Pak currently splits her time between her home near Portland, Maine (where she lives with her husband, Jim Marshall, and their kids, Cece, 16, and Ryan, 13), and Tate’s Bake Shop headquarters on Long Island. The daughter of Korean immigrants, Pak attributes much of her success to her family’s values and work ethic. She loves spending time at the beach and lake, traveling and singing karaoke, and misses her punk-inspired college hairstyles.
What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?
I arrived on campus with an asymmetrical haircut (partially shaved and tinted purple), rhinestone sneakers, a rhinestone sweatshirt and a fringed leather handbag — a look that I didn’t realize wasn’t considered fashionable by all. (Turns out, these items were somewhat fashionable since several of my friends eventually borrowed my rhinestone sweaters!) This mixed look was a combination of Madonna (I could sing all her songs) and Depeche Mode (wearing all-black became a daily routine later that year). I also didn’t know how to do laundry properly; I remember my first attempt — mixing reds and whites — was somewhat disastrous. The first week, I met a student from Michigan who asked me to slow down when I spoke, as he couldn’t understand my apparently thick New York accent. A true self-awareness moment!
What do you remember about your first-year living situation?
I lived on Carman 11, a co-ed floor, and I remember being struck by how diverse the College was. I was the only Asian in my graduating class at my Queens high school, so it was refreshing and exciting to meet people from so many states, countries and backgrounds. I blasted Depeche Mode in my room quite often and quickly found others who enjoyed the same music. I felt right at home.
I lived with three completely different roommates — a student from N.J., a well-established basketball player and a reserved student from India who kept a shrine in her room that I appreciated very much. I remember a lot of midnight food runs, staying up late hanging out (and somehow fitting in some studying), and exploring all of the amazing eating/culture/music options the city offered.
While academics were always very important to me, connecting with people and making good friends became just as important. Growing up, my father regularly reinforced the importance of getting good grades, and so I had been much less focused on extracurricular activities or having a social life. At the College, I took advantage of all the opportunities offered to help me develop into the person I am now. I met fun and supportive people in Carman who became lifelong friends.
What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?
I vividly remember Literature Humanities and Art Humanities; I appreciated both for different reasons. I had studied art in high school and loved sketching and painting in my free time; I thoroughly enjoyed the Art Hum field trips and felt so lucky we were in a city that had such amazing art collections accessible to us. Lit Hum was a tougher class — The Iliad wasn’t easy to read or write about. But I loved that we were all forced to step outside our comfort zones — persevering through our Core classes together bonded us. Where else would Engineering students, English majors and poli-sci majors be discussing Plato at 2 a.m. over Koronet pizza?
Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?
I always enjoyed sitting on Low Steps — you get a literally broad perspective of campus, and it was always fun to watch people come and go. It was the perfect spot to sit and feel the sun on your face, and enjoy coffee or a snack between classes. I also loved eating lunch at the Uris deli. It had the best corned beef sandwiches!
My equally favorite spot was The Plex, a night spot that was in the basement of Ferris Booth Hall back in the late ’80s. My friends and I danced for endless hours to New Order, Erasure, U2 and other bands.
What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?
I wouldn’t change anything about my years at Columbia. I think about my college life often and I am so thankful for every moment. There are so many experiences I remember fondly: being a founding sister of the Alpha Chi Omega (AXO) sorority and a member of the Asian Student Union, “study sessions” in Butler Library, writing papers and dorm life in general. My friends and I keep these memories alive through Zoom calls amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. The uncertain times we live in make me appreciate my friends very much, and I know that health and their love are what matter most.
My parents passed away within a year of each other, during my senior year and right after graduation, and it was these dear friends who supported me through that very hard time. Among them are Gloria Kim Pak ’90, LAW’95; Arlene Hong ’90; Anita Bose ’90, BUS’95, PH’95; Joy Kim Metalios SEAS’90; Betty Mar Tsang SEAS’90; Jennifer Lee ’90, GSAS’98; Tina Feege BC’89 and the late Peter Hsing SEAS’90.
Overall, my College experience taught me four valuable life lessons: 1) there’s more to life and being a successful person than excelling academically; 2) life is too short, so you need to enjoy every moment you can with people who contribute positively to your life; 3) friendships endure long after college; and 4) you learn a lot about yourself during your formative college years that will help you prepare for the rest of your life.