Why UChicago (Revised)

The University’s greatest assets are the people that call it home.


By Justin Smith

Around campus, I’m probably best known for being the guy who does “everything”–– a quadruple major who holds two campus jobs and leads over a dozen campus organizations. But despite the 51 classes I’ve taken in my four years here, I’ve probably retained around a grand total of one quarter’s worth of actual information, and only one of my clubs will actually be “useful” in my career after I graduate. And yet, I’d do it all over again. I’d take every class, join every club, and relive every experience, challenge, and mistake. But if none of it was useful, then what was it all for? At risk of sounding cliché, in the end it’s all about the people––the incredible, unusual, brilliant, talented, and truly uncommon friends who lived through it all with me.

When I first got into UChicago, I immediately (or, as my friends say, neurotically) went on Blueprint and made a list of every club that interested me, along with their membership requirements, meeting times and locations, and any information I could find about them online. While writing this op-ed, I decided to find that list buried in my laptop files. It was 62 clubs long. Some of the 19 organizations I’ve led and been a part of during my time at UChicago––like the Sailing Club and Oeconomica––are at the top of that list, with paragraphs of information. Others, like The Derivatives Group and The Applied Math Club, didn’t exist yet. Others still, such as Make Chicago Smile and PARR, weren’t even interests of mine at the time, but rank among the RSOs I care most about by the end of my time here. The sole unifier between the clubs that I joined, the clubs that I stayed in, and the clubs I care so much about today are that they all shared a strong sense of community and belonging.

Most of my clubs are not just a weekly meeting. They’re outings into the city, conferences, events, and parties. While caring about the organization is our mutual connection, each group of friends extends outside the organization as well. That’s not to say that it was always easy, always fun, or that everyone always gets along. I’ve done everything from organizing five-figure events to trying to coordinate sending a dozen students across state lines, all while balancing four to five classes per quarter in the often overwhelmingly difficult (and now even further shortened) quarter system. Funding and supply orders have fallen through at the last minute, team members have no-showed without warning, and yeah, sometimes you argue about stuff that really just doesn’t matter. Honestly, given how heterogeneous some organizations here are, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.

At the end of the day, though, no one remembers the time they had to spend submitting their 15th reimbursement request of the week. Some of my favorite memories from my RSOs were bonfires at the Point, apartment parties, and ordering pizza to whatever room we could book while planning our next event, and I’ll hold onto those memories forever.

Figuring out how to finish a quadruple major in four years was, as one might expect, a real struggle at times. Despite the late nights and long hours, it’s an experience I’ve always looked fondly upon (and only occasionally regret). Among the highlights were the one quarter I had to take four math classes at the same time, my finals week tradition of convincing myself it’d all be over if I gave up and studied philosophy, and figuring out how to stay on track after not getting more than a single class during pre-reg for the fourth quarter in a row. That being said, I can honestly say that in every class I’ve taken, in every RSO I’ve joined, and in every guest lecture series I’ve made the mistake of attending, I have made real, lifelong friends: people I plan to be in contact with years down the road.

Whether it’s pulling all-nighters to finish problem sets in the Sky Lobby because we got kicked out of the Reg at midnight or getting drinks to celebrate getting 50%s on our statistics midterms—because that was still somehow 20 points above the class average—the difficulty of UChicago’s courses only brought myself and some of the people I now consider my best friends closer together. Each study session was a chance to compare music tastes or reward ourselves with a fifth game of pool for completing the first problem of our 30-problem assignment. Every class was a chance to study and get to know one another, and to extend what should have been an hour-long assignment into a day-long activity because we were too busy watching conspiracy YouTube videos in the Reg A-level on full blast. Many of my best friends and roommates are people I happened to sit next to on the first day of a class, despite having nothing in common besides the row we shared that day.

And while classes like Honors Abstract Algebra II and Multivariate Statistical Analysis may seem like a drag (and, truthfully, they often were), they were still true learning experiences, irrespective of course material or content. I met friends in my fields that helped me work through dozens of dead-ends in my studies, encouraged me to push myself past what was required, and were genuinely excited to discuss a subject for hours with a friend who was excited about the same theories and models they were. It’s often not even for personal growth either––I have a weirdly large number of friends who genuinely care about Gödel’s incompleteness theorems because they just find them interesting and are willing to rant for as long as it takes for you to understand why. It’s reassuring to know that if necessary, I always have someone in my corner to help me out with my studies if I get stuck, and that my studies can continue after I graduate with or without graduate school just by spending time with the same people I already see every day.

I hope all of these experiences are able to encompass why I put all this time into these classes and activities and why I do so much of what other people might call work. Because while I have pulled many, many all-nighters (I’m pulling one right now trying to finish this op-ed), I’m thrilled to do every single thing I do because none of it feels like “work” to me. Every club memory–whether it’s teaching others to sail on Lake Michigan, pouring endless hours into prod night for this newspaper, putting on a wellness event in Ida or “politely” debating a resolution in Stuart–is filled with people I genuinely care about and enjoy spending time with. Each class, each study group, and each organization is of course a way for me to get closer to my degree, but more importantly, to help other students, benefit the local community, and to accomplish something meaningful while hanging out with my friends. This is also why you won’t really find a theme in what I do, and why none of it needs to be “useful”. The clubs that I have cared most about during my four years here span quantitative finance, health and wellness, community service, journalism, spatial data science, economics, club sports, and politics. That’s because, while I originally joined each club for its purpose, and took each class for its content (or to complete the quad major requirements), I stayed in each one because of the people I met—and the friends I made.

So to sum it all up, I enjoyed every single thing that I did in my four years here because of the amazing people I got to do it with. This probably isn’t a function of what I chose to do in any capacity—honestly, I’m sure I would have met amazing people here doing almost anything. This is a function of the people this University attracts. Despite its flaws, this University manages, year after year, to attract the kindest, smartest, most interesting individuals I’ve ever met. My friends are computer scientists who also take professional grade photographs, classics students engineering revolutionary technology, and online-chess-obsessed economists. They’re neurobiologists who love bathhouses, political campaign staffers who run our biggest campus events, and finance bros who make fantasy football their whole personality once a year. They’re future doctors who never grew out of their theater nerd phase, professional chefs who present advocacy work to the UN, and English teachers who collect swords.

Yet despite their varied interests (and trust me, I did none of them justice in this article), they all have one thing in common—they’re the best friends I could have ever asked for.

Justin Smith is a fourth-year in The College.