Needing inspiration to get through studying for finals? Here’s a fresh perspective on the Columbia experience from John Avendano.
Name, School, Major, Hometown: John Avendano, Columbia College, Psychology, Colts Neck, New Jersey
Claim to fame: Proud member of the Carman 10 and Carlton Arms 9C families. Deantini once challenged me (amongst others) to a snowball fight via email, and proceeded to best me in a one on one duel. I’ll be back, Deantini. I’m also Senior Class President, lead for COÖP, am on the fencing team, went on a life-changing Global Brigades trip to Honduras in 2016, and couldn’t choose a time for 40’s on 40 so everybody consequently hated me. I’ve probably messaged you about voting for CCSC elections at some point over the past few years. I apologize for how #extra I was and how #extra I am on social media (and in general).
Where are you going? Taking some time to work at a hospital in New Jersey, travel, spend time with my 91 year old grandma, and apply to medical school!
What are 3 things you learned at Columbia and would like to share with the Class of 2022?
1. Say hi to people and smile at them when you’re walking around on campus – even if you vaguely know them. Whether you met someone at Mel’s in the midst of a large, stuffy crowd, or you met someone because you were randomly assigned to be in a group with them for a class project, don’t be afraid to say hey. It’s up to us to make Columbia the warm, friendly community that people hope to see. And given that there are a lot of friendly people at Columbia, don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it – people are generally willing to lend a hand!
2. If you don’t have it all figured out by the end of your first semester (or first year for that matter), it’s ok! It’s pretty hard to try new things and step outside your comfort zone, but as cliché as this may sound, don’t be afraid to do so. I got recruited to Columbia to be a member of the fencing team, and for the longest time, fencing defined my entire persona. Coming into college, I really never would’ve guessed what these 4 years would have in store for me. I kinda came here under the assumption that I’d just go to class, eat, fence, study and repeat. It was because of an injury my sophomore year in addition to a few random whims to go “You know what, why not?” that I joined a few student groups and clubs and got really, really, lucky to then be involved in lots of communities that have helped make my experience here so special.
3. I’ll say it again – do NOT be afraid of trying new things that are unfamiliar or foreign to you. Whether that’s in auditioning for a play when you have no prior experience in theatre, running for student council, doing something spontaneous with your friends when you have an exam the next day, or diving into a relationship with someone you may see as more than just a friend – take that chance, and you will grow as a person as a result. There are definitely moments at Columbia where you’ll be scared – failure is something a lot of people here aren’t used to. Though it’s probably through the number of failures I hit my freshman / early sophomore year (i.e., running for Carman Hall treasurer and losing, getting waitlisted to be an OL, asking a girl I liked out, only to be rejected, and running for Class Representative my sophomore year and losing), that I learned not to embrace failure, but how to try and get back up after ‘falling down’ a bunch of times. By the end of your time at Columbia, you’ll almost definitely regret the things you hesitated to try out, the things you didn’t do, as opposed to the ones that you did – regardless of whatever the outcome may have been. You never want to be left wondering, “What if?” – you do only have 4 years here, after all. And they fly by.
4. Take care of yourself. Seriously. Columbia can be a stressful place, and I know everybody sets high goals for themselves, but take care of yourself.
5. Also, when faced with a difficult decision, always choose happiness – I’ve found joy in the smallest of things and in the unlikeliest of places. For me, happiness often manifests itself in helping other people and trying to make their day a little bit better. Oh yeah, that’s another thing. Do kind things for others. Simple, I know, but I happen to be the type of person that just feels good when I do good things for other people. It also becomes really, really enjoyable to do nice things for your closest friends – the things become less forced and more natural. Walking a few blocks from your dorm to bring someone a snack the night before they have a huge exam or when they’re sick, showing up to someone’s art exhibition or dance show to support them (even when they said it wasn’t a big deal), or bringing someone cookies after they received tough news – these are all things that may make somebody’s day. Don’t underestimate the power of being good – you may meet people here who you don’t necessarily get along with, who may not be super nice to you, or who may take you for granted, but be above it. Just do good. Always. People may forget what you said, and people might even forget what you did; but people will never forget how you made them feel. In 20 years, I’d hope to be remembered not just for the things I did for others, but for the times I made them feel good about themselves.
“Back in my day…” Ferris had one staircase, senior night was at Bernheim and less Freshmen/Sophomores/Juniors crashed it, Carman floors had yet to be renovated, and there was a wonderful place on 108th and Broadway named Cannon’s that united Columbia students between 1:00-4:00 AM on any given Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night.
Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer: Who is Senior Ünderground?
What was your favorite class at Columbia? Organic Chemistry Lab with Anna Ghurbanyan. When it comes to science classes, I’ve often found that it’s been super easy to get caught up in the rote memorization of pathways and reagents and sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture. I remember a day where I was studying for an Orgo exam (lecture, not lab) while listening to the Hamilton soundtrack (the songs “My shot” and “Non-stop” really get me going, 10/10 recommend) and had just written down a bunch of reactions I’d memorized – I was proud of the number of chair structures I just drew and how complicated and sciency they looked. I then proceeded to think to myself, “what am I even doing?” Anna made me actually want to understand what I was doing in lab so that I wasn’t just meaninglessly mixing chemicals. She gave those “sciency looking” reactions meaning. Long story short, in one lab, I used chemicals to make soap that smelled quite nice, and understood what I did and how I did it. It was lit.
Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? Mac and cheese without cheese is just boring pasta. Grilled cheese without cheese is just two pieces of bread that were put into a panini press and placed on top of one another. Oral sex without the oral part is, well… still sex.
Whom would you like to thank? Thank you to my parents and grandmother for supporting me every step of the way in absolutely anything I’ve ever found myself to be passionate about – I would not be anywhere today without you. Thank you to the many upperclassmen (who have since graduated) who acted as role models for me– it’s because of all of you that I had a vision of the type of person I wanted to become in my four years here. Thank you to my incredible friends who would give me hugs and hold my hand in the toughest of times, put up with me when I was insufferable to be around, laugh at my really bad jokes, come to my fencing meets (even when you had no idea what was going on), change your cover photos for me during a CCSC election, find me in the middle of the crowd when the song “Reflections” by Misterwives came on at a party (another great song, check it out) just to dance with me, sing along with me in the bathroom while we brushed our teeth together in the Carlton Arms suite, answer my calls and texts to calm me at any given time of day, and so, so much more. We’ve shared some great memories together – here’s to many more years of them down the line. Thank you to the dining staff, people in health services, and those who work in maintenance and public safety, in addition to Karim (the owner and chef at the best Halal cart in Morningside Heights on 115th/Broadway) for helping the Columbia community function on a daily basis. Thank you to the Columbia College Class of 2018 for putting up with my emails that are apparently filled with way too many millennial jokes and hashtags.
One thing to do before graduating: Find one or two of your best friends, leave your phones in your rooms, and hop on that 1 train together, either uptown or downtown, to go on an adventure. You’re in a pretty amazing city, with lots to explore – and while lots is going on campus, leaving the bubble every now and then can be pretty refreshing. Never hesitate to do something that runs counter to what you’re ‘supposed to be doing.’ I’d also suggest checking out the views from Mudd or Butler roof. Sorry, that’s not allowed, so let me rephrase – imagine how nice the views would be from the Mudd or Butler roof if you were allowed and somehow able to get up to those locations.
Any regrets? Not showing my family / closest friends how much I appreciate them and how grateful for them I really was. I appreciate y’all, so much, and I really hope you know that. Being on Facebook or my phone in class when a professor was giving a lecture that could teach me so, so much more if I just listened. Spending too much time in Butler.
Image via John Avendano