Senior Wisdom: Zach Levine

Written by

Zach Levine

Zach Levine

Name, Hometown, School, Major: Zach Levine, Fresno, California, CC, Anthropology

Claim to Fame? Columbia’s gayest salutatorian since George Stephanopoulos. Sarah Camiscoli’s daughter. Really-wrote a thesis that is pretend-entitled “The Gayest Miracle.” Pretend-wrote a real porno entitled “The Gayest Miracle.”

Columbia’s most confusing salutatorian.

Where are you going? New York. My parents aren’t paying for me to fly home to Fresno. Taking the year off to sleep (on, with). Someone please hire me!!! Anything but musical theater and finance. Afterwards, hopefully a joint JD-PhD in cultural anthro. Then POTUS. That is when I will publish my political memoir, “The Gayest Miracle.”

Three things you learned at Columbia:

  1. Everyone is gay.
  2. The Hartley Computer Lab is the single hottest place above hell.
  3. It’s amazing how much more visible you become to some people when you weigh 100 pounds less than you did the year before. Amazing is not the right word.

“Back in my day…” The Hartley Computer Lab was at room temperature. Something happened the summer after my first year that I am still trying to get my head around. In 2010 Alana Schwartz and I saw someone getting CAVA’d out of the lab.

Justify your existence in 30 words or less: I throw a monthly temper tantrum in the EC laundry room. Speaking of, I recently took someone’s Gap Body lady-panties on accident. If they’re yours, I am currently wearing them.

Is the War on Fun over? Who won? Any war stories? If there were moments I wasn’t having fun at Columbia, they didn’t happen because I wasn’t drinking a beer on a library roof somewhere. Go to Sunnyside and Prospect Heights and Inwood. Do your reading at Outpost Cafe in Clinton Hill. Get the red sonja at Mundo Café in Astoria and the green curry at Sripraphai in Woodside (Andrea Folds, Claudia Sosa, and BQ Quigley, you still owe me dates). Email me or Zehra Hashmi and we will send you a running list of Queens’ best vindaloo.

Would you rather give up anal sex or cheese? I changed the question. Answer is still cheese.

Advice for the class of 2016:

  •  If after two years you haven’t met the soulmate-friends some propaganda promised you, hold tight. It probably means you’re a more complex person than the kind NSOP wants you to be for their photoshoot.
  • “Interesting research is research on the conditions that make something interesting.” That’s a really unglamorous sentence. But figuring out why we come to be interested in the things we do is probably a more complicated and urgent task than mastering the things themselves. Spend your time here mining the source of your orientation to certain disciplines, areas of the world, friends, senses of humor, bodies, and sexual acts. The upshot is expanding your own world of possibility, loving things you once repulsed. I think that’s why the crying you do senior year is so much fuller than the crying you do your first year.
  • You may not love the Core. I do not love the Core. I liked two songs in Music Hum. One is on my pregaming playlist. I also never understood why or how a pedagogy can appeal to someone in the abstract.
  • Spend your summers doing uncomfortable, risky things, ideally abroad. Locate your intellectual and professional heroes and email them. Not their administrative assistants: them. Just a few months into my first year I sent a naïve but impassioned email to an anthropologist at Harvard I greatly respected, and it ended up landing me positions with Partners In Health for two summers, including one spent in Peru. Those summer experiences tell you a lot about what you don’t want to do, but what else can you be expected to learn as a 19-year-old?
  • From an email from my psychiatrist: “There’s something called the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory that tabulates the impact of significant life events, both good and bad, on health and well-being. If you look at it, you’ll see that ‘outstanding personal achievement’ is roughly as stressful as foreclosure.” We all, at one point or another, become acquainted — sometimes all too intimately — with how miserable an experience living and studying at Columbia can be. Two of our classmates took their lives during our time here. That fact deserves constant pause. We owe it to each other, but moreso ourselves, to be upfront about what pain and shame and unbelonging feel like at 4am on a Tuesday. Someone is always awake, but someone doesn’t always know to reach out. Share suffering. Full-stop.

