Last week, New York Magazine compiled quotes by “25 famous women on their college lives.” The magazine culled excerpts from commencement speeches and interviews and memoirs, the most recent being Not That Kind of Girl (which deserves its own blog post). Represented colleges included Harvard (Rashida Jones, Natalie Portman), Denison (Jennifer Garner), Brown (Emma Watson, clarifying that she was not bullied), Oberlin (Lena Dunham), etc.
NYU didn’t make the list–except for a mention by Mindy Kaling, who was grateful Dartmouth allowed her to be a “big fish in a small pond”: “If I had gone to NYU, right now I’d be the funniest paralegal in a law firm in Boston.”
Of course I immediately worried that this was to be my fate. And then I began to think constructively, wondering how I would describe NYU and my experience here. I identified most with Lena Dunham’s reflection, which was relatably self-conscious and self-critical: “If I had known how much I would miss these sensations I might have experienced them differently, recognized their shabby glamour, respected the ticking clock that defined this experience.” I was a little bit annoyed with the beginning of her paragraph, which was smooth and predictable: “There I am […] piling my arms high with VHSs […] There I am half listening to a professor when she tells me I need to start attending class more regularly.”
But then Dunham recognizes that being able to write meaningfully about college after it’s over doesn’t meant that the experience itself was meaningful. I often feel self-conscious when I place my college memories against reflections like these, which mostly talk about time spent in libraries and some partying and kissing and definitely snow. (Always trudging through the snow. Presumably, that’s all that college students did.) I worry that my life is not as “whole” as it could be, and even when I worry that excerpts like these minimize how life really works–how much time is spent on the Internet, clicking on everything and nothing–I am drawn to the depictions.
Realistically, “my NYU,” as the Admissions Office cheerily puts it, would read something like this:
“There was a lot of Netflix. Not even the educational or artsy films, but just 30 Rock and Arrested Development five times over, or as soon as it took me to forget half the lines. When I think of sophomore winter I think of that one big snowstorm. The NYC Parks and Rec department gave out free hot chocolate and cider, but we were only in time for the cider. I read too many books outside of class and too few books in it. I really do love walking “on campus.” But there’s a crazy person squatting on almost every block and so no one pauses anywhere. I should spend more time in Washington Square Park, because when I do I feel really happy to be here. I wonder what “happy to be here” means–if “here” is a geographical location or emotional state or both. When I am in class with an “important” professor I feel lucky. I am sort of tired of New York, maybe because my room is small and I live on a loud street and I was born here. I take homework breaks from Facebook. I put too much stock in photos, but they shape how I remember everything so maybe they’re important. I should be studying right now.”