Does That Make Me a Bad Person?


This Wednesday, I attended the Dean’s Scholarship Reception. It’s been a week in which I’ve been thinking a lot about the craft of writing – how other people are so good and I need much more practice.

The reception was a chance for students and alumni who have donated to their alma mater to have dinner. It’s Columbia’s way of showing their generous alums a grateful face in return for their contributions. Luckily, my sponsors, a lively man accompanied by two sons and an amiable mother, were the same ones from last year. Halfway through, the Dean of Alumni Affairs introduced the student speaker of the night. Past years’ speakers have typically been female students with unique backgrounds and impressive resumes. This year, the tradition lived on.

As the student gave her speech, I found myself listening less for content than for style. “These descriptions of hardships are too abstract. Give me specifics,” I said to myself. When she revealed her mother had died of brain cancer, I thought, “I can tell that story so much better. Maybe a narrative arc to give it real poignancy.”