Any regrets? Not appreciating myself for things besides my brain for so long. Not appreciating other people’s brains for so long. Never eating an M2M cheeseburger. I know I still have a few weeks left to do that, I’m just realistic about it not happening. Especially if it means having to give up anal.

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  1. thanks  

    thanks for this, zach. i wish i could have met you during our time here.

  2. This senior wisdom

    Is that senior wisdom

  3. I think

    he might be one o' them homo-seck-suals

  4. Anonymous  

    Best ever.

  5. CC '14  

    I hope to have both this kind of outlook and this kind of love for Columbia and NYC in two years.

  6. Anonymous

    this is actually the best senior wisdom. hands down. it's honest and unpretentious (some will argue with this) but he still acknowledged the fact that he's had a serious college education.

  7. Is it me

    or is zack excessively homo?

  8. I've been

    Eyefucking him for two years now....

  9. analysis  

    I like to think of Senior Wisdom as a sort of genre - same questions, so there's a very familiar format, through which the writer attempts to convey some sort of insight, with a very formulaic requirement for half-hearted (or worse, painfully whole-hearted) humor, attempts at earnestness, trite injunctions to "see the city" or "make friends" etc. I think this might be the maturation of the form that we're witnessing here. The conventions are being stretched and played with in interesting, self-aware ways. A perfect example is the cheese question, which is often something of a set-piece for the larger senior wisdom: boring people give boring answers, clever people give clever answers, uptight people give uptight answers, and so on. Zach blows the convention apart, substituting the still more outrageous anal sex for oral, and then further inverts the usual trope, which is to fuss about for a bit and never render a real answer on the whole cheese question. Then he ties the anal sex joke in to his final regrets - consistency of theme! Meanwhile he's expressing serious truths - the advice to the 2016ers is surely one of the best-phrased and genuine examples from the 2012 class, avoiding all the usual bromides - the NSOP photoshoot line in particular is gold. I just want to express my admiration for one of the real stars of our Senior class, convey my own personal regret that I didn't take the opportunity I had to hang out with this kid, and finally note that analysis literally means "anal loosening" in Greek.

  10. Andrea Garcia-Vargas

    Zach, thanks so much for this, especially your last bit of advice---and for still taking the time to make this an incredibly amusing read. Best of luck in the future.

  11. Anonymous  

    has columbia ever had a black or hispanic affirmative action valedictorian or salutatorian?

    • Anonymous  

      no. hence "affirmative action." the whole point is that they never would have been accepted here to begin with were that policy not in place.

    • Anonymous  

      hah, no need to add the qualifying "affirmative action". would there be any other kind of black or hispanic valedictorian?

    • i DEMAND  

      that lee bollinger spend 30 million dollars hiring black valedictorians. they should be at least 13% of the total.

    • they see me trollin  

      Affirmative action insinuates the recruitment weaker students since they aren't competent enough to earn academic distinction on their own... so naturally, such studnets need a leg up. or at least that's what the discriminatory practice of institutionalized racism aka affirmative action implies! so yes, it makes sense that when affirmative action students are matched up against their qualified peers, the former will be left in the dust.

      Consider the following analogy - Imagine giving our football team 49 free points for each and every game, to level the playing fields. Eventually, it's pretty likely we'd make the playoffs because we'd finally be able to win a game.. Next, imagine suspending the policy of adding 49 points upon making the playoffs. Despite the fact that we 'earned' the distinction of a playoff seed, our truly skilled opponents will surely crush us when the equalizing 'training wheels' are removed.

      managed to insult minorities and athletes all in one post. new high score!!!

      • Anonymous  

        1) Thank you for giving us a very simple, stupid analogy to explain a very complicated debate.

        2) You are a dick. Even if you think its ok and to belittle people's achievements and offend them, its not. It may not hurt you because you have no experience with anything other than a privileged existence, but it does hurt people.

        3) Just so you realize, affirmative action isn't just a "reparations for past injustices" or "leveling the playing field" thing (though these are not bad arguments). Its about making it so that there is no longer an underclass consisting largely of minorities. People tend to promote and mentor people who are similar to them; therefore, white people promote white people, black people promote black people. This creates a cycle of privilege that can only be broken by promoting some minorities to higher levels in our society, who will in turn be more likely help other minorities and raise an entire larger group of people. So even if you feel that you're much more qualified than the minorities here (which you aren't, because you're stupid), there is more at stake here, and affirmative action is one of the best ways to lift minority communities out of their status as an economic underclass.

