Profiles of the Spring 2022 Incoming Class

A few incoming students share their stories, highlighting their experiences and backgrounds before coming to GS—all of it culminating in their enrollment at Columbia University.

January 18, 2022


Alejandro Carrillo

Alejandro Carrillo

"I was born in the land of 100 years of solitude, the one whose ethos is fueled by magical realism: Colombia. Five years ago due to political turmoil, I had to seek asylum in the United States. Arriving in Miami, I would soon learn the emigrants’ way is not an idyllic path, but rather full of tribulations. Whilst I walked through this dark forest, philosophy and literature were my Virgil, lighting my way.

In my right ear, Nietzsche would whisper: ‘He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.’ In the left one, Cavafy would add: ‘As you set out for Ithaka/ hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery.’ It was a wonderful process of personal growth, wherein vulnerability laid bare was channeled into a driving force.

Inspired by ‘Good Will Hunting’, I moved to Boston, my goal being to study philosophy. But the odds were against me. My English was limited, as were my economic means; what little I earned was spent on basic necessities. Once again the whispers would carry me forward: I learned English empirically and started studying liberal arts at a community college while working part-time. In my leisurely readings, I discovered Schopenhauer, who introduced me to the concept of art as the liberator of the human spirit. Learning to play the piano, I could appreciate with greater vehemence the sublime. I have been practicing for two years now, and hope to eventually play Chopin’s pieces. During this past year, I’ve had the opportunity to work two internships as an educator with some of Boston’s most disadvantaged children, initially at a bilingual elementary school and most recently at a middle school teaching STEM courses.

I have always pursued the archetype of knowledge, and Columbia represents to me the Prometheus that would give the flame of knowledge to humans. It is a magnet for the brightest minds of the world, thus I wanted to be part of that laudable enterprise. GS has a strong emphasis on liberal arts and a magnificent path for nontraditional students, so it was the place I wanted to belong. Columbia would be my Ithaca."

Kourtni Lind-Watson

Kourtni Lind-Watson

"I've spent the last 15 years carefully crafting a career in the performing arts for which I am endlessly grateful. I started dancing when I was three years old at my mom's dance studio in Minnesota, graduated high school at 16, and moved to Los Angeles at 17 to pursue dance professionally. I am especially thankful for the breadth of my experiences, which have ranged from television to Broadway and most mediums in between. My career also gifted me the most spectacular person I could imagine sharing a life with; I met my wife Arlene when I was a performer in Spider-Man on Broadway and she worked in the puppet shop. My most recent job as the dance supervisor on a touring production of the musical Hamilton brought us and our two dogs all over the country and, after a long 4 years on the road (with a pandemic hiatus in the middle), we happily settled back home in Brooklyn at the end of November. Despite a lot of incredible moments, meeting some of my best friends, and building a résumé that I feel quite proud of, there has been a gnawing ache in my depths that started a handful of years ago. It's been whispering about another path, another purpose, pointing me toward the other part of me that has been patiently waiting for a decade and a half while I pursued a career in the arts.

I initially acted upon that feeling in 2016 when I enrolled at St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, MN to begin earning the undergraduate degree I did not pursue immediately following high school. I always loved school as a kid and skipped a couple of grades during my elementary and junior high school years. I think most people thought it was because I wanted to get to dancing but, in reality, it was because I loved the feeling in my mind of being challenged beyond what I—or anyone else—thought I could do. I stopped answering that part of me academically after I graduated high school and, though I maintained the same kind of fervor throughout my career in dance, it turned out that the draw towards education and the desire to provoke my intellectual curiosity were not going anywhere. I wanted to understand human psychology, why we do what we do, think what we think, feel what we feel, and the science behind it all. I was registered in my second year of classes at St. Kate's—schedule was set, books were purchased—when I got a job offer I couldn't refuse. Dance supervisor for Hamilton? Yes, please! It felt like everything I had done in my career had led me to that point, bringing together all of my skills and experiences to culminate at an apex. So I withdrew from school and flipped our life upside down in September of 2017. However, I soon realized that my yearning to pursue a degree, move onto a new path, and build a second career was tangibly stronger than what remained of my desire to continue growing my current career. It's a bizarre feeling, being in a job that's supposed to be a "dream job" but still looking longingly in another direction. Confusing as it was, it was also affirming. I knew that the next step following that job had to be the return to my studies, no question. I realized how tired I had grown of an industry that cared more about how I looked than what I thought, more about who I knew than what I knew, and even sometimes cared more about how my body was shaped than how skillfully it could actually move.

