Senior Farewell: Class of 2017

As we finish this spring semester, we also say goodbye to two of our beloved members on the Crown & Cross team: Raymond Li and Johanan Sowah. Over the past few weeks Crosswords has had the opportunity to sit down with these two and talk a little bit about their experiences at Columbia. We are so grateful for them both and wish them all the best following graduation this week!

Raymond Li CC’17


How did you make your way to Columbia?

RI: I transferred from Rice at the end of my freshmen year. I took an Economics class there and realized that it was something I really wanted to do. Rice didn’t have an especially good Economics department so I looked at schools that did and specifically in New York. So I applied to Columbia. I’m also a city person and like doing things in the city—walking around and exploring—so that was one reason why I thought Columbia suited me particularly well.

Now that you’re leaving Columbia, what was the hardest “last” that you experienced? And why was it difficult?

RI: I hang out with my suitemates a lot and I think the biggest thing I’ll remember is going out to dinner at Ferris. We meet up almost every night at six in Ferris, and even though we’ll all be in the city next year, it just won’t be the same. Going to Ferris for dinner is a small thing, but it’s something my suitemates and I will always remember.

Do you think the time that you spent at Columbia was worth it?

RI: I think Columbia was a lot more stressful than Rice was in terms of culture—in terms of mindset, being surrounded by ambitious people—and it can kinda be a little overbearing. But at the same time, I was able to experience a lot of things I wouldn’t have experienced in Texas.

RI: In terms of my experience at both campuses, at Rice I would only hang out with my Christian friends and probably spend 80% of my time with them. Coming to New York forced me to hang out with a variety of different people. And in a way my experience at Columbia was both good and bad. Good in the sense that it’s good to have a wide variety of perspectives and not be pigeon holed into one way of thinking. But it also makes it difficult to stay grounded because you’re with people who think differently than you.

How did that inform your walk with God?

RI: At times it’s been difficult to connect with God because of the sheer amount of time I spend with non-Christian versus Christian friends. But at the same time the experience has made me more open-minded. The world isn’t fully inhabited by Christian people and it’s important to remind ourselves of that constantly. I have to continue to remind myself that I’m a child of God, and not just passively accept that other people think the same way I do.

What would be your advice for someone coming into this community?

RI: The main thing I would suggest is to find a balance in your communities, whether Christian or not. While there were benefits to a purely Christian community, as what I had at Rice, it’s also important to keep your mind open.

What is your best memory from Columbia?

RI: During this last fall semester me and my suitemates finished all of our finals a day before we had to leave, so we decided to go bowling at ten at night. We stayed out until about four in the morning, just laughing and having fun.

Ri: This also reminds me of one piece of advice that I’d like to share. I think that people should spend more time with other people. You will always value the time spent with other people over grades and extracurricular obligations. During loneliness or hardship you’ll remember the times you went bowling or got halal food in the middle of the night—you won’t remember the hours in Butler pounding away at your computer. That’s something I’ve had to remind myself over the years.

Are you ready?

Ri: I don’t think I’ll ever be ready, but I am as ready as I ever will be. I think that I’ve developed enough in these past four years to make myself ready for the real world. And since most of my friends are staying in New York, I know that we will have some sense of community. So, I’m as ready as I ever will be. Though I do like school a lot—that’s one thing I’ll miss.

Columbia went by fast, and It was a good ride.

Following graduation Raymond will be traveling the world for a few months then returning to New York to work full time at IBM in Consulting.

Johanan Sowah SEAS’17


Looking back on the past four years, could you say that coming to Columbia was worth it?

JS: Being on the pinnacle of graduation, I keep coming back to the idea of “lasts.” I think “this is the last time I might run on a track” or “this is the last time I’ll see this person” or “this is my last time walking through campus.” I think it is with that spirit and that sentiment that I can say: yes, Columbia was worth it.

JS: But did I learn more than if I went to any other university that I was looking at four years ago? And did I challenge myself more than the thousand of other driven students? And did I embrace New York? In a few years I think I will still be able to answer yes to all of these questions. But part of what I’m trying to get at is that when you come to Columbia you know that you’ll have great opportunities, but you also have to ask yourself “was it worth all of the stress that this place dealt me?” And even then I think it was. The question I ask myself now is, “did Columbia make me a stronger person?”  

JS: I wrote an article in Crosswords a few weeks ago based off my own experience, and it wasn’t just some academic account of my time at Columbia. I really do think that in my times of stress I found that I could relate more to my Christian friends—in a way that took stress off of me—more than I could with my friends who weren’t Christians. The biggest thing that God helped me with in my time at Columbia were those times when I was curled up in a corner, unsure about the best way forward, and in those moments I found that my faith was what helped me continue. I don’t think my faith really grew a whole lot here, instead it helped me get through some tough moments. I don’t think I have a stronger or tougher relationship with God, rather I was provided with strong tools that I needed for coping.

You already mentioned thinking about “lasts” a lot, so which one was the hardest last and why?

JS: I’m quite definitive on this answer, and I know exactly when it will be. My hardest last will be my last ever college track race, which is also the last ever race of my life. I’ve been running on a track team since I was fifteen, so six years later this will be it. The race will be at West Point and I will be running the 800 meters. That will be my last ever track race and then I’ll be done. And a week later I will graduate. I’m not overly sentimental, I don’t think I’ll cry, but I might have to restrain myself.

What will be some of the memories that you will keep from Columbia?

JS: Every year around this time I watch them put those bleachers up and wonder what they were doing. After Freshman year I realized it was for the graduating Seniors, and now I keep thinking about the fact that they are setting up for me. I think that is something I’ll look back on twenty years from now and remember how hard that hit me. That they were setting up for my graduation near the end of my fourth year.

JS: Of course, I’ll also remember my friends, especially the seniors on the track team. If you go to the John Jay Dining Hall around five, you’ll probably see many of Columbia’s sports teams, but the biggest presence is the track team. A challenge posed to the seniors on the team is to stay in John Jay from open to close. One evening, my friend and I did just that. We stayed from five to nine, for four hours, and it really was a lot of fun. We just laughed and talked. I remember the feeling of being there, even if I don’t remember exactly what happened. I remember feeling so relieved to be done with my first semester of my last year and to be able to spend time with the friends and just sit there.

Are you ready?

JS: I would say that I certainly am ready to graduate. I’m ready to graduate because I’m ready to be done with classes. But am I ready to leave New York? I think that’s a little harder to do. I will be more prepared to leave from New York to Portland, than I was when I moved from Virginia to New York, but this move is an even bigger jump. This time I’ll be completely on my own. But now I am also asking myself am I really ready to leave my teammates and be done? Now that’s a harder question to answer, and that I’m not sure if I’m quite ready for.

Johanan will be heading to the West Coast after graduation, working in Portland, Oregon as a Chip Design Engineer at Intel. He’s excited about the move, as Portland is “the running capital of the US.”