Illustration by Leila Mgaloblishvili, CC '16

Illustration by Leila Mgaloblishvili, CC ’16

One more piece from the May issue of The Blue and White: a Campus Character. Daniel Stone profiles University Senator Richard Sun. You can still grab a copy in Lerner. Or read the damn thing online.

At the suggestion of Richard Sun, CC ’13, we meet in the gaudily adorned lobby of Le Parker Meridian on 56th Street off 6th Avenue. Below five hundred dollar-a-night rooms and next to non-functional renaissance columns, a maroon curtain hides the Burger Joint. Waiting in the long line to get in, Sun tells me he likes the place partly because you “wouldn’t expect to find a relaxed and greasy burger joint at the heart of the hotel.” (It’s also near Brooks Brothers, where he has been shopping and the fare’s good.) Inside the cramped restaurant, as if to hide the fact that the hotel also runs it, graffiti uniformly covers the walls. Prices are written on cardboard boxes in marker. He orders two cheeseburgers and a milkshake. When it turns out they have run out of milkshakes, he opts for water. Then, we sit.

Sun wears many hats. At Columbia, most know him as one of the three University Senators who represent Columbia College, the man who knocked on hundreds of doors to secure victory in his campaign last year. Those who miss his semi-regular USenate email updates may know him as an RA in Carman, Economics TA, brother of Sigma Phi Epsilon, or member of the Ski Team. Many are also familiar with his collection of hard-to-get internships, including a semester in the White House and a summer working for Columbia’s favorite consulting firm, McKinsey & Company. In the past four years, Sun has garnered—along with his impressive resume—a complicated reputation as a public figure on campus.

Sun is unabashed about who he is—a “smart guy” who is “ambitious.” Many know of his aspiration to ultimately serve as an elected government official. He does not slickly obscure his efforts, something of a rarity at school where it pays to be glib; he admitted himself to sometimes taking a “corporate approach” that did not necessarily make him the most popular of people. Several students, who wished to remain unnamed, told of being turned off by Sun and his directness.

He’s not without a sense of humor. Describing his internship at McKinsey, which he called “the greatest summer of my life,” Sun said that he had found the work itself very fulfilling and that McKinsey’s global presence “made the world smaller” for him.  As a third point he praised the training they gave him, during which he learned, among other things that “people like things in threes.”

Beneath everything, it is clear that Sun cares deeply about what he does and works amazingly hard. His friend Ben Spener, CC ’14, likened Sun’s position on the University Senate to a full time job and spoke of his being inspirational. Fellow senator Matthew Chou, CC ’14, added that “the amount of time he puts into [his work] is really incredible.” Perhaps, confessed Chou, who also told of getting emails at 5 a.m. from Sun, “he sometimes works himself too hard.”

The work has paid off. At the end of his senior spring semester, Sun has reached a satisfying plateau. He knows a job at McKinsey waits for him after he spends his summer working as an organizer on the campaign of Democratic New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono. Moreover, as of the day before our interview, he had completed his senior thesis on private-public organization of mass transportation in New York.

Back at Columbia, as we enter through the 116th gates and cross College Walk, he frequently stops to greet people. We part beside the CAVA ambulance and he ascends the Low Steps, off to reconnect with a former university senator.