Thankfully a colleague of mine told me about her friend who had graduated from GS and loved every minute. I swiftly began obsessing over the website—it felt like someone had infiltrated my imagination and created the absolute perfect school. A traditional Ivy League education for folks like me who took a completely different path and lived another life but now, years later, want the rigor and challenge of a school like Columbia?! Sign. Me. Up.

So I drooled over GS for two years on the road, then the pandemic happened and our industry shut down. I applied to GS and got accepted for Fall 2021 (*cue messy crying*), but our Hamilton tour came back to life in July, so I deferred to the Spring '22 semester. I finished my touring contract (that was supposed to end in April 2020) at the end of November 2021, and finally... happily... thankfully... breathlessly...had my first day of classes at Columbia on January 18, 2022. I could not be happier or more grateful to all of the people who directly and indirectly informed, supported, and helped forge this pathway. It has been strange and winding and held many unexpected turns—but come 2024, I will be graduating from Columbia with a degree in psychology or neuroscience and cannot wait to see what happens next. Stay tuned!"

Matthew Oey

Matthew Oey

"A city boy who used to hate the outdoors, I enlisted in the Singapore Army at the age of 18 to serve two years of mandatory conscription. I was selected to be a Third Sergeant at the School of Army Reconnaissance, a coveted branch of Military Intelligence that specialized in jungle espionage. I saw Reconnaissance as an opportunity to grow up and mature through strenuous challenges and exciting adventures. I learned how to survive for days on biscuits and water, how to build shelter out of wood, how to skin and eat quails, how to lug around an 80-pound aggregate combat load in relative silence, and how to be comfortable in a jungle at night with a map and compass. I was once even chased by a wild boar (true and crazy story)! What I learned was that my personal growth would not derive directly from these physical feats but from the silent struggles, the culture shock, and the mental adversity that came with being a part-American international student in a foreign military.

I grew up in a household infused with American and Indonesian culture from my father. I visited family in the U.S. annually, and attended an international school that encouraged the sort of free and creative thinking that would get you a good scolding in the army. I quickly learned that I was too different for Reconnaissance through racial name calling that referred to my American accent, and was once even ordered to cut short a mission briefing because I didn’t ‘speak like a normal Singaporean.’ I found that the hardest part of my military service was not the physical aspect, but learning to work with people that were predisposed to dislike me because of factors out of my control—it took a lot of forgiveness, perspective, and empathy that I had to silently develop over time; a personal journey that continues today.

Having been a civilian for over a year, I still reflect on the duality of my military experience. For every instance of ostracization, there were also deep connections that persisted across cultural and socioeconomic barriers, and cherished friendships that I keep to this day. For every power-hungry commander that made my life harder, there were platoon mates who offered to carry some of my load because they knew I had two ruptured tendons in my knee. My greatest takeaways were that there was more to the military than conventional appearances of manliness and physicality, and that maturity was an internal growth rather than a flamboyant adventure.

The military exposed me to an entire world beyond the confines of my international school bubble. These experiences solidified my decision to pursue a career in law in order to help others who weren’t fortunate enough to have the same upbringing as me. I attended Middlebury College in Vermont where my father’s side of the family has lived for seven generations. After the two craziest years of my life, I wanted a traditional college experience in a place that I called home to regain some semblance of normalcy.

