Rakhi Agrawal

Up next for a Senior Wisdom: Rakhi Agrawal, who has a metric ton of advice to share.

Name, Hometown, School, Major: Rakhi; West Hartford, CT; BC; Applied Math and Philosophy

Claim to fame: I did a thing or two, here and there. The girl who will love you if you let her.

Where are you going? Right now, to seek out $5 margs at The Heights (meet me there and I’ll buy you one). In life, somewhere other than here.

What are 3 things you learned at Columbia and would like to share with the Class of 2018?

1) Creating community is an art, not a science. When I first got to campus, “community” and “wellness” were probably terms reserved for use by the Blue Books, admissions sessions, and therapists. My sophomore year, that all changed. I had a friend who, for about a month, I had no contact with. We were both on campus, but I not once texted her to tell her I missed her, or that I was thinking of her, or that she had touched me, or that I needed her, or that I wanted to see her. After that month, I lost my chance forever. Imagine yourself in that situation with not only your best friends here, but also your less close friends. The people who you care about and admire but don’t talk to regularly. If the thought of this feels at all painful to you, try not to let it happen to you. Don’t let your closest friendships dissolve. Love deeply and forgive quickly. If I have learned anything, it is that creating community at Columbia–even a community, a pocket on campus–is an ever-evolving, ever-changing vision. There is no recipe for community–it doesn’t take a certain personality type or a certain amount of resources or a lack of student death or anything. Three essential tools are truth, empathy, solidarity.

If stress is imposed on one member or brick of our community, we must all adjust to counteract that stress, to support the individual. That is community–the merged commitment to taking care of each other and assuming each other’s pain, struggles, happiness, and joy.Give more than expected, laugh more than seems wise, serve more than appears necessary, and help more than is asked. Say hi to each other when you pass each other. Stop shitting on each other in Bwog and Spec comments. We are all responsible for the silence and suffering of others, in some way, shape, or form. Wake up and see their pain, and then takes the steps necessary to share their pain and heal together.

We come into Columbia knowing that our time here has an expiration date, no matter when that might be. Frame your education here with that in mind–decide what and who you want to take with you. You want to survive in your life beyond these four years and determine your priorities accordingly. People are more important than policies and papers. Live that truth. Celebrate each other–exercise your capacity to care for each other, for the issues that fuel us, for the solidarity that binds us. Go through all-nighters not because you have problem sets or papers due the next day, but because you’re up all night holding a friend when their life becomes too much for them to handle on their own. Because your humanity and love for them matters more and goes beyond the bounds of this place.

Cherish the times you really learn and the times when you fight for something you believe in so much that you’d sacrifice everything for it. Call out this institution on their bullshit, for each time you raise your voices, write an op-ed, protest something, speak your mind, you make this place a bit better for all of us.

Don’t be afraid to get close to people. If you spend a lot of time just at a distance from them, you’ll sacrifice the beautiful magic that can take place when you truly allow yourself to experience closeness. Let yourself risk getting hurt. Get close to your friends; love them and remind them of that often. Make new friends, constantly. Never shut yourself out of that possibility. Every time you hear about someone you think is inspiring, or pass by someone on College Walk and fall in like with their smile, or witness someone ask a brilliant question in class, reach out to them. Get to know them. Everyone here has a story. An incredible one. Find it. Ask questions. It’s the best tool you’ll make use of here. Family isn’t always blood, but instead is comprised of the people in your life who want you in theirs, who accept you for who you are, would do anything to see you smile, and who love you to the ends of the earth. They are not driven away by your mistakes or dark images you maintain of yourself. Your family remembers your beauty even when you feel the ugliest, remembers how to make you laugh when all you can do is cry, knows your purpose when you feel lost, and your wholeness when you are broken. Find your family and don’t let them go.

2) To walk in your truth. This point may seem to directly contradict #1 to some of you–bear with me. You will leave your time at Columbia — three years, four, five, a decade or even a semester — a different person (yes, even if you never leave your room)–this is a promise I can make to you. You will change and grow (note: these are different) in ways you didn’t think imaginable. Along the way, as you’re evolving and drawing upon everyone you’re learning from and the experiences this place offers you, try to remember to be true to yourself. To what you stand for, to what you believe, to who you are, and to who you want to be. When you show up as your authentic self, you create space for others to do the same. However, challenge yourself–in your relationships, experiences, identities–to not give up. Do not be so quick to end a friendship or give up on a challenge because of your conceptions of yourself. Never give up on those you love. Why? Because they could be hit by a bus or stop breathing or disappear from this place tomorrow. If no one has ever told you that, now I have. But what is the line between valuing yourself and loving others? Violence. No one deserves to experience violence, anything that threatens their survival. Know when to prioritize your own needs and save yourself. No one heals themselves by wounding another person. See failure as a form of success.

3) Self-care is essential to survival. There is NO shame in needing. NO strength in apathy or withholding. Only honor in sharing openly and honestly, showing others how to care for you. There are many people who go through their years here rather quietly–making the daily rounds from their room to class to Butler to a dining hall and then back to their room. However, there are far more many people here who struggle to survive on a regular basis. Students with depression, people with isolating and painful experiences and stories, all who have survived despite of Columbia, and not because of it. Regardless of which category you fall into, it is essential to learn how to practice self-care. This can mean entirety opposite things to different people–but discover what it means to you, and do it. All the time. You are ALWAYS more important than any and all schoolwork. Always. Because no matter how much love and support and care you should get from your community, you need to give it to yourself, too. Self-care cannot happen without the support of this community, though. Embrace self-care, encourage it–do not shame it. Stretching yourself too far will lead to you breaking. You will fail at self-care at times. However, mistakes are proof that you are trying. Use the pulse of the people around you to keep yourself awake and alert. Do not let anyone tell you your suffering is or will be ever worth it–no degree is worth your trauma, suffocation, oppression, or destruction. Embrace the truth that you are worthy–of being here, of getting the attention, respect, and love of others, of demanding the care that this institution and society should give to you.

