Our last senior wisdom is courtesy of former Bwog Deputy Editor Lili Brown who takes us back to a simpler time of mom jeans and clogs and reminds us that your GPA isn’t what matters; it’s the friends you’ve made along the way.
Name, school, major, hometown: Lili Brown, Barnard, History with Gender & Sexuality concentration, Atlanta, GA
Claim to fame: I was your or your roommate’s Barnard tour guide, or I was your or your roommate’s AllSex facilitator, or you tried to shush me as my laugh emanated through LeFrak (which is a CHAT ZONE). I also was a bad journalist and written erotica vigilante during my brief tenure as a Deputy Editor of Bwog (it’s so good to be back you guys!). And finally, I am an unexpected senior night regular, and I’m one of the four to five women who come really early and demand that you give us as much room on the dance floor as that which we started the night with. I am still so, so sorry to the girl whose drink I knocked out of her hands while really getting down to Work.
Where are you going? The day after move-out for seniors I’m jetting off to Amsterdam, Berlin, and Paris with a good Barnard pal and I’ll finally get to say I’ve been to Europe, which seems like something that way more people than I expected have just done at some point in their young lives already (send us affordable recs!). Upon our return, I’m moving to Brooklyn and doing a series of part-time gigs, one of which includes being an archivist at a Yiddish archive downtown!
What are three things you learned at Columbia and would like to share with the Class of 2022?
1. No one at this school is exactly like you. Just because we all got into this super insular or niche or small type of community does not mean we all want the same out of it, and sometimes this can make you really clash with people in different ways and in different magnitudes. If you come here looking for uncanny similarity — be it academically, socially, emotionally, etc — you will be disappointed. This took me so, so long to learn, and it was something I stopped trying to look for too late in the game. I’ve spent chunks of time here with genuinely lovely people, who, to be honest, were not my matches and I changed myself significantly in order to convince myself I wanted the same thing from college that they did. And I don’t regret that at all — phases in college academically, socially, or emotionally are so totally ok and part of the whole sha-bang of this thing. But each change was hard, especially because it took time for me to recognize that the people I was surrounding myself with didn’t want the same things I did; identifying what I want or what other people want is…difficult! It will amaze you how easily or slowly people come in and out of your life during these four years. A lot of relationships here are dependent on things completely outside of your control because we cannot possibly know what each person at this school is going through. With that said, come prepared to be utterly disappointed and completely inspired by the people you’ll encounter here.
2. If you think someone is cute…tell them!!!! This advice is mostly for the non-cis male readers (sorry not sorry), but it stuns me how people are attracted to each other and nothing happens because no one communicates. Essentially everyone I have kissed/hooked up with/dated in college is due to me approaching them with something like, “don’t you think we have sexual tension?,” or, “I think you’re cute, would you like to make out?” I am often applauded for this sort of perceived bravery, or people find it cringe-y, but I stand by this method. It’s so fun to have crushes and even more fun to tell them, and in my experience most people find it spunky or are just shocked that someone else vocalized it. I urge people to change the expectation that we should keep our feelings a secret! Communication is key my friends, and I understand fear of rejection, but you have nothing to lose by telling someone you like them — even if they’re in your class after you tell them, in a weekly club meeting with you, on your floor…whatever. You deserve to be honest with yourself and with others!
3. I got diagnosed with Crohn’s the week before my junior year started and as fucking hard as that is to manage at this place full of fast-paced and driven people, it has totally liberated me. I can’t even begin to describe to you how uptight I was during my first two years of college about everything. I probably still overthink too much but, having a need to chill the fuck out made me realize how ESSENTIAL that is and how easily it can be done. I don’t want to wish chronic illness on anyone, but you don’t need to be chronically ill to prioritize things that make you feel good above anything else. After my diagnosis, I had to turn things in late, miss class far more frequently, and convince myself that it’s actually better for everyone (myself included) if I don’t go to this club meeting. At first, this gave me tremendous anxiety — I am going to fail my classes, my professors are going to think I’m a flake, and if I tell them I have Crohn’s they’re going to unnecessarily think about me pooping, or people will stop respecting me now that I can’t be 100% most of the time. However, my life got so much easier once I stopped taking it so fucking seriously. My time became precious, not because I’m dying or anything, but because I still function on about 40-60% energy daily and when I feel anything above that, I need to capitalize on my time. So, would I rather spend the time when I have energy and concentration doing that week’s readings or would I rather be around people who make me happy? CHOOSE THE LATTER. ALWAYS. I didn’t fail my classes, I love my professors, and whoever wants to judge me for not being at every club meeting or rally because I was seeing doctors all day and I just wanted to rest, I don’t really care what you think. I turned in my finals my junior year a week late — each and every one of them — without asking for extensions. I can count on my hand the times I’ve done homework after 6pm in the last 4 semesters. Did my GPA change dramatically in between my first two and last two years of college? Not at all. Am I Phi Beta Kappa? Hell no! Do I feel so emotionally connected to communities and individuals on this campus? Absolutely, and I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve spent investing in relationships — both with other people and with myself — over any paper, class, project, or “reading response” (fuck those). Show up to things that make you feel good, be around people who make you feel good, and you will feel good.