        4) I realize that you're just "trolling," and will probably claim that my reaction is just what you were looking for. But I wanted to respond to you seriously, because you are obnoxious and these are serious issues.

        • Anon  

          Your comment is foolish. The author was not denigrating affirmative action or anything about minorities per se. On the contrary, he precisely described how this process works - additional help in admissions, despite academics that are ON AVERAGE below that of "non-affirmative action" applicants - and this ultimately has an effect on certain institutions such as valedictorian or salutatorian.

          If you want to further work on mentoring etc, instead of just saying the guy is a bitch, you should question the idea itself of valedictorian. It is based purely on academics and extracurriculars, but at the highest level? Why should it not also carry an "affirmative action" component to it? I am not sure I actually agree with this, but _these_ are the relevant questions here. Just screaming "you don't understand anything because of your live of privilege" is useless.

          • Anonymous  

            You're completely wrong. Last I checked, college grades and high school grades are different, and the latter are not used in determining valedictorian. It may be slightly easier for minority students to get into Columbia, but it doesn't mean they do worse here. Our valedictorian this year is a legacy, so perhaps you could assume that he did worse than the average Columbia admit in high school, but that didn't stop him from doing incredibly well in college.

            In the OP's analogy, the team that he compares white students to "will surely crush" the team he compares black students to once the "equalizing ‘training wheels’ are removed." He or she may be right that minority students tend to do worse academically than white students (he also may be wrong, neither you nor I have the statistics). But to assume that because "ON AVERAGE" minority students do worse there could not be a black valedictorian is the kind of logic that is similar to people who assume that its okay to be afraid of black people walking down the street because "ON AVERAGE" they commit more street crimes. In other words, its the kind of thinking that I assume is "ON AVERAGE" below Columbia students.

            Also, my original response was not just screaming "you live a life of privilege." It was explaining the social utility of affirmative action even if slightly less qualified black students are put in higher societal roles than slightly more qualified white students.

          • Anonymous  

            and putting this kind of thing on Bwog, where many minority students will see it and realize that there are people out there who assume that they are not qualified or intelligent enough to be here is nothing to be proud of. In fact, its something that the OP should feel shitty about.

          • Devil's Advocate  

            Just saying... while it's very true that many legacies do not deserve to get in, it is also true that the intelligence that led a legacy applicant's parents/grandparents/etc. to get into Columbia and to be successful (because legacy isn't much of a help if your family doesn't donate) may be genetically passed on to their children.

    • Anonymous  

      Am I the only one that realizes that blacks and hispanics make up a substantially smaller percentage of the school than say caucasians or asians....and so the odds are then obviously less.

      • Anonymous  

        I can only up vote this comment and the one above about the difference between averages and individuals once. So I'm posting to express my desire to up vote them one hundred times each.

        And now that I'm writing already, here's a tirade: How people continue to be stupid with their racism confounds me. The final nail in the coffin of the "no valedictorians of color" argument is the fact that "on average" white students are better prepared for Columbia than students of color (better schools, better access to tutelage, better connections to professors, great comfort level with approach professors and others in power, better chance of focusing on schoolwork and not being distracted with the need to WORK to pay for books and tuition and, ya know, food. . .). Privilege is a real thing folks. I think we should be busier celebrating the individuals who overcome such obstacles to achieve high academic honors (like Denise De Las Nueces, Salutatorian '03, who I'm willing to bet is Latina), than trying to use the relatively low numbers of students who have overcome such institutional and societal barriers as evidence that the dumb black people stole spots from the smart white kids who went to prep school and were forced to attend Cornell or NYU or (gasp) Rutgers. Or better yet, let's just briefly congratulate this very cool-seeming dude and get back to our finals, rather than writing racist comments (or long-winded counterarguments to racist comments).

        tl;dr: privilege is real. don't hate, congratulate.

  12. in all seriousness (no internet sarcasm)  

    your sense of humor and wit will take you far. don't lose it (or let NYC grind it out of you)! good luck!

