Doing improv and bartending really aren’t that different…

Name, School, Major, Hometown: Marco Fine Balestri, Columbia College, History, NYC

Claim to fame: Most likely was your bartending teacher, COÖP/OL leader, or Fine Family Fitness instructor. Possibly recruited you to phone bank for Sara Gideon, Jon Ossoff & Reverend Warnock. Maybe even politely yelled at you to avoid the set during a CUSS sketch on College Walk. Definitely as your local Italian Stallion. 

Where are you going? Back to my apartment where I’ll wine and dine with my roommates. Prem promised he’d make us Indian food. I’m still waiting… 

What are 3 things you learned at Columbia and would like to share with the Class of 2026?

  1. Take initiative! Introduce yourself to everyone. People in college are always so anxious to take the initiative to meet new people. Be the person to take the risk and say “Hi!” to a fellow classmate or floormate. Everyone is looking for a friend. 
  2. Try new things! Join clubs that sound fun even if you don’t have experience. I know Columbia clubs can be outrageously competitive and it can be disheartening. Freshman year, I want to join an improv group. I ended up becoming a bartender. Not so far off. JOIN THE COLUMBIA BARTENDING AGENCY. The CBA bartenders and e-board have taught me so much and I’ve grown because of their generosity, hard-work, and creativity. The CBA will be the best part of your time at Columbia. 
  3. Take experiential learning classes. A lot of classes at CU are based around theory and aren’t rooted in real world experience. There are some really special classes where you get to learn by doing, working, and volunteering. You’ll learn the most from these classes. I’ll mention some of them soon. 
  4. Work will never die, but your friends will. So spend your time with them while you can

“Back in my day…” Amigos was a thriving establishment serving up the most dangerous fishbowl margaritas in Manhattan. Also, Chipotle used to give you a side of tortilla with your bowl for free. Inflation, I guess.

Favorite Columbia controversy? Venmo me for your emotional labor X the Milk debacle. Those two ran so deep and I just can’t choose one. 

What was your favorite class at Columbia? 

  • Columbia Bartending’s mixology course. Do it and you’re cool.
  • Comparative Constitutional Challenges with Elizabeth OuYang. I took this class my junior year and it changed my life. Also, I’ve never cried so much in a Columbia class before. 
  • Seeking Asylum with Nara Milanich. During the pandemic, we worked with the Women’s Refugee Commission on their storytelling project, transcribing their interviews with Latin American families separated under Trump’s 2017 border policy. Prof. Milanich puts so much time and effort into the class and it is really amazing.
  • Immigrant New York with Rebecca Kobrin. Volunteered weekly with the Riverside Language Program, an English language school for recently resettled immigrants and refugees. Met some incredible people that reshaped my understanding of immigration law.
  • Sport and Society in the Americas with Frank Guridy. First class I took at Columbia. Prof. Guridy will make you fall in love with history.
  • History of the American South with Barbara Fields. She’s a legend. 
  • Latin American Civilizations with Caterina Pizzigoni. The only large lecture class I took at Columbia. Prof. Pizzigoni memorized all 200 students’ names.
  • Reforming American Elections with Michael Miller. You’re interested in voting rights and election reform? This is the class to take.  
  • Lit Hum with Atefeh Akbari and UWriting with Kevin Windhauser. You guys are the best.
  • Photography 1 with Rachel Stern. You might have seen me around campus snapping pics on an old Minolta film camera. Io sono fotografo. 

Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? Pizza, pasta, pizza, pasta. Arrivederci formaggio ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Whom would you like to thank? The Academy. For giving the College Emmy to Hofstra University over CUSS. We learned from the experience and are stronger for it. Carman 11 for being my first home at Columbia. Carman 601 and 603 for the endless debauchery. Carman 8, where I met some of my best friends. Ati’s Lit Hum class. Kevin for teaching me how to write and be a critical thinker. The entire CUSS family for taking me out of my comfort zone and for being the funniest people I know. The CBA Board and all 200+ bartenders. You guys rock and make some mean cocktails. The Class of 2021 AND the Class of 2022. Conversation Jews—I couldn’t go a day without our social commentary. Ham Del and their punch cards. Le Signard. Full Apartment. Sharko. The futon. COÖP. Google Docs. 929 for being the best apartment and family a guy could ask for. Prof. Steingart for helping me undertake the monstrosity that is the independent history thesis. Erica Siegel. Doris’ class at RLP. Fine Family Fitness for giving me hope and joy during a dark time. My mom. Zoë. Ella, the coolest 10 year old in the world. Too many beautiful names and too little space to write them all down—I’ll thank them in person. Smiling as I write this. Ok, that’s enough.

One thing to do before graduating: Bartend for Lin-Manuel Miranda. Maybe, just maybe ;)

Any regrets? Nope. Loved every second of the wild ride that is college. I know you will, too :)

Portrait via Marco (right)