They may have already given their speeches, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t more wisdom to go around! We asked the valedictorians and salutatorians of the Class of 2011 some questions, and they gave us very clever ways of avoiding the infamous oral sex question.
Did you do anything special to celebrate?
Margot (CC Valedictorian): Just some dinners with close friends. I also decided to take it a little easier with finals studying. I spent 25 hours in Florida last week, which sounds like it could be a good answer to this question. I was actually there to attend a research conference, but it was still very fun nonetheless.
Norases (SEAS Valedictorian): Those who know me are familiar with my mode of transportation around campus. I tend to sprint to and from classes and meetings, in order to save time that most people spend walking for more important things. After I found out, I slowed my pace to a jog and on a good day, I would actually walk. But when all of the senior festivities kicked off I was so busy I had to start running again.
Kira (GS Valedictorian): I think just what most graduates do. I spent time with family and friends and tried to savor the moment!
Elizabeth (CC Salutatorian): I received the congratulatory e-mail right before I was getting on a bus back home for Easter weekend: my celebration thus consisted of epic feasting with the family and long frolics with the poodle through the rugged wilderness of central PA.
Michael (SEAS Salutatorian): Honestly, not really. I think when I first found out, it didn’t really sink in how big of an award it really was! I think my family was more excited to find out than I was. We just had a nice little dinner, but no real big celebration.
Do people treat you differently now that you’re valedictorian?
Margot: I have been receiving more hugs than normal, and people have been incredibly sweet in congratulating me (thank you so much everyone, it means a lot!), but other than that, no.
Norases: I now have a PR Manager.
Kira: No. People have been supportive and happy for me and I appreciate that tremendously. But I’m still just the same quiet person I was before, and I don’t think I should be treated any differently.
Elizabeth: They definitely laugh at me more for stupid mistakes I make!
Michael: Not really. A lot of people say congratulations to me when I walk past them, but other than that, most of my friends still treat me exactly the same way as before. After all, I’m still the same person as before.
Did you ever find the Alma Mater’s owl?
Margot: I actually never looked for it. So sorry to disappoint! I just checked WikiCU, and apparently the first person to find the owl is destined to not only become valedictorian, but also to marry a Barnard woman. I think this legend needs some updating!
Norases: I was probably one of the last ones to find the owl since I missed NSOP. I arrived at Columbia on the first day of classes jetlagged and disoriented, so it took me a few days to find out that there was even an owl hidden on Alma Mater’s statue.
Kira: No! I never really looked, but I am glad to leave Columbia with curiosity.
Elizabeth: Yep. I certainly wasn’t one of the first to find it though.
Michael: Unfortunately, I never really tried. Maybe sometime in the future, I’ll come back to find the owl.
Do you have any special study routines?
Margot: For my first 3 years here, I was index card crazy, putting nearly everything on index cards and studying off of them. I parted with index cards this year, opting instead to just test myself from my notes. I’m very big on writing things out when I study–I find I absorb information better when I write it down, as opposed to just reading it. I’m also only able to study in my dorm room. I’ve tried studying in the libraries on campus a few times and I’ve been largely unsuccessful.
Norases: My special studying diet is fish (omega-3) with chili and lime juice (to keep me alert), whole milk, and a lot of ice cream. To prep for exam time I refill all of my pencils, make sure I have all five of my erasers, recharge my many spare calculator batteries, and stock up on band-aids. Why band-aids? Last semester I flipped through a 40-page exam too fast and the pages cut my finger really badly at the beginning of the exam. It was dripping blood. Luckily a TA gave me a band-aid, but for every subsequent exam I made sure to have my own.
Kira: I probably don’t go about studying in the most efficient way; I actually just try to enjoy it. I start early (when I can), and go at my own pace, and instead of thinking of learning for the test, I think of learning for learning’s sake, and for my sake. I often buy myself candy or special snacks to help make studying enjoyable and then I settle in. College is a luxury- you are paying to enrich your own mind- and I try not to lose sight of that when I study. That said, if I had gone at the typical age and lived in the dorms I would probably have been far more distracted by the social aspects of college and I think that’s how it should be. There is no right way to go through college- this was just the right way for me, going a few years later than most.
Elizabeth: For three semesters, in order to study for my ancient Greek final, I would write and illustrate pictures books to drill home the grammar and syntax (besides, it was great fun). All three revolve around the merry adventures of a goat and a hoplite – hence the titles “The Goat and the Hoplite” volumes 1-3: they encounter Socrates upon various occasions, at one point save him from death by hemlock by escaping to the hinterlands of Thessaly.
