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As you get ready to arrive to Columbia, The Lion team has compiled various packing lists from current students for the most important things to bring to campus.  It’s up to you to determine what to bring and what to buy later. During NSOP, Columbia operates a shuttle to Bed Bath & Beyond, so you can save on packing weight and just buy your supplies there.

And remember – you can always ask peers in your Class Facebook pages or by emailing team@columbialion.com

And to make it even easier, a student from the Class of 2020 compiled our packing list into a Google Doc that you can categorize based on when and where you will buy your supplies.

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Photo Courtesy Josh Schenk, CC ’19

I care about grades. I care about grades a lot. I pretend not to because our culture is such that appearing to care about school is a character flaw. But so is not doing well.

Today, I skimmed this article about how the “world is run by C students” — an opinion I’ve heard before, but widely ignored because I know it doesn’t apply to me. But for some reason today, I opened it up and skimmed through it.

Bill Gates, Joe Biden, George W. Bush, the list rattled on. They have “run the world” despite being “mediocre” students.

“So why can’t you?,” The article argues.

It’s an interesting perspective, one meant to be encouraging to the students whose intelligence does not quite correspond with academia, but it’s one I feel uncomfortable thinking about. Maybe it’s because while I’m not the straight-A student this article juxtaposes, I’m also not a C student — but I could be. If I didn’t feverishly overwork myself, in fact, I would be.

But the thing is, I’m not Bill Gates. I’m not Joe Biden. I’m not George W. Bush. And I don’t mean that in a literal sense or even to allude to the fact that I might not be as ‘smart’ as them. I’m not them because I can’t get away with mediocrity the same way they were able to.

Women, People of Color, Low-Income students don’t get to just let school happen to them. We don’t get to be mediocre. If we are, suddenly people question our existence in academic spaces. If we are, suddenly people use us as examples of how systems of affirmative action are flawed. We become reduced to another cog in the supposed unfair system.

But no one ever uses the mediocrity of a white students to condemn white supremacy. No one uses the mediocrity of men to condemn patriarchy. No one uses the mediocrity of rich students to condemn classist education systems.

We don’t have the privilege of individualism — we represent the groups we are a part of, and we must prove our existence over and over again.

That’s a lot of pressure to carry.

So I do care about grades, and I care about grades a lot. And it’s not because I think grades are an accurate representation of my intelligence. It’s not because I get some sort of sadistic pleasure from stressing myself over grades. It’s because I just can’t afford to do poorly. I can’t afford to “waste” my college education because doing so means risking my chance of future financial stability. It means risking all the work my parents and I have put into getting here in the first place.

And that’s just something I can’t play around with.

So when I hear my peers joke about how unimportant an assignment is, I’m reminded that I don’t have the luxury of mediocrity. I’m reminded that for them, getting C’s is a choice and not a result of educational inequality propelled by my class and racial identities.

I don’t have the luxury of shrugging off my sub par academic performance because, for me, the consequences are much higher. And for me, even my hardest work is oftentimes not enough because I didn’t spend thirteen years of primary and secondary school preparing me for the academic intensity of college.

So perhaps it’s true that C students are the ones who “run the world.” Perhaps these articles are right and being a C student is a pre-req for high-level success. But let us not forget the first requisite of all: privilege.

Steve Jobs. Bill Gates. Mark Zuckerberg. There’s no doubt they’re brilliant men, but before we rattle on about how C-students and college dropouts are running the world, let’s not forget the position these brilliant men were in to accomplish all that they did. Let us not forget their maleness, their whiteness, their wealth.

The intentions of these articles are good. By reminding college students that “grades aren’t everything,” maybe we can comfort the over-worked and hyper-stressed students struggling to get through college, even if only for a brief moment.

But maybe we can accomplish this without undermining the hard work students put into school — especially those whose existence in college is already revolutionary, and especially for those whose only option for financial stability is struggling through an education system that was never built for them.

So maybe these students aren’t the future tech personality giants, but their presence and work is no less crucial for the future of our society.

Let us never, ever forget that.


This post was originally published on Medium.
Lesley Cordero is a junior in Columbia Engineering studying Computer Science.
The Lion is Columbia’s only publication that pledges to post all submissions (even anonymous ones) that meet our submission criteria. To respond to this Op-Ed or to submit one of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com

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This past spring, Korean violinist Hyung Joon Won visited several college campuses across the Northeast, including Columbia, Harvard, and Princeton, to speak about the Lindenbaum Project. While at Columbia, Won met with students from Columbia’s chapter of Liberty in North Korea as well as students from various campus music groups.

Won began the project in 2009, with the goal of easing tensions and bringing harmony to North-South Korean relations through classical music. Based on precedents such as the West-East Divan Orchestra between Israel and Palestine and El Sistema in Venezuela, the project’s goal is to harness the power of classical music for social change.

Won has long been recognized for combining musicianship and activism. As a soloist he has toured worldwide in collaboration with orchestras such as the Hong Kong Pan Asia Philharmonic, Massapequa Philharmonic, and the Marrowstone Festival Orchestra. In 1990, Won performed at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Switzerland, celebrating the reunification of East and West Germany. In 1996, he performed at the UN General Assembly Hall under the theme World Peace.

A collection of musicians, students, and activists has joined Won in reaching his goal. Notably, Maestro Charles Dutoit of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra has backed the project.

Columbia’s own Gary Kim (SEAS ‘18) has spearheaded a new technology-based project that will feature an international collaboration of musicians in a recording of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Between 2011 and 2015, Won made several attempts to organize a joint live concert between North and South Korean musicians. However, each time one of the governments rescinded permission to do so at the last minute, due to a sudden rise in political or military tensions. Kim’s technology-based solution allows for remote recordings of each part in the symphony, temporarily eliminating the need for organizing logistics across the border. Won’s hope is that the technology-based project will be a first step to displaying the peacemaking power of music.  

In April, students from Columbia and Harvard helped Won and Kim submit a proposal for the 2016 Google Impact Challenge. If awarded, funding from this challenge will help spread awareness of the Lindenbaum Project and garner more international support.

Won will be returning to New York this July to give talks at the Waterfall Gallery.