Ah, youth

Sometimes, in our daily lives at Columbia, we see another student do something so inspiring that we feel compelled to share their story with everyone on campus. Managing Editor Betsy Ladyzhets had such an experience a few nights ago.

At first glance, she seemed unassuming. Just another student milling through the Monday night JJ’s rush, her blonde hair bouncing above her shoulders. Only some aimless first-year, seeking fried food and easy procrastination material before returning to some Lit Hum paper.

But then, I looked closer, and realized that this was no typical JJ’s patron. This student was not eyeing the curly fries, joining the omelette line, or even partaking in the slightly questionable salad bar. No, this girl had a goal. A desire. A purpose. She passed lines and snack stations alike in a beeline to one corner, where the popcorn machine stood red and gleaming in the low fluorescent lights.

There is something oddly poetic about the JJ’s popcorn machine. It doesn’t quite fit with the sleek aesthetics of the rest of the dining hall, seemingly pulled from an old movie theater or a country fair. But this student didn’t waste any time pondering the machine’s metaphorical ramifications – she simply pulled open the glass door, popped the top of the take-out tray she was carrying, and began to fill the entire thing with buttery popcorn.

Let me repeat: she filled an entire take-out tray with just popcorn.

It’s a good thing that JJ’s was not particularly crowded that night, because I was definitely an impediment to crowd flow as I stared – first in shock, then in awe. My mind raced as I tried to discern why this girl was taking popcorn and only popcorn. She had to be a first-year; no upperclassman has enough meal swipes to spend on a full tray with one snack. Maybe she lived only a few floors up, and was grabbing the popcorn as a reward for finishing some response paper or problem set before going to bed. Maybe she was heading to Butler, and needed something to carry her through a long night. Maybe it was her birthday, but she was saving up to treat herself during the upcoming weekend.

But then, I thought, the reason this girl was taking a full tray of popcorn was not important. What was important was her existence. Her presence in JJ’s, her unadulterated confidence in using her meal plan to its utmost, her strategic use of the different compartments in the tray to pile in as much popcorn as possible. I’d had a very long Monday foreshadowing a very long week when I saw this girl, but upon watching her, I felt rejuvenated, as though I’d just downed several shots of espresso.

If some girl in JJ’s can fill an entire take-out container with popcorn, I thought, is there anything Columbia students can’t do?

(I later took some of that popcorn myself.  It was salty enough, and a little stale. I hope the first-year I saw enjoyed it more than I did.)

First-year in JJ’s surrounded by bounty via Nivuthao (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons