Take Five with Olivier Knox ’92

Knox headshot
Knox is the chief Washington correspondent for Yahoo! News

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

There is — unfortunately — a record of what I was like on the very day that I arrived: Pleated khakis. Lacoste crocodile shirt. Topsiders. Glacier glasses. I’m not sure what my father was telling me to do, though I look pleased with myself.

But I was terrified. Columbia had been my top choice since midway through my junior year, and I vividly remember the day I got in. But by August 1988, the elation blended with the fear that I simply would not survive academically.

Young Knox

Knox on arrival, August 1988


What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

Ahhh, 701(A) Carman. End of the hall. Across from the deputy head resident (Brian something — Shields, maybe? — a B-school student). My roommate was Ben Weaver ’92, a shockingly gifted writer and natural athlete. My suitemates were Dan Herman ’92 and John Hagerty (John transferred to Cornell midway through sophomore year). We spent a lot of time together, watching movies and sports on John’s postage-stamp TV, pulling Budweisers or Shiner Bocks out of my mini-fridge or, if we felt rich, heading to Augie’s. I had the only computer, a Mac, which we shared. We got along well enough to live together sophomore year (H402 East Campus). I still chuckle about introducing ourselves as Dan, John, Ben … and Olivier. I’ve kept track of Dan, who is back in Los Angeles. But I don’t think I’ve had any contact with Ben since 1992, and I’d love to hear from him.

Knox group shot

Left to right: Carman Hall roommates Ben Weaver ’92, John Hagerty, Olivier Knox ’92 and Dan Herman ’92 during winter break 1988–89.


What class do you remember, and why?

The first class I attended was in the giant auditorium in the basement of Butler — Charles Hamilton’s “Introduction to American Politics and Government.” I was a little annoyed at the size of the class, but any doubts about the wisdom to start my poli-sci studies there crumbled when Hamilton opened his mouth for the first time. It was like hearing the voice of God, full of warmth and wisdom, with the verbal tics of a lawyer addressing a jury. “And SO,” he would say, “as STUDENTS of this SUBJECT, we MUST ask: ‘Why is it impossible’ — strike ‘impossible’ — ‘Why is it VERY DIFFICULT … .”

His TAs screwed up his midterm — they did not make enough copies of the exam. I got mine about halfway through the time allotted to take the test. I got a B-minus, along with a note about how it seemed that I had rushed and run out of time. I went to see Hamilton and explained what had happened. He listened, reread my exam and raised my grade to what he thought I would have received had I had the full time. And then he just wanted to chat. About French cars (he had a Peugeot). About living in Paris. About what I thought of Columbia. It was intoxicating.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

Wherever my friends where. Lunch in the café in FBH stands out. And 701(A) was home.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

There are classes I should have taken, and others I should have skipped. I should not have taken Shapiro’s [James Shapiro ’77] Shakespeare pass/fail — honestly, 1991 Me, have a little bleepin’ confidence! On balance, though, I would not change much of my four years at Columbia. It remains one of the most formative experiences of my life. I’d like to tell that kid with the freshman beanie and the bad case of nerves on West 114th Street that classes are going to be hard, but to trust that he belongs there. Because he did.

Check out Olivier Knox at his 25th reunion, on an alumni panel discussing "The Future of News Media in the Trump Administration" and with Dean Valentini at Tom's Diner.