Ben Eastburn ’15 is a double major in computer science and art history. His interest in aesthetics and programming has made him a vital member of the Record Staff since his first year at Williams. We sat down with Eastburn to reflect on his Williams career.
What kind of relationship do you have with your hometown?
It’s alright. I don’t feel totally tied to it. I wasn’t actually born there. I was born in Canesville, Georgia. But I only lived there for six months until our family moved to Palo Alto. And then I went to boarding school for high school. So I feel like a lot of people get attached to their hometowns, probably in high school, and I went away for that.
Can you describe your boarding school experience?
So I went to a boarding school in southern California. It’s called the Thatcher School. It’s a very small school, 250 kids total. It’s co-ed and your freshman year you are assigned a horse that you have to take care of for the whole year, in every way. You have to feed it, clean it, muck out its stall every morning and then you ride it every afternoon. You practice riding. Most people don’t come in with riding experience and some people do, but most stop riding after freshman year. But it’s a great thing do as a freshman. Also it’s western horseback riding and not English, so that sort of goes along with the school. You learn how to ride, you can go shooting at the gun range on Sundays and you’re encouraged to bring your own knife and gun to school.
Do you keep up any of the western stuff here?
No, I am aware that there is an equestrian program here, but that’s not something I’d be into. It’s very different.
So why did you want to come to the College?
So, I basically knew I wanted to go to a small liberal arts school, because I had gone to a small school. But I also knew I liked rural schools, because this was very rural, and I wanted to have the New England experience. So I just looked at those kinds of school.
What are your academic interests?
I am a double major in computer science and art history. I don’t know what that even means anymore though.
If you had unlimited funds and could purchase any piece of art in the world … what would you buy?
I would take the “Barberini Faun.”
Would you make it a fountain?
Yeah, in my garden out back.
How did you begin working on the Record?
Well, I went to the first-year meeting, and Matt Piltch [’12] was hiring somebody who could work on layout of design and website, which are all things that I can do and wanted to do. So I came here and worked on that alone, mostly on advertisements, and then I guess I became an asset and I decided to start writing more. Then [Meghan] Kieisel [’13] wanted me to get more involved in editing and moving up in the organization. Eventually I did more editing and then finally became editor-in-chief.
How did you get into print and design stuff?
Well, it’s been something that I’ve been doing since middle school, I guess forever. It’s kind of one of those things where there is a certain age group of kids who have grown up with computers at that time. There are people who get into Photoshop and Flash, and well, that’s what I was into back in middle school, and if you just keep up with that stuff you end up getting involved in everything else adjacent to it. So you have this huge range of skills. Layout and design stuff was particularly interesting to me and I found that I was interested in graphic design, so I ended up taking classes in high school around that.
And what did you enjoy about being editor-in-chief?
I guess what I liked most was that there are just new challenges and interesting challenges every week, and you have a different way of dealing with them. You know, your way of dealing with these things. You are getting stories on the paper, and you have to decide how you’re going to approach doing that, but for the most part it’s really an empowering thing to know that you’re able to tackle the events of the week in this particular way and at least achieve some amount of success doing it. It’s exciting, and there is a great deal of camaraderie working on the paper.
What were some of your challenges?
I guess most challenging things are dealing with difficult stories and dealing with public disapproval of the paper and what we are doing. And for me personally, one of my character flaws is that I certainly don’t care how people thought of us in what we were doing, because I was comfortable in how I felt. I basically felt that we were doing everything we could, so I was comfortable with that. But at least managing people’s disapproval of the board, it was a very uncomfortable for a lot of people to have to meet hate basically every week.
And how did you deal with that?
Well, I don’t know if I was necessarily helpful in making or getting everyone to feel ok with that. It’s a really hard thing. Ultimately the paper is a week-to-week operation, there are ups and downs, so the best way to make people proud of what they are doing is by making the whole process as painless and successful as possible. So I would like to think that I at least made that happen.
Would you like to talk about your nickname and how you earned it?
So when I started I was doing all that layout and design work and website stuff and that basically involved … you know, I also had to be the sort of tech guru and you know … there’s that saying by Arthur C. Clark that says, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” So basically I was able to make people’s computers work and they didn’t understand what I was doing so they ended up calling me “Magical Ben,” and that nickname stuck for years.
I feel like you watch a ton of shows. Why do you watch so much TV, Ben?
I don’t know. Escape, mostly. [Laughs.]Yeah, I don’t know. It also I think comes from … like I said, I’m only interested in visual things. If a show has a bad aesthetic, I can’t watch it. There are some shows I watched even though they have a pretty bad aesthetic, like, I don’t know … probably my favorite show is Twin Peaks, and that show is all aesthetic.
Glad to be getting out of school?
People say, “You’re so lucky that you’re in school. You get to learn all these things. If I could just go back and go to school again I would want to learn all those things” and whatnot. But I think what people don’t understand is that school also really stinks when you’re in it.
A lot of things stink when you’re in them and not when you’re not in them.
That’s true. But also school stinks in a particular way so a lot of it has to do with reduction of freedom in a way that life beyond school … actually, I haven’t lived beyond school but what I assume life beyond school is like. I’m also fairly confident that there’s no way that I will be less free with my life than I am right now or have been for the last 22 years.
Do you have any desire to do more school?
No. Nope. ’Cause I’m just not into that. I’m much more interested in doing things … like making some things maybe as opposed to just being in school. Yuck.