Opinion | Op-eds

Senior column: A New York Spectator

I always felt like a bit of a black sheep at Spectator. I didn’t privately revel in staying up until 6 am editing the paper. I never wrestled with sources or got kicked out of an important meeting I was covering. I haven’t been writing my senior column in my head since freshman year—in fact, I almost didn’t write one at all. The truth is, I liked Spectator a lot—but I never really loved it the same way others did.

I believe part of my reticence is a natural consequence of writing for and editing our Arts & Entertainment section for so many years. Searching for the perfect burger and going to fashion week doesn’t breed Spectator loyalty the same way covering local protests or University Senate meetings do. While news writers were rediscovering their school and their community through their work on the newspaper, I was discovering New York City for the first time.

What Spectator did for me is very different, I think, than what it has done for many others. I didn’t find my closest friends at the paper (although I did make some very good ones) or meet a boyfriend (although mine did spend hours sitting on a chair in the A&E office waiting for me to finish editing on Thursday nights).

I credit Spectator with introducing me to New York City, where I now plan to work and live for as long as I can afford it. Spectator motivated me to go to gallery shows even when I had a French paper due, compelled me to listen to the audio guides at every major New York museum, and pushed me to eat five hamburgers in two days in an effort to find the best burger in the city.

When I decided to attend Columbia, I knew I would be missing out on the typical “college experience.” Columbia University in the City of New York doesn’t do tailgates or frat parties or frisbee on the quad—at least, not as well as other schools. I worried I would look back on my time here and wish that it had been more “Animal House” than “Sex and the City.” (This is, of course, hilarious, because the reality is that Koronet and the M104 bus scream neither John Belushi nor Sarah Jessica Parker.)

In the end, Spectator was probably the most traditional part of my college experience. I pulled the requisite all-nighters and chased the requisite beers with the requisite Red Bulls. But the parts of my college experience that I most prize are the New York adventures—both successful and entirely botched—that Spectator and Columbia facilitated.

It’s ironic that as an editor, my major goal was to turn the section’s attention back to campus arts. What defined my experience at Spectator—venturing out into the city to report—was essentially the very thing I discouraged others from doing. I still believe that the newspaper is better off focusing on the amazing exhibitions, concerts, and plays students are producing here than those that professionals are putting together elsewhere in the city. But that’s not what shaped me.

Honestly, I never felt like a real reporter at Spectator—I hardly, if ever, broke news or had off-the-record sources. I didn’t even know who ran Columbia’s PR department until my senior year. But working for Spectator did make me feel like a real New Yorker, and it made me realize I wouldn’t have wanted to go to school anywhere else.

So while other people are going to use this opportunity to write about what Spectator taught them, I’m going to write about what going to school in New York City taught me. Going to school here taught me to be self-sufficient and to be engaged with what was going on around me. I learned how to navigate the subway, how to budget my money and my time, and how to find a concert, art show, or comedy show for free any night of the week. I learned to care about city budgets and laws and local elections, because I cared about where I was living.

But the most important thing I learned from going to school in New York was how to turn a city into a home, simply by the sheer force of one’s affection for it. So thanks, Spectator, for being my second home and introducing me to my new primary residence.

The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in English and art history. She was art editor 132nd associate board, arts and entertainment editor on the 133rd managing board, and training editor on the 134th managing board.

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