  13. Claudia Sosa Lazo

    Zach. This is beautiful. It's making me think about my time here in ways I hadn't before. You are beautiful. I won't get tired of telling you. Now when are we going to Queens?

  14. CC '12  

    i don't know you, but i wish i did. proud to have you as our salutatorian

  15. EC20  

    Aaah Zach is one of those people I run into in the EC elevator, but he is absolutely wonderful, such a great senior wisdom!

  16. Anonymous

    Guys, I think this guy is gay.

  17. Anonymous

    actually, there was a hispanic saludictorian. 2003 I think

  18. sophomore slumpin'  

    Your first bullet of advice makes me feel so much better for feeling like I still haven't found Mah Krew yet. Also this is hilarious. Also why aren't we best friends. Also YES WHY IS THAT LAB SO BOILING.

  19. anon  

    Ok, Zach, I don't know you but I honestly loved this senior wisdom. Too bad we never got to meet, especially as I share your interest in anal sex.

    But what's with the whole "I love name-dropping places that are not in Manhattan"? People do that all the time at Columbia. Like, it's not acceptable to talk about great places you can find on the island (sooo pretentious), but if it's "ethnic" and in the cool parts of Harlem or Queens (Brooklyn is passé) then it's awesome.

  20. Anonymous  

    Hey Zach!

    You sound like a fascinating person, I wish I had met you during my time here.
    Congratulations on being named Salutatorian!


  21. Its weird to see you here  

    and not at joes :P

    -Josh F

    btw lets you me and tabes hang this weekend

  22. Anonymous  

    senior wisdoms are for finals week. No way in hell you write that analysis on a casual wed. afternoon before spring break.... in any case. well done.

  23. wait  

    Zach is gay?!?

  24. Anonymous  

    oh wow i really love him...fucking great senior wisdom. I see why this kid is our salutatorian.

  25. Other recommendations  

    Go to TriBECA to schmooze with DeNiro. (So much fun!!)

    Go to Astoria to hang out with the locals.

    Morningside's nice, but stay away from Sunnyside.

    If you want to fuck a rich, gay banker, the financial district's the place for you.

    Go to Harlem FOR SOUL FOOD. You have to try Red Rooster.

  26. cc 12  

    i fucking love this guy

  27. I can't wait  

    for this guy's speech on Class Day!!!

  28. The Dark Hand  

    >Major in Anthropology
    >Become salutatorian
    >still don't have a job

    • cc12  

      i know this is a joke, but just putting it out there--believe me this guy has options. he could get into any anthro grad program in the world (not to mention yale law school or anything else he chooses), but he has the luxury (since he is so effing smart, and has the credentials to prove it) to take a year off. he could literally sit on his ass (or on someone else's) for a year and no admissions board would bat an eyelash because they'd want him so badly.

      • Wow  

        This is so effing rad. To think that anyone would want him, even if he sits on his ass, is effing wild. He must be one wise mothereffer. Mad props to a bad mothereffer.

  29. CC'12  

    I only met Zach recently and know him through friends. But he is just about the coolest person at this school. Smart, humble, fun, funny, interesting and outgoing. This senior wisdom is a testament to just how great he is and I couldn't be happier with my class' salutatorian.

  30. Sumner


  31. Anonymous  

    jesus, this is masterful

  32. Anonymous

    faber, where's your senior wisdom?!?!

  33. Anonymous  

    (Is this gonna be me?)

    Awkward Penguin: Wants to do senior wisdom...nominates himself.

  34. Ms. Levine  

    Zach is not gay. This is preposterous. Jesus. He does this sometimes.

  35. Anonymous  

    "If after two years you haven’t met the soulmate-friends some propaganda promised you, hold tight. It probably means you’re a more complex person than the kind NSOP wants you to be for their photoshoot." This explains my exact situation right now. I constantly feel like time is just wasting away when I never make deep connections with people here at Columbia. I blame myself, I tell myself that people don't find me interesting, I tell myself that my time to make close friends is almost up. Facebook especially has a way of making one feel like everything that other people have is missing from their own life. That's why I thank you so much for this advice, it really made me feel better about my situation and more optimistic.

