What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?
Grateful, scared, unaware of how completely this place would stretch and mold me. Constantly dazzled by the students around me, in awe of the new friends I was making. Of the languages they spoke, of how many instruments they could play. The outfits I wore were egregious — an Indiana boy trying and failing to dress like a hip New Yorker.
What do you remember about your first-year living situation?
I lived on Furnald 6, which I absolutely adored. My room was a single, 70 sq. ft. in an L shape. On Saturday mornings, a nearby daycare would bring a group of toddlers to play in the courtyard in front of Furnald. And so most Saturday mornings, I would awake to the distant laughter of little children — which was sometimes endearing, sometimes eerie as hell. Freshman year I formed a campus band called Jeffers Win, and we practiced in the Furnald 6 lounge, sometimes late into the night. I still can’t believe how patient my floormates were with that.
What class do you most remember and why?
It’s a tie between Margaret Vandenburg GSAS’96’s “Postmodern Literature” and Peggy Ellsberg’s “Literary Approaches to the Bible.” Vandenburg’s class and style forever changed the way I look at the world, the way I write, the way I read. She sees patterns and metaphors that no one else can see — she would broach questions like, “What if prisons exist only to convince those of us on the outside that we’re free?” I remember staggering out of her lectures, bug-eyed, brain melted, asking myself, “Am I real? Is anything real?” And Ellsberg reminded us that at the end of the day, no matter what you believe, the Bible tells some of the greatest stories ever.
Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?
Few people seem to know that there’s a little sauna in the Dodge Gym men’s locker room. As soon as I found out, I started going there more and more — especially in the colder months. So calming and rejuvenating. The Dodge sauna also attracted a funny mix of heat-seekers: some wrestlers, a professor or two, maybe a Swedish grad student, and occasionally one of those sage 80-year-old alums with gym access. All of us in our matching white towels. I loved it very much.
What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?
Miller Theatre is such a glorious resource for the arts, and for some reason I neglected it as an undergraduate. If I went back in time, I’d buy a ticket there every weekend, since everything they do is superb. I saw some of Steve Reich’s work there last year, and at the end, he emerged from the audience (in his perennial black cap) to take a bow. Turns out it was his 80th birthday!