Better than Fox: 2007 Salutatorian Nick Klagge
Written by Bwog Staff
Former Spectator managing editor and Blacksburg native Nick Klagge is the deans’ choice to say something profound at graduation this year. Bwog stopped by for a sneak peek at the speech, and some MarioKart.
What’s the process like for becoming a salutatorian?
I haven’t been told a lot about it. After they told me I was one, I looked it up on the computer to see, and I guess they take some top percentage of the class by GPA, and there’s like two committees that make the decision.
Have you thought about what you want to talk about?
Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it. I have to give them a draft pretty soon. I’m not sure what my topic will be, but the hardest part of figuring it out is realizing how few of the entire senior class I actually know, and thinking that I have to come up with something that’s going to be meaningful for even people that I don’t know, who’ve probably had an entirely different experience from me.
Are there any themes that strike you as particularly important?
We’re going from this very precise and out-of-the-ordinary environment at Columbia, which is almost unique in the world, and to go wherever other people are going, I guess what are the adjustments we need to make to our mentalities, I’ve been trying to figure that out.
What have been some of the most fulfilling things that you’ve done at Columbia?
The main thing would be working for the newspaper. I put a lot of time into that. When you enter there, it seems like there’s a very well-defined path where you should go if you want to advance, I didn’t end up taking exactly what I expected at the beginning. You start out as a reporter, become a low-level news editor, become the news editor, editor in chief. I didn’t go like that, I ended up switching from the news to the opinion section, doing stuff that I didn’t envision at the beginning, but everything there was interesting and kept me on my toes. I guess that’s the resume one, but probably the biggest thing I’m taking away from Columbia is the people that I’ve met here, particularly my closest group of friends. You can get a great academic experience lots of places, and I’ve loved my academic experience at Columbia, but the thing I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else is the support group I have here, we call ourselves ‘the family,’ and I think that’s not far from the truth.
You’re an econ math major, right? How did that gel with your thing at Spectator?
I always made a point of making sure that classes and my student experience came first, and I had said, if I got into a position at Spectator where I was having to forgo classes and forsake my work, I had to change something, because obviously I’m paying tons of money to be here, and classes are the most important part. I was lucky in that I came in as managing editor in the fall semester, when everyone else on the board had already been working for a semester and things were running pretty smoothly, so I was able to do a reasonable amount of work. The paper could have run perfectly well without me, so anything I could do was just icing on the cake.
What are you doing next year?
I’m working at the Federal Reserve Board in DC. I’m going to be a research assistant in the financial markets division, so basically the Fed has tons of different research divisions on every aspect of the economy that you can imagine, so I’ll be one of several RAs in the group, and I’ll just help the economists with whatever they’re working on.
It seems like a lot of successful people from Columbia end up going into finance and consulting. Why do you think that is?
I think a lot of it has to do with the supply of interest from an employer’s point of view. I did finance internships for two summers, and I thought they were interesting jobs and I liked the work, but I have to say a lot of the reason is that they recruit so heavily on campus, and with these banks and consulting firms knocking down CCE’s door all the time…I don’t have a perfect solution for that and I do wish things were a bit different. I’m actually working with another graduating senior who’s working in a similar position to me but at the New York Fed board to do a workshop for econ students next year who might like to talk about research assistant positions and to get peoples’ contact information. When I started to look for these jobs, there’s not a formal framework for that at Columbia right now.
A few of my friends have had you as an econ TA. What was it like being an undergrad teaching undergrads?
It was amazing. I probably should have put that in my list of fulfilling experiences. It’s certainly daunting. When I started, a lot of the students were older than me, and I knew some of the students, and it’s probably the best academic experience I’ve had at Columbia because to stand there in front of 30 people and teach them a concept really tests how well you know something. You can get A’s in classes just by making sure you know everything the night before the test, but being a TA’s a totally different experience, where you not only have to know everything inside and out, every student learns differently, and to be able to put yourself in their shoes and see what explanation’s going to make sense…I had a lot of fun with it. For both of my classes, I brought in a song that I played at the beginning of each class. I was actually inspired to do this by my dad, who’s a philosophy professor, so he did this in his introductory philosophy class. I got yelled at by other teachers in IAB for playing my music too loud. I think the kids liked it, and I got a kick out of it.
What’s your thesis on?
It was the design of a matching algorithm to match firefighters to their positions in fire departments. Dan [O’Flaherty] was my advisor for that mainly because he has been economic advisor to the city of Newark before, so he was able to get me in touch with some of the guys at the fire department there. They’re actually kind of looking for something to do because their system kind of got screwed up. I don’t hold out great hopes for them actually implementing what I wrote about, but it’s possible I guess.
That sounds like a lot of work. What do you do for fun?
I’m dog sitting now, as we speak. I do play a fair amount of MarioKart with my friends, probably an unfair amount actually. I like to cook. I do that to relax sometimes—especially last semester, when I was doing Spec, it was pretty much the only time I was relaxing.
OK, the question that’s really on everyone’s mind: what’s your GPA?
It’s more than 4.0, which I think is a pre-req to be considered for this.
Well, I’m pretty much out of questions. [To friends playing MarioKart] What should I ask him, guys?
Seth: What lessons from MarioKart will you bring to life after college?
Practice makes perfect. Three hours of practice a day.
Jimmy: What’s the closest you’ve come to being arrested?
Um, no comment.
Jimmy: What’s your favorite bar in the neighborhood?
Probably Sip, actually.
Deborah: What was your favorite class here?
I would probably say it was actually a philosophy class, called Rational Choice, with John Collins. And why I really like that was that we played a game in class and I won. On Monday he would distribute rules to some game and we would have 48 hours to go over them and on Wednesday we would play the game. And whoever had the highest score of all the games at the end of the semester would get awarded the golden shark award and get an interview at Google because a friend of his was a VP at Google. I ended up barely edging out the Golden Shark award, and then not getting a job at Google.
Jimmy: What do you like to cook most, when you cook?
Probably bread pudding.