Although the serene landscape of Vermont gave me a nice reprieve from military life, I found myself often using my experiences to make sense of my education. I applied knowledge gained from my time as an Intelligence Specialist to analyze the defense strategy employed during the Second Persian Invasion of Greece. My first-hand experience with command structures helped me understand the Nuremberg Trials and the paradoxical debate of command responsibility during wartime. I utilized Charles Mills’ theory of sociological imagination to contextualize Singaporean army culture within its historical origins. Ethical philosophy helped me reflect on a time when I stole food from enemy forces because I was excruciatingly hungry, and I applied this to comprehending moral necessity.

I met many great professors at Middlebury, such as Jane Chaplin and Ilaria Brancoli, who welcomed my military experiences in the classroom and were interested in my story. I came to embrace my cultural duality and military service as an indivisible component of my education, and yearned to be around peers who valued and encouraged the symbiosis between lived experience and traditional academics. This realization drew me to Columbia GS, whose students refuse to treat education as a means to an end, but, like me, have found personal pursuits that contextualize their academic passions within a greater plan for social change."

Isabella Redivo

Isabella Redivo

“I learned how to read when I was three. It became a habit pretty quickly. I remember thinking of reading as a little secret the writer and I were sharing together. It wasn't long until I started venturing out into the world of storytelling. My own little stories, in my own little world. I started writing and didn't stop. And people seemed to notice. My entrance essay for my previous university in Brazil made it into the yearly book of best essays and I felt seen and heard like never before. But life took its turns and I ended up meeting the different side of the world. The real one. The one with downfalls and unexpected twists that are never quite as joyful and exciting as the literary ones. Then at 19, I met the world of violence. Violence that shook my entire family and made me relocate to the United States. Violence that put my family and I in a new category: refugees. I forgot about storytelling, forgot about my own story and focused on the work. I did everything. Restaurant jobs, delivery driving, retail—I even worked at Coachella one year; anything that would put food on the table and keep my family afloat. Life's not always easy when you're an illegal immigrant, so we had to stick together. But soon enough, I met another side of life: redemption. Slowly, life seemed to be straightening itself out. I got my papers, quit my jobs, and decided to focus on my long-lost dream of becoming a writer. Living in Los Angeles, I managed to get a job in entertainment. I became a production assistant on various sets while going to school full-time —12, 13, sometimes 14 hours of working, then going back home to do homework and quizzes. It wasn't easy, but giving up would have been a lot harder. I'm glad my life took the turns it did, and I'm proud of the person I have become because of it. I would never have believed I could get into Columbia if I didn't have to fight all those battles before. My dad always said, ‘you already have the no, so why not try and get a yes?’ So I tried. And it worked.

I guess I owe it all to my mom, to be honest. My parents, actually. Neither of them have Bachelor's Degrees, but they have always pushed us not to have the best grades, but to appreciate education, knowledge, and the power of learning. How revolutionary it can be. Mom was accepted into a great university, but couldn't afford it so she never attended. She wanted to be a judge. After we moved to the U.S., I completely abandoned the idea of going to college. I was working full-time, and could never find the time or the money to dedicate myself to school. But deep down, I missed it. I actually really like school, and learning, and reading. After a three-year break, I was inspired by my little brother's hustle to get into college, even with the disadvantage of being an illegal immigrant. I thought that if he was doing it, without having any papers and basically no support, I could do it too. I decided to take some community college classes and fell in love with learning more about literature and great authors that I have always admired. I battled my fear of failure, my anxiety after being away from school for so long, and since I was doing so well in community college, I decided to apply to my dream school: Columbia University. I had never imagined myself attending such a prestigious school before, but after I received a letter from GS, I decided to look further into the program. I had never heard of GS before, so it was amazing to find out that Columbia has a school for nontraditional and returning students just like me. I'm glad I took on the challenge of going back to school and I'm glad for that letter. Now, I'm making two of my biggest dreams come true: attending Columbia and living in New York City. And I couldn't be happier.

