You might not know the following figures—but you should. In Campus Characters, The Blue & White introduces you to a handful of Columbians who are up to interesting and extraordinary things and whose stories beg to be shared. If you’d like to suggest a Campus Character, send us an email at email@example.com.
“I literally don’t matter and that is the most validating thing. I feel more special for how unexceptional I am,” Ridge Montes, SEAS ’15, tells me as we wrap up our interview. We had been talking philosophy, as Ridge often does.
“On a deep, deep, deep fundamental level, we are all the same,” he’d said earlier, before clarifying. “Not all our attributes are the same, not even our habits are the same, but the praxis that we use for retaining or changing habits over the course of a lifetime has a very strong similarity one person to the next, so much so that we can talk about life, or talk about love.”
Our three hour conversation ended up in the EC townhouse where he has lived as an RA for three years. Ridge has been in dorms for a long time, from boarding school to the 3-2 combined plan at Columbia, with a pit stop at the University of Chicago in between.
In addition to his RA job, Ridge works in the Classics department and at Vino Fino, a wine shop close to Columbia. He has been financially independent throughout his time at Columbia. “All the clothes I wear, all the knick knacks in my room, I can think about them in terms of life I spent,” Ridge tells me. “So one hour at the office will buy me maybe three bottles of beer, maybe a T-shirt, and you populate your life, you make it the fingerprint of your activities.”
When we arrived at his townhouse, Ridge put on the overture to The Magic Flute, his favorite opera, and we continued our conversation over a meal of shakshuka, which Ridge prepared on the spot. He likes to cook for people—it’s how he met his best friend, Patrick Aloia, CC ’15. Near the end of the first semester of their CC class, Ridge invited Patrick and a few other classmates over for dinner. “We went over to his home, he got us wine, he made us roast chicken, rice, everything tasted great, and we just talked about philosophy and our lives,” says Patrick. “It was totally natural and he made us feel welcome.”
Ridge studies classics in CC and applied mathematics in SEAS. He started teaching himself Latin at 14, and learned Greek soon after that. “I can’t even say that it enriched my life because my life would be literally inconceivable without this stuff,” he observes. Supplementing his studies, Ridge has spent the past four years acting with the Barnard Columbia Ancient Drama Group, which stages performances in their original languages.
“People don’t acknowledge the strangeness of Shakespeare, of Dante, of the Romans, the Greeks,” Ridge says of his studies. “You know, the Romans used to eat something called garum, which is basically pickled fish in vinegar, and they thought it was the most delicious thing in the world. It sounds to me like it sucks. They also killed people because they thought it was funny.”
Ridge converses socratically. He will tell you what he believes, but he will also push you to articulate your beliefs as completely as possible. Ridge reads and talks to people so that he can figure out his own thoughts, and he is not afraid to make bold declarations.
“The world is literally flowing through us. And that’s not just when something pushes you. Everything you learn and everything that you relate is life coursing through you like a river and you’re just a riverbed, and all the things that you learn add flavor to what’s coursing through you. That is how life works.”
— Jennifer Sluka