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. This issue, we bring you two people with interests in social justice. If you’d like to suggest a Campus Character, send us an email at email@example.com.
The funny thing about Cooper Lynn’s, CC ’17, appearance on Late Night with David Letterman is that at one point it never should have happened. Lynn, who was born and raised in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, vividly remembers declaring “New York City is a shit hole, I need to get the fuck out of here” during his freshman year of high school. Yet four years later, he was a freshman at Columbia sitting alongside other raffle winners in their Columbia sweaters (“because we all had to wear our fucking Columbia sweaters, right?”) watching Letterman do his opening monologue on national television.
After seeing the group of Columbia students, Letterman went down the line asking their majors. When it came to his turn, Lynn replied saying he was majoring in Comparative Literature and Society, and David Letterman just went off. “He just goes straight into, ‘You’ll never get a job, don’t tell your mother because she’ll stop paying your tuition,’” Lynn recalls. “I became the poster child for useless majors for a solid week.”
Before this moment, Lynn spent the majority of his high school career playing jazz piano, co-leading a group and playing regularly in The City. Despite being torn between the academy and the conservatory, Lynn decided to stay in New York so he could engage “with music and culture more frequently” before ultimately deciding to take a break from music. “If one thing is defining your identity,” Lynn says, “then it can be sort of overwhelming. That’s something I’m sure everyone realizes.” The break, however, wasn’t completely successful. Lynn can be found frequently playing on campus, be it with a saxophone player in his dorm or with the Columbia Free Jazz Ensemble. He also programs “Out For Lunch” for WKCR-FM’s jazz department (Thursdays 12-3pm!).
Finding Comp Lit may not have been entirely unlikely for Lynn, as literature has always been something that he’s “passionate about and interested in.” But what Columbia provided him with that he didn’t have previously was an interest in language that has “only grown since [he’s] gotten here.” What initially started as a desire to take Russian because he wanted “to take a language that nobody would understand why [he] took it” quickly became something that would become a new passion. He calls comp lit the “best major at Columbia” and a “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” that allows you to “just take whatever classes you want and basically make them count.”
Now, as Lynn approaches graduation, he is faced with the same decision he has always faced: pursue music or academia. There are many options, all of them equally appealing, different, and uncertain. While finishing up a translation of Argentine author Antonio de Benedetto’s Absurdos, he’s considered working as a translator but “no one makes a career as a literary translator.” Or maybe Lynn will pursue further education, but that contains further decisions. Rutgers offers a M.A. in Jazz History, or there’s also the potential to pursue a Ph.D. in Russian literature “because [he’s] invested so much time in it.” Even simply working at a record label is a possibility. “If I could write liner notes for the rest of my life, I’d be so into that. It’d be fantastic,” Lynn says. Or maybe even none of the above. “Otherwise I’m trying to find a job at a library,” Lynn tells me. “I’m boring, so I think that I would do well at a library.” Lynn’s story, however, says otherwise.
— Ned Russin