Jun

7

A glance backward

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Our correspondent wades through the morass of Reunion 2007, last weekend’s get-together for 60 years of Columbia and Barnard grads.

The annual tri-college reunion brings with it myriad opportunities for the enterprising summer student. For the social climber, it is a chance to establish some gainful contacts with potentially loaded and influential alumni. For the scavenger–and particularly for the scavenger who treats the Cottage’s “free wine with every entrée” arrangement with the deathly seriousness it deserves–it is an opportunity to drink on the university’s dime (Alma Mater might suck at reigning in her financial aid officials, but she can throw a hell of a wine and cheese). For the sarcastic and overly-analytical set (bloggers, for instance) the reunion was a chance to interact with a rapidly fossilizing generation of Columbians for whom race quotas were a reality and co-ed floors an absurd hypothetical; to gape in horror at what you may very well be like one day, and to shudder at the prospect of something as presently abstract as a 50-year (or even 5-year) college reunion.

Because Columbia will try to pitch Manhattanville to anybody with 15 minutes to spare, one of the first events on the schedule was a briefing on the proposed campus. For this, Roone Arledge cinema was practically empty–not so shocking when one considers that pretty much all of the reunion’s attendees will be dead by the time the campus is completed. While the alumni’s lack of curiosity on such issues was notable, the briefing brought to light problems that have been heretofore ignored: the proposed campus is an architectural nightmare. With the briefing concluded, I wandered into Hamilton Hall, where in typical Columbia fashion the alumni were bonding over some higher-level intellectual discourse.

Professor Roosevelt Mantas’s scheduled discussion on Neitzschian morals had drown a crowd. The Core Curriculum office’s conference room was packed, and a cynic could fairly deduce that our alumni are more concerned with Nietzsche than with the future of their own university–either that or the predominantly bald, gray, white and male crowd was pining for one more hour of Columbia-style pedantry. “Psychiatrist of the primitive man…rigorously non-prescriptive…traditional discursive register”–one wonders how many decades of separation it takes for such vomitus to have an even distantly therapeutic effect.

But for many of the alumni, this might have been the first chance since their last class reunion five years earlier to flex some of their Columbia-toned intellectual muscle–one participant claimed that he had read most of Nietzsche’s works while an undergraduate, and another railed against the assumedly non-Columbian cretins intent on ruining Nietzsche’s greatest quotes (Come to find out, “God is dead” has nothing to do with atheism. Who woulda thunk it?).

It occurred to me that the participants weren’t as exhilarated by the didacticism of it all as they were by a chance to step back into the Columbia bubble, a suspicion that was partly confirmed by a class of 67’ grad and 3rd generation Columbian I spoke to after the event. “Ours called itself ‘the cleverest class,’” he said, adding that he knew people who had “gone to Harvard and knew nothing.”

OK: so the alumni are nostalgia-craven, socially passive, Nietzsche-reading intellectual snobs. But what about their kids? To find out, I infiltrated the “Camp Columbia” tent, a vaguely Coney Island-themed setup serving cheap white wine (not to the kids, of course. For some reason the place was flooded with adults) and various varieties of trefe.

I was hesitant to approach the little bastards, but luckily recent grad Caitlin Shure, C ’07 had been tapped as a reunion volunteer, and her expertise in neuroscience seemed to be serving her well. ”This is Luca” she said, coddling an angelic boy of 8 or 9. Although he “doesn’t want to talk,” Shure had brilliantly deduced that he’s “a li
ttle bit on the metrosexual side”–the giveaway being the large pink flower painted on his left cheek, and the fact that he had seen “The Music Man” and not “The Godfather” (I’m going to assume that he’s named after Luca Brasi. So there).

When asked if she recoiled at the freakish glimpse of her future, Columbia-legacied offspring, Shure wisely replied that she didn’t want to have kids. Interesting, I thought–we could all opt for sterility and kill off legacy once and for all, perhaps a good thing in light of the vapid, non-communicative face-painted terrors polluting South Lawn.

Bored with the extremely young, I thought I’d try my hand at interacting with the extremely old. So after slipping past the volunteers guarding the computer science lounge, I had a look around the Golden Lion’s Club–the official hangout for graduates from 1957 and earlier. The lounge was empty, save for a few older-looking gentlemen who seemed to be keeping to themselves. It didn’t take long to strike up a conversation.

The alumnus didn’t want his name used, but he had a great story. He had grown up in an immigrant household in the North Bronx–he spoke Yiddish at home, studied hard in high school, and went to CUNY’s then-prestigious engineering school (in the late 40s it was considered better than MIT’s) right up until the Korean war intervened in his education. Back then, opportunities for lower-class Jewish students at prestigious schools were still scarce–but when his army service ended, he found himself with a free ride at Columbia engineering. He explained to me that his presence at the reunion was out of gratitude to the network of Columbians who had helped him over the years, and a way of thanking the school for giving him a chance to do something he could not have done a generation earlier: be a member of that network in the first place.

For a man wearing the same suit he’d been graduated in fifty years earlier, Columbia represented inclusiveness and opportunity, and not Nietzsche-quoting 3rd-generation legacies and their irritating metrosexual kids. So if the Columbians of the past can tell us anything about the Columbians of the future, it’s that there’s a very good chance our school’s pedantry and social neuroses aren’t the only things we’ll take away from our experiences here. Or at least we can hope so.

– ARR

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20 Comments

  1. So sad

    I guessed this was Armin Rosen as soon as I saw "ambitious social climber". I spend too much time on Bwog, as does Mr. Rosen.

  2. what?  

    for heaven's sake, this deserved less than half of the snark with which armin described it. sure, columbia is columbia, but why take potshots at people like that SEAS alum? ridiculous. this was painful to read.

