This past weekend, one of my best friends visited me from Columbia University. Her name is Claudary Jones and one of the most humble, beautiful, brilliant people I know. You cannot help, but smile when you first meet her because she will always manage to make you smile. During her visit, I made sure to bring her to one of my favorite places off campus, Hidden Grounds. (Anyone who knows me knows that I live there.)
So as the two of us sat there and she sipped the delicious rose chai (highly recommend) I decided to ask her about life at college, at Columbia. Then I got the grand idea to just interview her and here is a portion of our conversation that would be way too long if I put all of it in this article. I may be biased, but she is someone to look up to and learn from.
Last year, you were going through the college application experience. Can you talk a little bit about it?
To say the least, it was stressful but ultimately it was positive and amazing. I had a unique experience. I had to deal with the fact that my father was absent from my life and I had to explain to colleges how he wouldn't be able to help me pay for college. I had a couple schools reject my noncustodial parent waiver, which would have impacted my financial aid. I had to work harder to convince them and plead my case.
What advice would you give to someone in that situation?
To not be afraid and speak up for yourself. I had to use my voice whether it was writing or making phone calls to explain my situation. Your voice matters and I realized that during the process. Don't be afraid to speak up for yourself.
And what would you say to someone who doesn’t get into an ivy league school?
Ivy league schools aren't the only schools in the country or the world. Most people don't get in and go on to do amazing things.
Tell me why you love Columbia.
Let me tell you the top three reasons why I love Columbia or I guess what I would call the three C’s, cash, clout, and city.
1. Cash: I would say that the financial aid office is understanding and very accommodating so that was a really big factor when I chose Columbia because I have the cash that other schools just don’t have.
2. Clout: So, Columbia is an Ivy League school and it is a competitive place. It is really challenging for students and being in this environment has helped me grow and be better. An advantage I'll be able to use no matter where I go.
3. City: The city is very important to me, being in the heart of Manhattan. Socially and culturally, it’s a really great experience. I’m able to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for free as a student and anytime that I want to. I also have access to events, festivals and have very easy access to public transportation. It’s easy for me to go anywhere in the city. It's a fun and exciting place to explore, especially with friends.
How has your first year at college been?
I will say that I’m glad to be done with my first year, although I did enjoy it. I’m just honestly more excited about my second year. I’m going to be a resident assistant, so I will get my own room and bathroom, which is awesome and I’m very excited because I'll be in a leadership role. I am also excited for my classes because I am finally taking classes more focused on sociology and human rights.
Did you have any issues with transitioning into college?
I didn’t have that much of an issue transitioning. I found my friends rather quickly. Living with another person was hard because you’re dealing with someone else. It was hard considering the fact that I’m an only child and I lived in a room all by myself for most of my life. I had to realize that I am living with another person who has a different schedule, has different needs and habits. From that experience, I learned a lot about having to communicate with people and that’s very important in order to get something accomplished and live with someone else.
What were the obstacles you had to overcome socially?
Some of the issues I overcame were how to manage my frustration when you find other people are talking about you. But I realized it's OK, not everybody will like you and that is fine.
What did you expect to find in college?
What I did not expect to find were really, really close friends. I would say that I’ve already found my best friends. That was something I didn’t expect.
You identify yourself as a black and queer woman. How has that shaped the way you approach things and your experience at Columbia?
I guess my race and sexuality do shape how I look at things at Columbia because I tend to look at things from a colonial perspective. In class, we read on a lot of western European literature and we listen to a lot of European music for music humanities and look at European art. There was such a large emphasis on European culture. So I actively commented how it’s not inclusive or, I guess, how it portrays black people.
I would say that it doesn’t greatly affect me. Columbia University is really diverse like Rutgers. So everyone brings their own perspective and I try to bring my perspective whenever I can.
What would be your advice to anyone starting college?
Not getting to an Ivy league school is not the end of the world. An Ivy should not be used as a proxy for intelligence because I can tell you there are plenty of people and people who get into schools for different reasons. It's OK.
What are your plans after college?
Make the best of your experience because you've the power. It's all up to you, so be open minded and try new things.