I knew Kevin Morell ’14 was not a typical student when I first met him: It was my first night on campus, and I was sitting in my common room mulling over the nerve-wracking process of starting over at a new school when this tall kid with a booming voice and a Russian-accent waltzed in. I asked him if he was a WOOLF leader or Junior Advisor (JA) – someone with such well-developed facial hair could not possibly be a first-year. “I transferred here,” he said, “from Deep Springs.” Never in my life did I think I would meet one of the 13 or so members of a class at the Wild West-esque liberal arts school. Was I in the presence of the Most Interesting Man in the World? As he revealed more of his background I became more and more convinced that this kind of figure actually exists outside of a ‘Dos Equis’ commercial. I sat down with Kevin on a rainy Winter Study day to do some catching up. And, of course, Kevin didn’t disappoint.
The few transfer students here seem to be referred to by the college they came from – for instance, I’m the “Cornell kid” to some. But you are the “Deep Springs kid,” which connotes a level of mystique that I can’t even begin to conjure. Beyond the very untraditional educational environment at Deep Springs, some truly crazy stuff happened, right?
Well, when you’re stuck in a valley the size of Manhattan with 20 other guys, studying 24/7, your mind would start going off on tangents. Somehow we started going off into the desert and visiting a heart-shaped road up on a mountain and making wishes there. Little by little, people started becoming more superstitious because the wishes they made would come true! Like, one day a guy wished for romance, and the next day a girl called him. That doesn’t really happen at Deep Springs because the phone lines are terrible. Small things like that.
Lucky guy. What about the bright flashes you guys would see?
Right. So there were many bright flashes – sometimes the animals would start going crazy and the cows would start going in circles, and then, a minute after, you would see something streak across the sky, or a small bright flash that would last a tenth of a second. The big one was when we went up off the heart-shaped mountain road on a super foggy night. We went out to the hill and then we made some wishes. It snowed that night so no cars were in the road, and all of a sudden, we saw car lights behind us illuminating the path forward. But as we turned around – there was no car, but all the mountains behind us were illuminated, and the entire valley became illuminated like daylight for about five seconds.
Wow. I was going to ask what you guys did to stay sane, but whatever it was it might not have been enough. What was there to do for fun?
Well, what kept me sane was studying. But after group meetings on Friday nights we would have this thing called a “boogie.” A boogie is like a party, and essentially we would get into one small room, turn off the lights, turn on a strobe light and crazy Ke$ha songs and everybody would dance half-naked and it would just become one sweaty, strange thing – but that was the one place you could let loose. It taught me a lot of club dancing for later on in Spain.
So everyone from Deep Springs transfers to really great schools after two years, and many take a year off like you did. What were you up to between Deep Springs and the College?
I went to Spain for two months to get all my partying out, have some fun and learn the language. Then for the next eight months I went to Greenland, to Uummannaq, which is a small island in the northern part, in the Arctic Circle. And there’s a small orphanage on the island where they send the worst kids – kids who saw their parents get murdered, tried to commit suicide multiple times, things like that. One eight-year-old led a gang of 20 teenagers and was sent there after committing armed robbery. I taught him to play the saxophone and dogsled.
So you’re studying anthropology. What do you want to do with that? Your life is like one big adventure. How will it continue?
I definitely want to continue this adventure. I either want to begin writing for movies or TV shows, or hopefully have a TV show along the way. I would definitely like to be a TV talk show host.
Well, it’s too bad you didn’t get picked up for a reality TV show a few years ago. Your life would make for a pretty interesting one.
Well, after I moved from Siberia to Moscow when I was six I had the TV show there …
Wait, you had a TV show? You never mentioned it!
[Laughs.] Sorry. It started because I was fighting for the rights of invertebrates at first, because I was really into bugs, but in Russian the word for invertebrate is also the word for paraplegic. So there was a double meaning.
You were how old?
This was six to eight. Then I started making small protests here and there. I came into the Duma – the Russian White House – and let a bunch of bugs into people’s offices. I got caught so they kicked me out, but I came into the Duma again later using my friend’s passport and let off a bunch of cockroaches and worms into five other offices.
And this led to a television show how, exactly?
The next big thing was the first Russian five-star hotel opening with celebrities and everything. So I showed up with a crazy get-up: robes and a huge dome-shaped hat with bugs inside. I snuck into the hotel’s kitchen and let out a bunch of crickets and worms and things into the kitchen. And that’s when they gave me the TV show to do whatever I wanted.
So you were a bug vandal and general miscreant, and they gave you a TV show?
Yeah, the show was basically interviewing politicians and asking them questions that a six- or seven-year-old would ask, and they couldn’t really evade them because it was difficult to get around the kid thing. The name Kevin isn’t a Russian name, and back then they were really into Western movies and things, so I could do it. It would never have worked now. So I had that for two years before I moved to New York.
That certainly could have ended much worse. What do you remember of Siberia?
I liked it at the time because I was young and there was a lot of stuff to do, and now I like it in different ways because it’s just a bunch of nothingness. It can get a bit depressing, but you can really get into your own head out there. I couldn’t imagine spending more than a year there, though – I would go crazy. And that’s why Deep Springs worked so well: It was such a boring environment that studying was the only option to stay sane.
But you’ve been having more fun here, I hope? Taking a break every now and then from studying?
Well … I think I’ve had to cut back on sleep a lot. But it’s been a better mix of things. All right man, I’ve got to go take a call. Guess who’s calling?
Uh, your girlfriend?
Who? Wait – you mean Gorbachev?
Yeah, [Mikhail] Gorbachev. We’ve talked once a month ever since my TV show. He’s calling so I have to run.
Dude, wow. You never cease to amaze me.