Jerry composed the Varsity Show but knows the truth—no club on campus is worth caring about being rejected by.

Name, School, Major, Hometown: Jerry Zheng; Columbia College; Music and Economics; Hoffman Estates, IL

Claim to fame: Acted in/composed the Varsity Show, lived in various dorms that no one has ever heard of, created a definitive ranking of the pianos on campus.

Where are you going? Hopefully downtown. Love Morningside Heights dearly. Need to get away for the sake of my Tinder account.

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

  1. Everyone says that clubs are the lifeblood of this campus. This is true, but it’s also stressful to hear when you’re not getting into them. Know that lots of people meet their friends more serendipitously. And know that, while I loved (most of) my club experiences, there is no club on campus worth being upset about not getting into. Let rejections be your impetus to try something unfamiliar. And if you can, try to join clubs that meet more than just once a week. It’ll be more stressful to balance with school and more ripe for drama, but it’ll also be a much more meaningful experience where you will make closer friends. And really, that’s what it’s all about.
  2. Unless they show you otherwise, assume that people like you and want to be friends with you. My first few semesters here, I was too scared to reach out first to people and overthought every group conversation I found myself in (i.e. I was a very silent underclassman) because I was worried about whether or not people actually liked me. This made me come across as cold and aloof, which is not very helpful when you’re desperate for friends (which I absolutely was). So be the person who texts and makes plans first. Say hi to the person you barely know on the lawns. Tell the joke that you’re not sure will land. Live laugh love.
  3. There are a lot of genuinely kind and decent people at this school who can also be self-centered and status-driven. It’s hard to wrap your head around at times, and it’s even harder when you start to realize that you don’t fit into someone’s ambitions. Don’t dwell on it too much and don’t fault them too much for it. There are plenty of people on this campus that will cherish having you in their lives—I promise you’ll find them.

“Back in my day…” CMTS was able to get rights to shows. The Varsity Show owned a keyboard. Campus was tent-free. Diana had a smoothie station that you could use meal swipes at—I mourn this one daily.

Favorite Columbia controversy? The Bacchanal ticketing crisis, the senior cruise ticketing crisis, the senior gala ticketing crisis, the senior brunch ticketing crisis. 

What was your favorite class at Columbia? 

Recorded Sound with David Adamcyk. I like classical music enough, but getting away from Dodge (Hall, not Gym!) and into the Computer Music Center was one of the best things I ever did. I spent so long feeling out of place in the Music major because my interests leaned more towards contemporary music—if you’re in the same boat, the CMC is the place for you.

Conducting with Jeffrey Milarsky. Possibly the kindest, most generous man I have ever met. His words of encouragement got me through some awful days at this school.

Intro to Behavioral Economics with Homa Zarghamee. Such a smart and witty professor. Such an interesting class.  

Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? The vast majority of people end up saying they’d give up oral sex after some coy and quirky prose, but I have always felt that this is an unfair match up. All types of cheese versus one type of sex? I’m rooting for the underdog. I’m bidding adieu to cheese.

Whom would you like to thank? My parents, my brother, Joe, Vikas, Katherine, Will, Alyssa, Heli, Ian, Anna, Jaeda, Harris, Nury, Maryam, V126, V128, the CMC, the Broadway Sky Lounge piano (not the best campus piano but perhaps the one with the most character), the man that I shared an umbrella with on a Fall 2019 UrbanNY trip whose name I never got, anyone who has ever treated me with kindness at this school, and countless others.

One thing to do before graduating: Sit on Low Steps late on a Friday night with some friends. Watch the John Jay windows light up in various hues of blue and purple and red. Listen to the sound of people laughing as they stumble across College Walk. Feel strange about the little life you’ve built for yourself.

Any regrets? Lots! Not reaching out first. Not feeling good enough. Not being honest with myself. Not caring less about what other people thought of me. Not being braver. Not being messier. 

(And many more to come!)

Photo via Jerry