There’s never shame in asking for help.

Name, School, Major, Hometown: Sarah Braner, The College (Barnard), Cell & Molecular Bio, Portland, Oregon

Claim(s) to fame: 

Where are you going? The Bronx while I search for employment.

What are 3 5 things you learned at Columbia and would like to share with the Class of 2026?

  • Fight entropy. The universe, and the lives of college students, tend toward disorder. If you let it, your pristine sleep schedule will start to slip. You’ll forget to text your friends. Essays won’t get done. You might even forget to eat some days. So don’t stand back and watch it happen. You have to keep making an effort, even when it’s hard. 
  • But you don’t have to do it alone. Four years later, I still struggle a lot with asking for help because I’m embarrassed about being unable to perform basic living functions, but there is nothing wrong with leaning on support networks. You can ask a loved one to help keep you honest about sleeping and eating. The CARDS office has academic coaches who can help you make a plan to get it all done. 
    • Subpoint: to paraphrase another wise senior, ask smart people to help you do hard things. It’s not cheating to sit down with a friend and ask her to help you with an assignment if you are genuinely trying to understand. This is fully how I passed Coding in Biology. 
  • I’ve never once regretted choosing to spend time with my friends over doing my work in the long run. Trust me, I won’t remember what I wrote in that paper or that discussion post in two years. But I will remember freezing on the Staten Island Ferry at 3 in the morning, watching Over the Garden Wall every spooky season, getting into extremely profane conversations over dinner in Sulz Tower, and our internal editor crushing an egg under her computer in Lerner 510 forever. So do stupid crap with your friends—the stupider the better. You can only get away with it now.
  • The Barnard biology major is amazing for generalists who like to do everything. I will give the caveat that I wasn’t pre-med, but I pretty much only had to take one or two hard STEM classes a semester to finish my major, and I had so much time to take other weird classes. If you like doing science while also reading a lot of books, give the bio major a try.
  • Bring your ID with you everywhere you go in Milstein, including the bathroom, or you will get trapped at 1am with no one to come rescue you. 

“Back in my day…” The Milstein green chairs were brand spanking new, unsullied by college student behinds. 

Favorite Columbia controversy? There’s a special place in my heart for when one summer I had to ask my boss, who was very busy managing a team of reporters covering a global health crisis, if I could write about someone stealing a bunch of kale and lettuce from a college garden. Also, any time someone found something that was definitely not food in their dining hall meal. 

What was your favorite class at Columbia? The Literary History of Atrocity with Bruce Robbins completely changed how I think about the world. US Lesbian and Gay History is easily the best, most rewarding lecture class I’ve taken. Political Reporting with Lisa Lerer helped me make leaps and bounds in my journalism writing. I got to make a very crass joke in Microbiology with JJ Miranda, but I also learned a lot about our microbial roommates as well. Topics in Molecular Genetics with Jennifer Mansfield helped me reaffirm to myself that I can succeed in genetics after disappointing myself in the required genetics class.  

Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? Are you trying to sabotage my job hunt?

Whom would you like to thank? My mother for sending me animal pictures and for dropping everything when I need to call her. My father for bringing the dog to visit one time and for always reminding me that writing is rewriting. My sister for being one of my best friends who I can text about anything. Eva Sher for being one of my first friends east of the Mississippi. Karolina Szenkiel for helping me pass Coding in Biology. JJ Miranda for being the best advisor on this entire campus and for helping me muscle through senior year (and for keeping me humble). The entire biology department for being some of the nicest, most helpful people on earth. The Miranda Lab for laughing at my dumb jokes in lab meetings. Every Daily Editor whose life I made harder. Betsy Ladyzhets for being one of the best mentors I could ask for.

One thing to do before graduating: Delete the blog.

Any regrets? A few: not doing more before a pandemic basically took two years of college from me, losing touch with friends, not starting therapy sooner, letting a few opportunities slip through my fingers. But you take the lessons where you can get them and move on. Excelsior, baby!

Portrait via Sarah