Michael: I like to listen to music when I study (mostly pop or country). The music helps keep me motivated and keeps my morale up, and it also helps to relieve stress. Another thing I like to do is to take at least a 10 minute break for every hour of studying. I know a lot of people at Columbia are stressed, and feel that there is no time to take breaks. But really, if you think about it, taking a 10-15 minute break now and then is not really that much time lost, and it really pays off! It helps keep your mind rested and sharp, and you’ll end up being more effective. It also helps to keep you sane, especially during exam weeks.
What were your favorite and least favorite classes?
Margot: Favorite: Organic chemistry II with Professor Lambert (but I’ve really enjoyed almost all the courses I’ve taken here, both for the core and my biochemistry major.)
Norases: My favorite classes were Intro to Databases, Advanced Database Systems, and Database System Implementation. Both Professor Gravano and Professor Ross are very enthusiastic, organized, and clear lecturers. They really know their stuff and they can answer any question you throw their way. They also challenge you with interesting questions and teach you the right way to reason through problems. And I think everyone agrees that any 9am class is one of our least favorites.
Kira: I took a lot of Spanish and a lot of Psychology classes. I would recommend any class taught by Gustavo Perez-Firmat in the Spanish department. He is a wonderful mix of the intellectual academic and the real person who is not afraid to be vulnerable in front of his students. In psychology I have to recommend Professor Higgins’ social psychology class, which is entertaining and a lot of fun even if you are not a psych major. My least favorite class was also my first- university writing! That said, I think it helped me tremendously and I really needed it. I just tend to look back on it a bit like medicine- I’m grateful for it but also grateful I don’t have to take it again.
Elizabeth: Favorite class: I think looking back, the essence of my life at Columbia can be situated in Mark Lilla’s LitHum class. That class taught me how to read and to question in ways I had never been to exposed to and set me on a trajectory through my years at Columbia in which I considered my course of study as a kind of spiritual quest. My classmates in this Lithum class were particularly brilliant and dynamic, and collectively we grew as people and scholars in a quite remarkable way. Least favorite: My particular section of U-writing was a bit weak.
Michael: Even though I’m an applied math major, I think my favorite classes are not my math classes. Rather, they are those unrelated classes which I didn’t really expect to like, but which pleasantly surprised me. I think my favorite class was actually Music Hum, and I also really liked Science of Psych and Bio Lab. Each of these classes exposed me to a new area of knowledge, and I was really fascinated by all of these classes.
In terms of least favorite classes, I would have to go with my Rise of Civilization class (an anthropology class), as well as my Numerical Methods class. I think, unfortunately, I never really got interested in the material covered in these classes.
Least favorite: Gen chem. laboratory
Would you rather give up oral sex or your valedictorian status?
Margot: Wow, BWOG [sic] really likes this type of question! I was expecting the cheese question, and I was all prepared to admit that I’m not a huge fan of cheese. In any case, if this question is trying to get at how much being valedictorian means to me, then I can tell you this: I am so incredibly honored to have been chosen, and I am extremely touched by how sweet my fellow Columbia students have been about this. But I honestly never thought I would be receiving this honor, so this was not something I was shooting for.
Norases: Well, the former doesn’t get you fancy receptions, schmoozing with the Dean, and a VIP seat on stage at Class Day. And you can’t put it on your resumé.
Elizabeth: My cousin thinks that I have the mind of a 50 year old man as the possible reincarnation of St. Augustine. Not sure what this would mean for my answer…
Michael: Umm, it’s hard to judge, considering I’ve never had oral sex before! But I’d probably choose to give up oral sex over my salutatorian status.
What are your plans for the near future?
Margot: I’ll be staying at Columbia for the first part of the summer to finish up my research in my lab. I’ll then be starting medical school. (I’m not 100% sure yet where I’m headed, but I know I’ll be leaving the Big Apple. I’ll miss you NYC!)
Norases: In the fall I’ll start my PhD at Stanford in the area of databases, information retrieval, data mining, and web search.
Kira: I am going to straight into a PhD program in clinical psychology at CUNY. I always recommend to Columbia College graduates that they take time off from school, and I think it’s incredibly important to do so at some point. But I already had a six-year break before college so at this point I’d like to just keep moving toward my goal of becoming a psychologist.
Elizabeth: In the fall I start my Masters at Juilliard for cello performance. With any luck, I will still be able to take some classes at Columbia—so look out for me at Butler!
Michael: I honestly don’t know yet! I’m planning to hopefully go to medical school eventually, but I am taking at least a year off before I do that. As for what I’m going to do in that time off, I haven’t really figured it out yet. I’d love to travel or do something abroad, or I may just find work near home. I don’t know yet.