Viola Davis said that the great late Sidney Poitier once told her: ‘if your dreams don't scare you, then they are not big enough.’ I personally thank GS and Columbia for giving us—big dreamers—a second chance at fulfilling dreams we once thought were too big and too distant for any of us to grab. To all my fellow new GS students: We made it. We are good enough. We got this."

Postbac Premed

Kat Christensen

Kat Christensen

“All my life I've been an actor. Ever since I was a little kid in Utah, I've said ‘I'm gonna grow up, move to New York City, and be an actor.’ That's largely been true. I went to Barnard College for undergrad and majored in theatre. After graduation, I moved to Chicago to make weird puppet theatre. In 2019, I moved back to NY and kept up the grind. Right before the pandemic, I was even Romeo in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ set in a nightclub.

Then the pandemic hit, and it was impossible to act. Luckily, my day job was teaching and tutoring, so I was still making enough money to survive. But it was the first time in my life where I had to sit in the quiet of the day. I found myself yearning for a different purpose. I didn't miss acting at all.

Around that time, I also started seeking out areas of my own transition. I joined waitlists for plastic surgeons, got the necessary mental health clearances, and started HRT. I found that I couldn't talk to my own doctor about all of this because she didn't understand. ‘But you're such a beautiful girl!’ She really meant well.

I want a genderfluid doctor. I am a volunteer for Trans Lifeline, and I talk to people all the time about finding doctors that are trans competent. I realized that I could become the doctor that we all so desperately need, so I applied to the Postbac Premed Program.

All my life I was a ‘pretty girl’ who ‘couldn't do math.’ Now I'm a premed student.”

Finnegan Clark

Finnegan Clark

“I majored in physics and was interested in patterns, abstractions, and the universe in general. But towards the end of college, as I started to think about a path forward, a couple things became clear to me.

First, from a scientific standpoint, I found myself more captivated by complexity and feedback systems in life and living things than pure physics; and second, it became clear to me that I derive more energy, joy, and motivation from direct interaction and service to other people than anything else. Just as these realizations were occurring, and as certain puzzle pieces began to fall into place, I found myself thrust into an entirely unexpected, gripping, and decidedly medical situation.

I experienced an array of symptoms that were difficult to treat and remained unexplained after countless doctor's appointments. It was a period of great vulnerability and fear for me. And yet, even as I struggled, I could not help but also marvel at my body's ability to contain such an experience: at once so alienating and psychological, yet also so consuming and physical. In the end, I was saved by a combination of progressive and creative thinking by a particular physician, as well as results from a cutting-edge genetic assay. I emerged healthy, grateful, and determined. I am excited to become a doctor and use every tool available to me to help people struggling with their health.

I grew up in New York City and am happy it has made me who I am. I think New York is an amazing place, but there is a lot of work to do to make it fair and safe for everyone, especially when it comes to healthcare. I imagine myself practicing medicine here and doing what I can to help advance medicine both scientifically and systemically.”

Anaïs Elkins

Anaïs Elkins

"My childhood dream was to be a zookeeper. Hours of Animal Planet, Discovery, and National Geographic filled my dreams with every kind of animal and I imagined my best life surrounded by them. Volunteering in animal rescue has shown me that, for the rest of my life, I want to care for animals, support the humans that love them, and be a voice for those animals who have no one.
I came to New York City and dove into the linguistics department at NYU, where I found a passion for sociolinguistics and anthropology. While my career in the language services industry has pushed me to grow and take on new challenges, I lost sight of my passion for learning and city life had pulled me away from my love of animals.

It became clear to me that my work life was not fulfilling and in the pandemic, when all I seemingly had was work, the gears started turning and I knew I needed a change. Fostering dogs and cats was the first step in bringing my love of animals back into my life. Returning to school is the next (big) step in my journey and I couldn't be more excited. Rediscovering my passion for animals and getting involved with rescue in NYC has helped me find my path and commit myself to this pre-vet journey. Waggytail Rescue's 2022 Tijuana rescue mission is inspiring my work for this first semester. I am so glad to be able to be involved in the rescue community and learn hands on as well as in the Columbia classroom."