Senior Wisdom: Joe Milholland
Written by Senior Wisdom
Our next Senior Wisdom comes from Joe Milholland – former CCSC Bureau Chief, wearer of excellent socks, purveyor of delicious snacks, and, let’s be honest, the patron saint of Bwog. We wish you a small apartment in a big city with many books, Joe.
Name, School, Major, Hometown: Joseph Milholland; Columbia College; English and Comparative Literature; Atlanta, GA
Claim to fame: If you count this as a Bwog article, I wrote for 9 of the 17 editors in chief of Bwog, an organization that began when I was 10. For three school years, I went to and reported on every CCSC meeting for three school years straight for Bwog. Also covered Usenate, GSSC, and other student council meetings, along with the occasional Suzanne Goldberg interview.
I also sat on the executive board of the Columbia University Science Ficton Society for two years as treasurer and secretary, wrote several articles for the Blue and White and managed their Facebook page this year, am a Phull and Engorged member of the Philolexian Society, lived on Hartley 8 my first year (H8 4evah!), and, as my greatest achievement at this institution, was briefly listed as part of the “Lion Society of Friends,” along with Nicolas Biekert and Robert Hornsby.
Where are you going? Hopefully to a small apartment in a big city.
What are 3 things you learned at Columbia and would like to share with the Class of 2021?
The first semester of college, especially the first semester of college at a big, prestigious, urban university like Columbia, can be a sorrowful, scary, emotionally-draining, even painful experience because of the sheer freedom we have while attending this institution. While the Columbia experience can differ vastly between students, almost every undergraduate here has never seen the amount of opportunities we get on this campus.
For me at least, I was overwhelmed. My lifeline stretched out before me, and I could see only the insignificance and waste of my time ahead, and the certainty of the death that would finish my actions. The end of my first semester of college was a time of utter despair.
Columbia can make us realize the difficulty of any human achievement, and make us feel the pressure at our minuscule chances of actualizing the potential we are given by attending this school. Look at the names carved on Butler Library: they mean to impart to you a message about the permanence of human greatness, about achievements of such magnitude that the people behind them have become immortalized. With this displayed above of our main place of study, what else can we feel but like the dust that drifts onto one of the columns, and then is soon blown off by the wind to an uncertain fate?
But what I wish I had done with that feeling was to seize it, to meet it face-to-face, and to use it to help me create myself. For although I felt terrible, worse than I had ever felt before, my sorrow also gave me the ability to feel the significance of my condition. Every human interaction felt charged with meaning, every day was the day of decision, every word I read either wasted letters or a message about my life, and life in general. These pains in my soul contained a hidden gift, one that could have helped me achieve my definition of success.
What I was ignorant of then, and what I have only come to dimly recognize now – and not, primarily, through my study or my thoughts, but through the wonderful and dear friends I have made at Columbia – is the idea of life as a process of self-creation. We may feel disappointed or frustrated with those people who dedicate their time to photos of themselves and their lives on social networks, but, in fact, the process by which you go about projecting an image of yourself – if it is at least partially a true image, and not a manufactured stimulus made by a corporation – is part of what it means to be human.
I am not saying we should spend our days on frivolity, ego-boosting, and self-centered hedonism; no, I am arguing for the formation of discipline and habits at college. But just as we do not love other persons for the end we will get out of it, we should not study and toil and learn for the awards get after working, but from the self-reward we feel while working.
So I say to you this: life is in the doing. As we learn, practice, and preform, we will progress, but I think we should do so not to measure the closeness of the top of the stairs but to feel pleasure in going from one step to another. For many years I had thought it a boring and painful job to be a professional musician because of all the repetitive practice at the same thing over and over again required to create beautiful music, but my time at college has made me realize that it is just this practice that makes music appealing.
Life is not the first sentence of your obituary. The engravings on Butler Library do not represent the men who had those names; the names are but forms that bear no relation to the lives and works – lives and works that are complicated, personal, and often bizarre – they claim to signify. Nobody is a mere name on a building. Yes, how much more I would prefer to be a cold and transient speck of dust!
If the above does not meet the “3 things” requirement for you, here is some other advice:
2) Bring a stapler and scissors to college.
3) Barring the dredges of fraternity life, the worst parties on campus are those strange and repellent agglomerations of people and vomit known as “Spec Tails.” The best parties are Bwog parties (obvsies). If you have any interest in literature, writing, or reading, join a literary magazine, even if you think (like me) that the mass of scribblers are poorly-read poseurs. If you want to see what Columbia has to offer, go to an event put on by a cultural club. If you prefer fun to misery, go to the Philolexian Society. Go to student theater at Columbia; while there’s lots of fun things to do in NYC, most theater for under $20 is mind-crushingly terrible outside of college performances (side note – NYU’s version of KCST is quite good, and they do free outdoor performances in the fall).
“Back in my day…” People were still reeling from Froscanity (look it up if you don’t know it), and thinkpeices on college hook-up culture were all the rage (please, don’t look them up).
Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer: I’m not going to work for an investment bank.
What was your favorite class at Columbia? Shakespeare I with James Shapiro.
Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? Oral sex!
One thing to do before graduating: Grab some wine and pizza in a dorm room with some friends (or just head to Tom’s). Rich, lively, intimate conversations with people you know will be better than 99% of the so-called fun events on campus, official and unofficial.
Any regrets? My major regret from my college education is the same one I will have on my deathbed: “I should have read more books. I should have read more books.”
Photo via Joe Milholland