I was a kid from Kansas.
I was 18 years old when I flew to New York City to attended
Columbia College, the traditional undergraduate liberal arts school
of Columbia University. At that time (1962). Columbia College
was all male, but Barnard, one of the so-called "Seven Sisters"
colleges, was all female, and all you had to do to see incredibly
bright, and often also exceedingly attractive young women, was
to cross Broadway (at 116th Street) and you were there.
Langston Hughes, one of America's greatest poets, grew up mainly
in Lawrence, Kansas, only a mere 24 miles from my hometown, Topeka.
In 1921, he entered Columbia College. Hughes was black and suffered
greatly from the malevolent racial prejudice that permeated Columbia
at that time. And even though he maintained a B+ average, Hughes
dropped out after the end of his freshman year and headed to Harlem.
He became one of the brightest stars of the Harlem Renaissance, a
famous artistic community and movement whose members were, in
effect, the intelligentsia of Harlem. He finished his higher education
at the all-black Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.
All students had to take the Core Curriculum, regardless of their major.
Referred to as simply "The Core," it was a two-year rigorous course of
studies ranging from philosophy to literature to art to music to writing to
language. It was founded in 1919. It was Columbia College's attempt
to study the roots of western civilization and hopefully to find ways to
avoid forever the flaws thereof to prevent any more world wars. Obviously,
it did not realize its lofty goal, but it did make every Columbia College
student learned for life. No other school in what was to become known
as the Ivy League (founded in 1954) has the equivalent of "The Core."
In 2019, Columbia College celebrated its Core's centennial anniversary.
I majored in American history and found out, among many other salient
facts, that our nation was founded on the evil institution of slavery and the
ignominious policy of genocide, and yet we have the audacity to call our
country a democracy. Eight of our presidents were slave owners themselves;
Thomas Jefferson, who authored the Declaration of Independence, and in so doing, immortalized the phrase "All men are created equal," owned over 600
slaves as he wrote and later became our third president. And today, the progeny of slavery, racism, permeates our country from the Oval Office through virtually all cities and towns of any and every size.
Living in and exploring New York City for four years makes a student a
veritable citizen of the world, even if that student chooses after graduation
to reside in some other location, as I, in fact, did--Boulder, Colorado.
Two years before I showed up, Columbia College admitted a class (1960)
that still holds the record of having the highest average SAT scores per
student of any other college or university in the annals of higher education, and I had to compete academically with many of those students.
Just yesterday, 26 March 2020, Columbia College admitted a little over 2,000 out of a total of a little over 40,000 applicants both from the USA and around the world, thereby creating an admit rate of 6.1% and making Columbia College the 3rd most selective school out of a total of 5,300 other colleges
and universities in the United States.
Lastly, Columbia University has the largest number of Nobel laureates who
graduated or taught at my alma mater (84), more Nobel prize-winners
than any of its Ivy League peers.
Thank you letting me share with you just some of what I still consider to be among the best years of my life.
And, by the way, I am still, at heart, a kid from Kansas.
Copyright 2020 Tod Howard Hawks
A graduate of Andover and Columbia College, Columbia University, Tod Howard Hawks has been a poet and human-rights advocate his entire adult life. He recently finished his novel, A CHILD FOR AMARANTH.