“Back in my day…” The deans of CC/SEAS/BC were all different; Campo was the place to be; the Diana was a virgin building, if you will; “Butler Smells Come to Hillel” was a thing; SWP and Active Minds didn’t exist; NoCo was a sealed glass box; my Spec bylines were in print; people knew what Operation Ivy League was; BC students weren’t allowed to swipe into JJ’s ever; we had ROLM phones; the War on Fun was a thing.

Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer: I can’t.

Write your most memorable note from the field: Thursday, March 14. Before my last spring break. Nearly 200 students, peers, heroes, allies, faculty, staff, and administrators. So many familiar faces. Dozens of necessary questions, demands–few convincing responses. People speaking up for their friends, our survivors. Demanding justice for all. Resources for all. With one question–”do you think you are currently Title IX compliant?”, all over. Little did they know what. Was. Coming.

Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? Whichever one makes me FeelGood–that’s the one I’ll have, please!

One thing to do before graduating: Complete this task:

a) Visit CPS/Furman at least once. Therapy isn’t for everyone–I’ve tried it for eight years and I still hate it. But try it. Just once. I promise you that you’ll be stronger after the 45 minutes, if not for yourself, then as a resource for your friends. We are so fortunate to have quality counseling services here at little-to-no cost–I implore you to just make use of them once. You don’t need to have a problem. Try a group if you really feel uncomfortable one-on-one. You can tell them you’re there because Rakhi told you to try it out. Trust me, they’ll know who I am.

b) Forgive someone without them asking for it. Just do it.

c) Drunkenly* profess your love for/friend crush on someone to that someone (*note: drunkenness helps, but is optional).

d) Take a 12-credit semester. (Then rinse and repeat.)

e) Visit The Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life. It’s such a shame that a space like this doesn’t exist for students of all faiths/backgrounds/cultures, but until that happens, make this one yours, no matter who you are (if you feel comfortable, that is).

f) Do something with the IRC. Apply to live there, go to events there, seek out people who live there. I’ve heard a lot of people don’t do this because they’re scared/intimidated by the topics, values, and brilliance shared by the IRC–embrace that fear, and let it grow you. Do the slow work of tearing at the fabric of our culture. Celebrate a Columbia education for the ability it gives us to question our own complicity with power and, instead of perpetuate it, destroy it. Recognize your political identities. Challenge yourself to approach these conversations with sincerity and eagerness. Think about any and all instances of oppression, marginalization, injustice, and violence you have lived through, and just as much as the ones you haven’t. Always ask yourself why you believe what you believe.You’ll be a better person for it.

g)Be completely vulnerable with someone, even if just for a moment. Vulnerability is the most accurate measurement of our courage, I feel.
h)Reach out to someone you don’t know who needs some love. Just do it. This place needs it.

h) Read Kyla and Diana’s Senior Wisdoms. While the wisdoms that advise you as to what sandwich to order at Milano or which bartender to befriend are important, too, there are a handful of wisdoms that have touched me, gotten to my core, and shaped me. These are two of them.

i) Embrace a relationship with a staff member. And I’m not really talking about “administrators”–deans and the like–although if you’re lucky enough to have that, good for you. I’m talking about security guards, administrative assistants, Facilities workers, Dining staff, etc. Elisabeth from Hartley, Dee from Public Safety, Gac from Facilities (and other fame), Gloria from Barnard Student Life, Cindy from the 620 front desk, Vanessa from UEM, Sam, Marco, Pedro, and Angela from The Kraft Center, Mrs. Jones at the Post Office on 112th, Ali and Yvonne from Student Engagement–they have all given me more love than anyone else in my life combined. They’ve seen me cry and consoled me without knowing what was tearing me up. They’ve given me the deepest hugs. They’ve told me to bundle up when it’s cold outside. They’ve blessed me and prayed for me and wished for my happiness and success while knowing relatively little about me. Collectively, they are my parents, my family. Seek these people out. They are hidden sources of unconditional love and wisdom, and if I’ve learned anything here, it’s that these pockets of human gold are a rare find.

j) Join a student group. I resisted listing this one because I’ve never met a person here who didn’t do something, but still. I don’t want to make assumptions. Get involved with something you care about, with people you care about, no matter for how long. Working hard for something you don’t care about is stress–working hard for something you do care about is passion. I stand by that.

k) Let yourself not be okay. If you know me at all, you’ll know that I’ve been really not okay, for a large part of (if not the entirety of) my time here. Let yourself be burdened by the world. Let yourself be burdened by your world. In fact, I’m not too okay right now. Let yourself not be okay and communicate this need to people who want to support you–let the magic happen.

l) Sleep. Just try it. I promise your mind and body will thank you. Everything in this place boils down to noise, desire, desperation, pain, greed, success, and failure. We are so good at doing, but so weak at simply being. Sleep is a form of being. We cannot do anything properly or effectively if we cannot “be” fully. If that doesn’t convince you, look: I’ve never pulled an all-nighter, and I’m still alive, right?

Any regrets? After I was cut from my high school basketball team, the coach attempted to console me with the parting words “No regrets.” And so it became one of my life philosophies, as a ninth-grader at least. That being said, as much as I’ve tried to hold true to that, I definitely have regrets. Not applying myself academically, the entirety of my sophomore year, not being a member of the Classes of 2012 or 2013, hurting certain people and letting certain relationships end, and not genuinely getting to know more of you would probably be the biggest ones. But again, I probably wouldn’t have survived this place if I hadn’t made these mistakes.