These days, Matt Dalrymple, SEAS ’16, rocks a jagged, bleached-blond bowl cut. Like the baggy workman’s clothes he frequently wears, his hairstyle is unusual, but still not enough to attract stares. This was not the case when Matt arrived at Columbia in the fall of 2014 to study Civil Engineering in the University’s 3-2 Program. Fresh off the train from Bard College, Matt sported a spiky do dyed bright magenta. His look didn’t help with the already difficult transfer process. “Maybe I was getting a little alienated for having this weird haircut,” Matt recalls. “Like people specifically wouldn’t talk to me.”
Matt very quickly learned just what a difference a few miles downriver makes. “It seems like a lot of people are really impressed with themselves here. There are a lot more people interested in going into business or finance. That wasn’t the case at all at Bard.”
But it’s not as if the aspiring civil engineer hadn’t known what he was getting himself into. “That’s partly why I decided to do the [3-2] program... The job security and the prestige of going to Columbia is attractive.”
Since his arrival in Morningside Heights, Matt has gracefully reconciled his desire to take advantage of the University’s resources and his commitment to live according to his values. Matt has undoubtedly made Alma Mater proud—winning the American Planning Association’s student essay contest (which is usually awarded to graduate students), and landing a job in green infrastructure implementation with the city of Philadelphia.
Simultaneously, Matt has found more critical and emotionally fulfilling outlets through his social life and extracurriculars. Soon after coming to campus, Matt joined Student Worker Solidarity (SWS), where he worked on the campaign to win $15 wages for all student workers. As a first generation college student and a student worker himself, the activism is very personal. Yet he also finds it worthwhile on a more intellectual level. “I don’t want to get too theoretical or anything,” he muses, “but I feel labor issues are related to all other social justice issues.”
Another important space for Matt has been Potluck House, where he has lived since the fall semester of this year. Through his five years of college, Matt has valued being “part of a community that was consciously trying to live together.” He found that at Potluck, where he consciously prepares elaborate vegetarian meals for his friends, like “pine nut quinoa salad with sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts.”
Fellow Potlucker (or, in official parlance, “pooty luquer") and SWS activist Jada Young, CC ’17, admires Matt for his skateboarding prowess as much as his cooking. She describes a recent incident in which Matt skated up to a chair, jumped over it with the board still rolling beneath him, landed back on the board and continued skating.
Jada also enjoys Matt’s unique brand of humor. “A lot of times he’s joking, but it’s not for other people to laugh.” For his part, Matt sees humor as a way to experiment in tone. “I think you can simultaneously really like something ironically and sincerely,” he opines. “It’s not a clear distinction anymore.”
For Matt, these conflicting tones are a natural response to the culture we live in. “Our contemporary media frames things... in such a way that I want things that are opposite to each other and totally conflicting. I want to move up some corporate ladder, and be some engineer, but I also want justice for worker’s rights. So you have to recognize those contradictions.”