Daniel Alonso has been involved with Occupy Wall Street since day one.
Alonso made his first trip to Zuccotti Park on Sept. 17—the first day protesters arrived there—and within two weeks he had been arrested and featured in a clip on MSNBC's “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.” He eventually helped run general assemblies and the protesters' kitchen at Zuccotti Park.
Alonso said that he was drawn to Columbia by its “radical legacy,” and that he first got involved with campus activism during the debate last spring over whether the Reserve Officers' Training Corps should return to Columbia. The Occupy movement “invigorated and captured” him so intensely, he said, that he became a founding member of Occupy Columbia, which has protested issues ranging from Columbia's expansion into Manhattanville to funding cuts in the ethnic studies department.
Alonso added that the Occupy movement has been “very much a fulfillment of what my education has been.”
“For me, it was actually applying all the critical thinking, the principles of a liberal arts education, putting it into practice as far as how I was approaching myself as a student, as a member of this institution and of the city,” he said.
Alonso also volunteers at a community center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, teaching computer literacy and basic English skills to the neighborhood's predominantly Mexican residents—an opportunity he found through the Occupy movement. He said this work has been a much more “holistic” service experience than the volunteer work he's done on Columbia's campus.
“It's been really rich talking to people who have never been to Manhattan, who don't even know Columbia exists, who have a completely different lifestyle from the ones we've had,” he said.
Alonso, whose parents are Mexican immigrants, said the stories he's heard at the community center have resonated with him.
“It's those kind of everyday stories that really carry a lot of weight that perhaps you won't get in the classroom,” Alonso said. “You feel the heart in it, and it really stays with you. It's experiences like that that have really molded how I'm approaching myself and the future.”
Next year, Alonso will traverse the globe with Columbia's inaugural fifth-year fellows program, conducting research on how indigenous communities approach global education. He said he applied for the program after becoming “disillusioned” with academia and having trouble finding an academic job.
“It [the fifth-year program] was very much framed as a chance to do some traveling, which is crucial for people our age, and about having a transformative experience that can really guide you, as far as how you frame yourself in relationship to this institution and the rest of the world,” Alonso said.
Future Columbia students, Alonso said, should follow their instincts and get their “hands dirty doing something you really feel passionate about.” But he believes that the most important part of the Columbia experience happens outside of the University's gates.
“Meet people. Meet working-class people,” he said. “Really become versed in people's stories and experiences, because that's the most valuable thing about going to school at Columbia.”
Alonso has high hopes for the Occupy Columbia movement after he graduates.
“It could change names, appearances, and that's good,” he said. “It's not going to go away for a while.”
This story is one of a series of profiles of 2012 graduates. See more here>