Friday 14th September 2012

by sophie

The following piece is a re-post from the Columbia Daily Spectator, where I am an opinion blogger. The original may be found here.

Today I came across an article that I found particularly resonant, especially as the second week of classes rolls to an end with nothing left of home but crumbs in the bottom of mom’s care package, and as we bid adieu to the last comforts of summer and surrender ourselves finally, familiarly, into the ebb and wave of this chaos that we call college.

The piece, titled “On Being Nothing”, details a very personal account of the author’s journey from being a cherished child in a small-town setting to a run-of-the-mill student on a big campus, a transition overwhelmed by anxiety bordering on existential.

It’s a transition that rings familiar with any college student, but especially those at Columbia, where everyone is fiercely talented, fiercely independent, and often submerged in their own ends. Not to mention that the campus plays second fiddle to the background of the biggest, busiest city in the world.

I found the writing insightful and touching, elegantly depicting the difference between school and home with phrases like “Though I made friends, I no longer had an audience.” Although, of course, many commenters felt otherwise, and this being the internet chose to say so, usually along the lines of “Oh grow up already. Get over yourself”.

But that, my dear, would be missing the point. Similarly, yesterday’s Canon questions the degree to which we should separate ourselves from home during our time at Columbia. Junior Jake Goldwasser responded by advocating to “detach ourselves from the familiar”, keeping our families close but also learning to be isolated. On the battle between the collegiate’s identity as a child and as “scholar/party-animal/athlete/rebel/addict/artist”, he states that “[i]f the struggle has a winner, it is the new you”.

It’s a truth that I find obvious, and also understated. There really is no “old” or “new” you, just you, however you choose to define yourself. And an identity built solely on the affirmation of others, whether at home or at school, is no identity at all. Most of us at Columbia are used to applause from teachers and parents and coaches, and perhaps in adolescence chose to spend many hours in solitude in order to hone these lauded skills rather than building webs of cultivating relationships and support.

At the close of “On Being Nothing” the author encourages the reader to undergo “a Copernican revolution of the self”, to ”let go of our vanity and join the swirl of activity”. It may not always be vanity (in fact often the very opposite) that causes us to seek the affirmation of others, but to constantly look up—for the reaction of one’s boss, one’s family, or one’s community—will only cause blindness from the Sun.

Sophie Chou is a Junior in SEAS studying Computer Science and Philosophy. When she’s not coding she likes to read Nietzsche, and contrary to popular belief, she doesn’t hate hugs.

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