Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ivy Isn't Always Greener

So here I am in the library, two days before Christmas, studying for my last final exam. The halls buzz with pretentious students eagerly memorizing more physics equations and reciting Latin phrases and boasting about their high GPAs. The Culties all call me up via Skype, and I see their bright beautiful faces beaming with laughter, full after a dinner of seven different types of tofu at our favorite restaurant. There’s absolutely nowhere I’d rather be than on those soft carpeted floors of my best friends’ house back in the Midwest, lying on sleeping bags and playing truth or dare like we are thirteen again. But, alas… Oh how I hate school right now.

In my first weeks of school, I learned to hate the Ivy League. It’s this elite illusion, a way to simultaneously enlighten and torture the world’s brightest and/or richest while all the while making you question if you even fit into either of these categories. Someone’s always going to one up you: the girl sitting next to you in a seminar already published two novels, the student sharing your desk (if you are even lucky enough to grab one) at the library is writing his thesis in seven languages, that person has better shoes, this person has a private jet… The competition here just felt way out of my league. Pun intended.

And then I got my first essay back. For weeks, I slaved over the paper. Picking perfect adjectives to modify my nouns, strong verbs to excite my sentences, brilliant quotations to make my IQ seem higher than it actually is. That was why I came to Columbia after all, to prove myself as the Pulitzer Prize winning author I aspire to be. But, of course, a week later I get the paper back, exhilarated at flipping the cover page to discover my grade and read my praise: B-.

What? No! That can’t be right! My teacher said I was a talented writer. WHAT?

The B- haunted me through the weekend: never before had a received such a low grade on a written assignment, let alone one worth 25% of my grade. I walked across with my head down, swiveling between high school valedictorians, star athletes, international superstars. Will I ever be good enough?

Seventy two hours later I sat down with my teacher, discussed the issues of my paper, and arranged a process for the re-write. He assured me that “a B- at Columbia is much better than an A at most other schools.” I slouched down on the library steps and wondered how I would explain that to Harvard Law.

For the rest of the semester, I labored even more meticulously over my work, ensuring that everything was not just perfect, but even better. As well as I could write, someone else could probably write better, but I wasn’t going to let that show. So what if they went to an elite boarding school? So what if they have the highest academic ranking in the country? So what if their family name is recognized worldwide? Suddenly, I regained my footing in the competition. Yeah, I may not have come from an even starting ground as the rest of my league, but I sure could catch up, and I was determined win.

Perhaps I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t just discover I got an A in the class. That my hard work paid off and I felt I earned what I deserved. But it did and I did. I worked harder for that A than almost any other grade in my entire life; seeing that letter brought a bigger smile to my face than it ever did on a high school report card.

And while this could have happened at any school, in any class, it happened here. I still maintain that the Ivy League is overrated, with its nonsensical traditions and proudly displayed green flags, but I guess I’ve learned not to hate it quite so much.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Only Got 4 Minutes?

There’s never enough time.

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting next to two elderly women on the subway. One of them arranged her floral-patterned suitcase on an empty seat as her friend explained to her how to transfer trains and then get home on the bus.

“This was so lovely. Thanks so much for having me,” the visitor acknowledged as she blinked back tears.

“No, thank you for coming! Remember, there’s always room for you in my apartment,” the New Yorker confirmed as she ran her fingers through her thin gray hair.

“No, really, thank you, I’d love to come back soon…” The lady trailed off into a story about her grandchildren and her cats and her reading group.

Before they knew it, the train arrived at 72nd street and the extended goodbye had to come to a close. I watched them compare their matching bracelets (at this point I may or may not have almost cried…) and wave goodbye slowly as they parted ways.

“There’s never enough time,” The New Yorker sighed.

And I had to agree. No matter how much we do, how much we pack into our already unbelievable busy schedules there’s never enough time. There’s never enough time to spend with other people, never enough time for ourselves.

As I travelled home for Thanksgiving, I realized that I never truly have enough time. The night before I left school, I stayed up all night talking with my friends; the night I got home I talked with my family for hours, woke up to the same routine, spent the rest of the weekend sharing stories until Sunday night, where my friends and I chatted until dawn.

And what came out of those endless talks? We just wanted more. More time. More stories. More reasons to love each other.

As I returned to New York, I returned to late nights eating ramen and ice cream out of the carton, never wanting to sleep because I have to much to say to my friends, so much to laugh about, so much to plan and explore.

Every day goes by so quickly.

There’s never enough time.