**addendum: I learned all of these at Barnard. Gotta be honest. So, to incoming Columbia students, I implore you to engage with Barnard and *actively* realize how much this relationship benefits you as well!
“Back in my day…”: Overused, but yes, Barnard had a library that smelled and felt like the public library of a small-town in the Midwest and it was fucking awesome. The area between Barnard Hall and Diana was actually a passageway with an adjacent lawn, and a small market of booths with clothes and chotskies was set up once a week. Really beautiful and campus-morale inducing banners hung from Lehman’s facade. Midnight Breakfast happened in LeFrak GYMNASIUM, so you got your food right when you stumbled in and didn’t have to move through Diana as if it were a one-way street to find somewhere to eat your pancakes. Man, was that a space for community building. RIP Lehman, always.
Diana Cafe’s most exciting option was the brick-oven pizza so everyone got really tired of it, but also stood in line for it expectantly every damn day.
First-years didn’t come to school after scouring Tumblr and learning everything about emotional life in college before they got here.
The Spectator was a campus newspaper run by folks with editorial experience instead of a corporate newspaper wannabe run by Spec Business.
I feel like less people wore mom jeans when I was a first-year/sophomore. More people wore Dansko clogs. I still can’t pull off either.
I never gave a thought to SGA and now I think it’s one of the most badass and driven groups on this campus!
Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer: No one should have to do this, ever!
What was your favorite class at Columbia? I did go to class, even if a previous section suggests otherwise. A class I REALLY went to was Emerging Cities with Gergely “Gergo” Baics. Gergo’s enthusiasm for history and for cities is truly unparalleled, and he led this “lecture” like a seminar (perk of Barnard class sizes!). I honestly strive to be as excited by anything consistently everyday. You’re an inspiration, Gergo!
Content-wise, this course made me realize how much New York has shaped me and my time at Barnard. It also made me realize I didn’t totally experience the scope of liberal arts — I could’ve/should’ve been an urban studies major or urban history major, and I compensated for that oversight by writing all of my term papers in classes taken since Fall 2016 on how xyz relates to maps/urban development/public transit. Take a class in every department!
Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? Have you ever tried eating both at the same time? (That is, Parmesan and pussy)
Whom would you like to thank? I have endless gratitude for anyone who honestly has ever engaged with me during my time here, good, bad, or neutral. I have grown so much here and that growth is in no small part due to: weird hook-ups; fantastic hook-ups; faded friendships; times when I said something absolutely racist/classist in class and was rightfully called out; times when I called out others for doing the same; missed relationships; the bizarre way in which you feel compelled to ignore people who disagree with you politically when you pass then on campus; wonderful people who make my day when we wave at each other and that’s probably the extent of our interactions on campus; serious romantic relationships; people who have laughed when I have tried desperately to break the seriousness of a classroom with a joke; the fantastic fun with people I emotionally vibe with; and mediocre fun with people I pretended to like (and, honestly, who also probably pretended to like me). I fully accept that all of the above have been at the least two-way streets, but even if I was the bitch or the “bigger person,” goodness I’ve learned so much from the people around me. Of course I wish we lived in a world where only good things happen, but college is the farthest thing from a world in which only good things happen, and sometimes the bad shit sucks life out of you, or it can also be hilarious in retrospect, even as you continue to work through the hurt. I am thankful that in college I’ve learned skills to deal with both the most incredible as well as the most insidious forms of interpersonal experiences, and thank god it was all so WEIRD.
One thing to do before graduating: Per the second thing I learned at *Barnard, I still have to tell some crushes of mine that I have a crush on them; more specifically, I’ve only asked out 3 of the 9 folks I put down for senior scramble so I’ve got some work to do before May 16, eh?
Any regrets? Graduating with library fees. It will forever be a source of shame as I pursue a career in library sciences.
Photo via Lili Brown