly tempting invitations to pretension that allow one to learn so much about themselves, the crazy mix of people that can be encountered, the element of randomness that is woven into the fabric of this city.
How often do we see Columbia? The majority of us arrived equipped with vivid preconceptions, expectations, hopes and worries that almost certainly did not include vignettes of Lee Bollinger or Rae Sremmurd. Maybe it could even be suggested that everyone believes so strongly in an idea of Columbia that we never really see it. Even at school, narratives layered profusely with buzzwords like ‘stress culture’ reduce an issue as broad and nuanced as mental health to a monotonous folk tale whose constant recurrence begins to constrain one’s vision. This place is not perfect by any account, and student engagement is critical to improvement, but it could also be that the whole thing has been overdone just a little bit. The Campus is beautiful really, (people get desensitized to it very quickly) especially on a clear night or when the sun is out or generally when people seem to be happy or excited about something.
Oscar Wilde says somewhere that suffering can be a revelation, and maybe all of the stuff we experienced here and now will be transfigured, in some other place and some other time, into something that might even be described as knowledge or wisdom. But that one is kind of a long shot.
I recall this feeling. I’ve experienced it before. Ah, yes, now I remember…
Just like those six—or is it now seven?—Fast and Furious movies I walked out of, 1020 every Friday, that one Physics for Poets lecture I attended out of guilt, I now stand to exit this University with the dominating yet depressing feeling of disappointment that has characterized many of my activities through the last four years.
‘Was it worth it?’ you ask. Was colonialism worth it? Was Seamlessing Nuss instead of walking there worth it? Are salmon shorts ever worth it? The short answer: No. I have spent my four years here draining slowly like an abused keg at St. A’s. I have felt myself wasting away like a CC professor in Spring teaching an all-athletes class. I have sunk further into the Butler mire than sweat in the KDR basement.
The history of my attendance at Columbia is bleaker than the history of Tibet. My intellectual resources have been ravaged by a succession of useless, antiquated conversation classes disguised as the Core Curriculum. I so look forward to embracing Nietzsche’s theory of morals when I lose my first job and contemplate vengeance, or taking ironic joy in Goya’s masterpieces when I show all my future Bumble dates around the Met to try and score something out of my squandered intellectualism.
At least I’ll have my science requirement! Oh, wait—I forgot. Frosci is more useless than a Pre- Raphaelite (you ArtHum vets know what I’m saying; literally only you could possibly know what I’m saying). And let’s not talk about the voluntary science requirements. I can’t wait to contemplate Oceanography when I stare into the abyss, or cringe whenever someone mentions a dinosaur, since that class was actually fucking impossible.
‘But what about Global Cores?’ What a naïve defense. What did I learn in my Global Cores? Nothing. And don’t say it’s because I didn’t go to class. My intellectual scope is too all-encompassing to focus on the trivialities of Mongol dice-games or Vietnamese foreplay. And I’m not devoting my two hours of free time per week to that drivel.
‘There must be friends at least,’ you might think? Here’s a fun game. Have you ever played Apples to Apples? I shall assume you have as I hate explaining things to you people. Imagine A2A—yet instead of matching adjective to noun, you match generic name to social disorder! That’s what defines friendship in these walls. Oh, great, the person next to me just started throwing up! Another wonderful Columbia™ moment.
Where was I? Ah, yes, friendship. I think I’ve said enough. Let’s move onto connections. The great Ivy League dream is dead. Before, any ol’ guy with enough privilege to attend this fine school was promised wealth and a khaki’d mentor to teach them the ways of finànce and chauvinism. This is no longer the case. Even the last bastions of connection-proliferation—frats and sports teams—are crumbling like a Blue Java bran muffin or America’s defunct social hierarchy. The world is just not as bridled with opportunity as it once was. My arm weighs heavy from the manila-enclosed resume I ferry to and from doomed interviews. Oh, I’m sorry. Did I ruin your little secret? Guess what: I’m old and senile, and don’t give a fuck anymore.
As I return uptown on the cesspit we call a subway system, I stare down at two rats fighting in a puddle. ‘Drip, drip,’ drips the leaking pipe as the ripples it causes collide into splashes lashed by the two rats’ tails. What a poignant metaphor for my time here. Oh, you don’t get it? You should really take Literary Texts and Critical Methods.