  3. Dear Armin,

    1. "The briefing was therefore a cruel, teasing glimpse at a future the alumni will never live to see--although because of eminent domain and community-related issues, there's a good chance it's a future that no one will ever live to see."

    Apart from being unaccountably snide, this betrays an impressive lack of knowledge about Manhttanville's future. Whatever your opinion of the expansion plan, the odds that 'community-related issues' — what those are, we're left to guess — will derail the project are slim to none. Even CB9 recognizes this. At most, community opposition may force a few significant changes to the site plan.

    2. "It occurred to me that the participants weren't as exhilarated by the didacticism of it all as they were by a chance to step back into the obnoxiously intelligent Columbia bubble..."

    I guess the best way to offset obnoxious intelligence is through unmitigated douchebaggery, eh Armin?

    3. "Interesting, I thought--we could all opt for sterility and kill off legacy once and for all, perhaps a good thing in light of the vapid, non-communicative face-painted terrors polluting South Lawn."

    Ibid.

  4. probably not  

    worth pointing out for the zomg!-barnard-sucks comments that anything barnard related invites, but just for accuracies sake (well, accuracy in terms of my understanding) i'm pretty sure barnard has a seperate reunion/alum weekend. it was the the same weekend, but i think they were more or less seperate events.

  5. BC reunion worker

    you are correct that it is a separate event, and it was perfectly delightful this year, thank you.

  6. although

    i have little experience with either reunion, having just graduated, it seems that the barnard reunions seem better/more organized then the columbia ones. the barnard ones seem to have that old-timey feel that i would expect to see at the 25th reunion for the yale class of 1915.

    • dear Bwog

      Please stop relying on underclassmen writers. Far and away, they embarass themselves more than older, and generally less ignorant writers. Why on earth was a first year writing a lengthy screed about Matthew Fox?

      It was a great idea to cover this event. However Armin, theres a difference between Snark and Snob, one which you fail to grasp in much of your writing.

      I actually love Columbia when I'm not directly dealing with a draconian labyrnthine bureacracy. Really.

      Also, Roosevelt is a BAMF.

      Lastly, #7, Barnard, because of it's nature, can put more resources and institutional focus on its students and its events. At Barnard, the entire institution IS its undergraduates and alumni. At Columbia, the University is not particularly devoted to CC/SEAS. SEAS in fact is only partly undergrad, and has hundreds of grad students. They just can't match the same single-minded institutional focus that Barnard can. And it shows in a lot of little things that I've experienced in 4 years.

  7. Caitlin

    A small correction: Luca is actually 3. Which is what made his love of musicals even more bizarre. What three-year-old even knows what a musical is?

    From the real world,
    Shure

  8. Alum

    The fusion of this ghastly prognosis for my future with the untrammelled (and unselfconsciously ironic) swagger of Armin Rosen's prose has made me feel assured that it'll be a long time before I attend a Columbia reunion - especially if he's stalking the grounds.

    See you all on the glorious Manhattanville campus - in 2057!

  9. But of course,

    No touching story from a grateful alum goes unsmashed here at BWOG!

  10. oh no  

    Armin, you redeeemed yourself before, but now you've gone and nearly killed it.

    As for the "nostalgia-craven, socially passive, Nietzsche-reading intellectual snobs," having talked to some of them, I think you give them the wrong kind of credit. Besides, it's because of those guys (who actually love this school) that this school has at least SOME endowment, meaning your/my financial aid packages.

    Don't go too New York Post on us -- there are good things too!

  11. plus

    intellectual snobbery is what gives columbia its street cred...on the streets of the left bank, at least.

  12. the vag. center

    hoo boy does Barnard ever have a reunion. I'd say it's equally crazy to Columbia's. There are some "tri-college" events, though - the schools do recognize that everyone hung out back in the day

  13. Correction

    Bwog,

    It's Professor Roosevelt Montas not Roosevelt Mantas.

  14. alum

    i am a recent alum. i love columbia. and so do many.

  15. why oh why  

    do Bwog event reviewers write like they have plums up their arses? The snootiness is beyond Parisian. Do you all eat cheese & drink wine for breakfast? Do you listen to Beethoven while working out at the gym?

  16. Bob

    "Professor Roosevelt Mantas's scheduled discussion on Neitzschian morals had drown a crowd. The Core Curriculum office's conference room was packed, and a cynic could fairly deduce that our alumni are more concerned with Nietzsche than with the future of their own university--either that or the predominantly bald, gray, white and male crowd was pining for one more hour of Columbia-style pedantry. "Psychiatrist of the primitive man...rigorously non-prescriptive...traditional discursive register"--one wonders how many decades of separation it takes for such vomitus to have an even distantly therapeutic effect."

    In addition to your typos, you don't even deign to explain what was wrong with Montas's talk. Just asserting that it was vomitus, with scant attempt at justification, is very unimpressive.

    "Nietzsche-quoting 3rd-generation legacies and their irritating metrosexual kids"
    What was irritating about the kid? I don't see why a small child wearing pink and having a flower of his face would be irritating at all. (It is also ridiculous to sexualize someone so young with a title like 'metrosexual'. When Caitlin Shure used the term it was merely jocular, whereas you lazily slip in the term in a more serious way.)

    the term was used jocularly, but

  17. hmm

    i sort of have the sense that these comments aren't from that many different sources, simply because they all gang up on armin rather than viciously assaulting each other as stupid pretentious douchebags.

    • actually

      according to bwog's fancy new tracking system, the posts are mostly from different authors...unless of course, a cabal of anti-Arminians decided to intentionally post the comments from different IPs...highly dubious!

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