Name, Hometown, School, Major: Daniel Valella. Affectionately known as D-Va (a female version of a hustla, of a hustla, of a, of a hustla). Dallas, Texas. Columbia College. English and Comparative Ethnic Studies.
Claim to Fame: Lots of people know me as the CA of Broadway and Hogan (“Brogan,” as we call it in the ‘hood). Others recognize me as “the Penguin guy,” because I’m often decked out head-to-toe in Original Penguin® apparel. I’ve also acquired a bit of notoriety for my mean a cappella rendition of the Teriyaki Boyz’ “Tokyo Drift,” always performed after manifold libations (unfortunately, there are videos). Finally, many folks outside of Columbia circles know me as the kid who introduced President George W. Bush at the 2005 National Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. Please don’t Google me.
Where are you going? I plan on traveling / doing absolutely nothing this summer, which I think might be my last few months of freedom until retirement. In late August, I’m off to UC Berkeley’s English PhD program for 5–7 more years of school!
Three things you learned at Columbia:
The socially constructed axes of race, gender, class, sexuality, and nation, among other identity categories, are intrinsically intertwined and altogether have an astounding influence on the ways in which people, especially in the U.S., are perceived, received, and awarded opportunities by their fellow humans.
Ēthos (your character and personal aura) is far more important than pathos (your appeal to others’ emotions) or logos (the logic in your statements) when it comes to making a successful argument or, as Willy Loman would put it, being “well liked.” Obviously, being strong in all three of these areas is ideal, but you’d be surprised how much the form of your writing outweighs the content in the eyes of your reader—and how much your presentation of self outweighs what you say in the mind of your listener. Professors, interviewers, voters, etc. will identify the flaws in your logic and the “fakeness” in your intentional appeal to their emotions, but exuding a balanced aura of confidence, humility, and respect will always win you their admiration.
Paying careful attention to those with whom you disagree will take you very far. I used to be pretty dismissive of people who said things I thought were stupid or flat-out wrong, but after four years at Columbia I’ve realized that opinions, my own and those of others, can and should change, and it’s immensely worthwhile to engage with ideas head-on. Whether you love or hate the Core should have no bearing on how much you attend to the philosophies it presents, and one also should immerse oneself in as much of a non-Western and/or non-normative discourse as is possible. The people who espouse the belief I highlighted in #1 above very rarely espouse the belief I highlighted in #2, and vice versa (and, in fact, these camps are almost always diametrically opposed), yet I have found that both of these beliefs hold near-ubiquitous truth in our contemporary world and, therefore, knowledge of both of them is extremely valuable.
“Back in my day…” A start-time of 9 a.m. existed and was “so late!,” Columbia didn’t accept the Common App, JJ’s was open in the wee hours of mo(u)rning when I needed two Red Bulls to finish a 3-page Lit Hum essay, and 90% of BC, CC, and SEAS undergrads paraded around in midnight jubilation when this country elected its first black and Columbia-grad president.
Justify your existence in 30 words or less: A census taker once instructed me to justify my existence in 30 words or less. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. / You complete me.
Is the War on Fun over? Who won? Any war stories?
What’s interesting about this question is that it seems to distract us Columbians from more serious introspection and inquiry. As a CA and former RA, I know for a fact that many wonderful people dedicate a great deal of their time and energy to making sure their peers are safe, healthy, and in high spirits. It’s not the War on Fun but the War on Stress that’s really being fought, and as of yet there’s no clear victor.
Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese?
Is there a difference between the two things? I’ve always thought of cheese as oral sex with a farm animal who’s already excreted its fluids and gone on to bigger and better things. I like to know that I’m loved, and the intimacy of humans is of unparalleled beauty, so I’ll COWardly, SHEEPishly, go(at) with “cheese” as the luxury I could live without. Unless you’re asking me to give up cheesiness, which—obviously—I’m not willing to do.
Advice for the class of 2016:
Follow your passions. I know how hard it can be to find classes, student groups, and activities that match your real interests, but do everything you can to locate these communal spaces. They will feed your drives and take you to heights you’d never before imagined. The university might be the only place today where you (now that you’ve gotten in!) have essentially unbridled access to an infinite number of resources and are actively encouraged to exploit them. If you’re here, it means that at least a few people—and probably many people—really believe in you and want to offer you as much support as possible. Take advantage of this time!
Protect yourself. People will tell you college is for “exploration” and “finding your limits,” but that doesn’t mean you should put yourself in harm’s way. You probably know what’s best for you, and you should follow this instinct. Also, find out early on who cares—the caring and the careful folks around you—and befriend them. They’ll help you to see the light when you yourself don’t.
Show up exactly on time to your appointments. Getting places too early often comes at the expense of doing something else that’s more worthwhile, and arriving late is usually rude and disrespectful, even if your teacher or boss or club president doesn’t emote disgruntlement. There are a few exceptions—like interviews, times when you’re giving a presentation, and first-come-first-serve situations—in which case it would behoove you to be early, but in most cases showing up right on time is the best way to go.
Take walks. New York is one of the easiest and most interesting places in the world to be a pedestrian, and you will learn so much more about the (geographically and demographically) spatial configurations of your environment by avoiding cabs, buses, and trains. Lots of people talk about how fascinating “the subway car” is, and it’s true, but moving yourself without aid of machinery has its perks. Besides being enabling and autonomous in a very real way, walking is often very relaxing, it’s good exercise, and it will dramatically improve your sense of direction and your sense of the world.
NEVER go to the Columbia College Bulletin when looking for classes to take. It is always outdated and erroneous, both in print and online, and it can ruin your life. The Directory of Classes is best for an initial overview (titles, teachers, places, and times), and individual department websites are most helpful for detailed course descriptions and info about requirements any given course can fulfill.
Know that every academic building on this campus (except maybe Schapiro CEPSR—I’ve never checked) is open 24/7. Even if it pretends to be closed. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Try to make friends with your RA—and seriously consider becoming one yourself. Residential Programs has truly made my Columbia experience, and it will put you in intimate contact with hundreds of people who are passionate about bettering the lives of students and who have spent hundreds of hours being trained to bring this betterment to life. You could be such a person!
Try to accommodate “both sides,” but always stay true to yourself.
Find a way to be aware of current events. I’m actually the worst person possible to give this advice, because I’m consistently out of the loop when it comes to news, and it’s a real problem. But that’s why you should figure out a way to do better than I have and know what’s going on in the world!
Four years is not enough time to take advantage of all that Columbia and life as a college student in New York has to offer, so I have on the one hand an infinite number of regrets (which I couldn’t possibly list) and on the other hand no regrets at all, since I know I’ve made the best of my 40 months in Morningside.
For future Columbians, though, I regret the university’s increasingly “global”- and expansion-oriented character, which results in phenomena like the Manhattanville Expansion and the academic demotion of the discipline of ethnic studies to a non-disciplinary hodgepodge called “Ethnicity and Race Studies.” If either of these things seems trivial, think of what life would be like on an island that used to be the cultural capital of the U.S. but was now class- and race-homogenous (rich and white, as Manhattan is slated to be in 100 years) or what would happen to the field of anthropology if it became “Humans and Primates Studies”—a body with no university departments, no journals, no foundational texts, and no respect.