One in 2000: John Okemah

John Okemah '16
John Okemah ’16

There is never a dull moment when John Okemah ’16 is around. From fighting “waffle bandits” to keeping bees, John has found many interesting and unique ways to keep busy on campus. We sat down with him to learn more about his wide array of interests and experiences.

You just got back from abroad, can you tell us about where you were?

I was in Istanbul, just living in a neighborhood. We were just actually living there, it wasn’t as much of a student experience. You couldn’t just drink the tap water, all the sidewalks were messed up, so you couldn’t walk on the sidewalk. I went all around Turkey, all the small villages and towns. I went to Tblisi, Paris and Prague, too.

So what’s it like coming back to school after being abroad?

It’s weird being a second-semester junior and having to figure everything out. Because I have no idea what I want to do yet. I haven’t been here that long, so it hasn’t really sunk in yet that I’m back, because I was stuck in Seattle for Winter Study.

How did that happen?

They wouldn’t activate my key-card, so I just told my mom, “Yeah, definitely going to have to sleep at home.” My abroad overlapped two days with Winter Study, so I wasn’t taking a Winter Study course, and they didn’t tell me that they wouldn’t activate my key-card if I wasn’t taking a Winter Study [course].

Where are you living this year?

I’m in Currier Basement. With Izzy [Davila ’16].


I was literally the last pick of the January housing draw, which is already the worst housing draw, because I slept through the phone lottery. I just slept so ridiculously late that I slept right through it. And then the person who does it actually called my cell phone and was like, “John? John, you don’t have a room.” And I was like, “Oh my god. What time is it?” So I just asked, “What do you have?” and she said, “You could be in Tyler or you could be placed in a random double.” And I was like, “Ah, just get me a room and don’t put me in Tyler.” And then I got this huge room with a marble fireplace and wood floors.

Did you know your roommate before this?

No, and then later that day I realized that I got placed with him, so I looked him up on Facebook and was like, “I’m so sorry I took your dingle.” 

Have you gotten to know your janitors in Currier yet? I know you have enjoyed getting to know your janitors during your time here. 

Yeah, of course. I see them more than I see most of my friends, they’re there almost every day. Luis [Alberto Rivera] is still the man, from last year, Gladden basement. This year I have Tina [Lemaire], who’s really cool, too.

You are also involved in a lot of different things at the College. Can you talk a little about those? 

I’ve tried a bunch of random things. I’m on the lacrosse team. Thanks to Andrew [Udell ’16], I went to beekeeping. I’ve done some photography things around campus. I went to a few of the Kaplan Society things, but I don’t think I’ve been consistently involved with that club. I’m also working for Humans of Williams, I just started that last week.

Are you still involved in beekeeping?

I still dabble in everything. I mean, if someone were to be like, “You wanna go keep these bees?” I’m definitely down.

Any scary moments with the bees?

No, because you’re in a suit, so it’s not that bad. But they are still stinging you in the suit. They’re stinging the suit, but you can’t feel it.

Moving on – your full name is John Alex Okemah, but what name do you actually go by? You’ve also been called “Okie,” right? We are really confused.

I started going by John last summer, because I had an internship with the Washington State Department of Commerce, and so my name on all the official forms is John. So if my boss is telling me, “John, get the papers,” I’m not going to tell him, “Well, actually my name is Alex,” because he’d say, “Actually get out of here.”

So what are we supposed to call you?

Well, I started going by John because I quit switching it to Alex all the time. I went by Alex, because my Dad’s name is John at home, but then it didn’t really make sense to me [at Williams]. I remember freshman year people thought Alex and Okie were two different people, and now there’s John, so they think they are three different people.

Is there one you’d prefer?

No, I respond to all three. But I should respond to just one. My team calls me Okie, other people don’t like that so they call me Alex, and now John.

But if you were to introduce yourself to someone tomorrow, whatwould you say?


I usually just say Okie, but some people don’t like that so I’d say either. I might just pick a new one next week. Who knows? Stay on your toes.

Tell us about the waffle bandit from freshman year.

So there was this kid in our entry, Liam [Mullen ’16]. He had a bicycle, and he was very fond of the bicycle, and he would ride it everywhere. And so one day, someone just disrespectfully put a waffle into the gears, and I just felt like maybe we should raise awareness of this, so I posted a picture of the infraction onto the [2016] Facebook group, and people just did not take me seriously at all. Until literally next week, the same thing happens, and this waffle is twice as big as the original waffle, again, take a picture of the infraction, no response. There has been no justice for Liam’s bicycle.

Besides being an activist, most people would describe you as a very cultured person.

Well, I’m a musician. I’ve played  the viola for 13 years. And I like art, I’m majoring in art history in addition to political economy. Art is pretty good.

Ok, one last thing: Describe yourself in three words.

Oh God, that’s hard.

Just three words, c’mon.

I can’t do that.

That’s four.