    • Anonymous

      I agree with you completely about the facebook bit.

      I made my closest friends from Columbia during my final semester- funny how those things work...BUT stay strong and work on that confidence...outside of college finding interesting and trustworthy friends gets MUCH more difficult but you've just gotta keep going. Those things take a lot of time and nobody likes to solely be friends with his or her coworkers.

  36. Nim  

    I have the honor of staying on his couch tonight.


  37. CC'12

    I have had the honor of knowing Zach from his freshman year, and I can honestly say that he has always been the nicest, warmest person I have met at Columbia. Also, his genuine intellectual curiosity and ambition is inspiring. SOO PROUD that he will be representing Columbia College as our salutatorian at graduation. Zach, you deserve it!

  38. Anonymous  

    read it! its funny

  39. Anonymous  

    This is the best senior wisdom I have read so far. Thank you, Zach.

  40. Nida  

    Hi Zach, let's take lots of pictures at graduation. By which I mean eight billion.

  41. Anonymous  

    great senior wisdom, epic pic!

  42. Anonymous  

    So like...the best vindaloos in queens. Please, do tell.

  43. Anonymous  

    Awesome. This is a perfect Senior Wisdom. I think his advice is spot-on and he seems ridiculously smart and funny. I actually appreciated the name-dropping of other neighborhoods in the city, actually. It gave me ideas! I try to venture out of our pocket of Manhattan fairly frequently, but I know how easy it is to get caught up. I love the part about emailing those people you admire directly. It always seems like a long shot, but you never know. I also love the not-figuring-it-out-quite-yet positivity. Thanks, Zach (and Bwog) for this.

  44. Anonymous  

    Firstly the admissions process is so subjective...who do you consider "more deserving"? Someone who gets higher sat scores, does more voluntary work.
    Also speaking about getting a leg-up...if you want to consider advantages

    Is a student who gets a 2300 vs one who gets 2100 really more deserving of admission if the one that got 2300 could afford extra sat prep, tutors ..whereas the one that got 2100 couldn't and had to take a job to support his family?

    Is a student who was able to go on trips to Africa over the summer to help out in orphanages, or volunteer in a lab more deserving than a student that couldn't do any of the above because they couldn't afford to?

    Is a student who can afford to pay expensive college admissions counsellor /have parents that can actually help them during the admissions process more deserving than students who have a clueless high school counsellor and can't afford extra help?

    Is the admissions process giving preference to the rich?

    Affirmative action is definitely not a perfect process, and unfortunately there will be some people who will fall through the cracks. There will also be some people who will perhaps not have these opportunities but not be compensated for the disadvantages they experience (e.g. poor caucasian).

    • Anonymous

      I agree with this argument on many levels, but you're missing a key point.
      You seem to conflate being poor/from a low socioeconomic status with being a minority race. This is obviously not true. There are a lot of wealthy black/hispanic students here and a lot of dirt poor white kids. You do address this at the very end, but still, you seem to be directly talking about poor people, not minorities, those who affirmative action really does help.
      I met a (caucasian) girl who lived out of her car throughout her senior year of high school. Should she perhaps get the same affirmative action benefits as those who come from wealthy minority families?

  45. Anonymous

    Zac! I am so proud of your rainbow glory. I'm proud to have you salute the troops, and cannot wait to hear the speech! Mazel tov!

  46. Anonymous  

    this is the best senior wisdom i have read during 4 years here. its funny, political, relevant, and true. thank you, zach!

  47. Obama  

    I got u. anal on deck

  48. The Second Gayest Miracle  

    Can I preorder The Gayest Miracle?

  49. EC 12th floor  

    I found someone's sexy Armani man-panties in MY laundry so maybe we swapped...?

  50. zach's godmother

    I am up and alone at 4am now 5am and so I can vouch for your advice about "share suffering"...
    I am almost 57 and can say that this is still true...reach out, ask for help, you never know what joy and pay is coming your way no matter how old you are...but connecting with yourself and others is still the bottom line for a hotel at 5am

  51. Anonymous

    I mean pain not pay but hey you never know what pay is coming your way live it up!

  52. Godmama

    I love you sweetie! so proud of you.

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