One in Two Thousand: Derrick Bonafilia ’17

Christian Ruhl/Managing Editor.
Christian Ruhl/Managing Editor.

I met Derrick the very first day I arrived at Williams three years ago, and we’ve been the best of friends ever since. We lived in the same entry, roomed together in Garfield sophomore year, and, though I was at Oxford when he was in Cape Town junior year, we now both reside in Susie Hopkins. Derrick revels in well-rounded unexpectedness. He’s something of a computer science genius, but prefers unplugging to hike, ski, surf or listen to a jam band. Silicon Valley scares him; going surfing in Hurricane Matthew did not. If you spot this long-haired Seattleite on campus, strike up a conversation. He’s good at that, too.  

So I hear you’re a big hippie.

I like to think of myself as medium-sized, but I’m not one to dispute the people.

People probably see you riding your skateboard around a lot. When did that start doing that?

I started at the beginning of this summer. I’d skateboarded a little up until I was 12, and I picked up surfing while I was abroad in Cape Town. I missed surfing when I was in Seattle … so I got a skateboard. And we’re also pretty far from the ocean here in Williamstown, so I’ve been riding around.

We are pretty far from the ocean, but you do get to go surfing pretty frequently, right?

I’ve gone a few days this year, down in Rhode Island. I almost went today, but with this interview, it was kind of hard to do.

My apologies. You went surfing during that storm — what was it, Hurricane Matthew?

Yeah. The storm ended up doing some stuff, but it did some sort of weird, loopy thing off the coast of Florida, so the swell didn’t end up making too big of an impact. It was actually bigger last weekend, when there wasn’t a hurricane, but it was fun!

And you studied abroad in Cape Town last spring, right?

Yeah.

What did you do there? How did you like it?

Cape Town is pretty great, probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. Not quite as rigorous as Williams is, so I was able to hop on a train and go surf any day the surf was nice. And if the surf wasn’t nice, I was within walking distance of Table Mountain, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World nowadays, at least according to a sign at the top. There’s a lot of cool stuff to do in the outdoors there.

And are you planning to go to a place you can surf after graduation?

I’d like to, at some point. Right now, I’m gonna be going to Seattle — two hours away is the closest spot, so I’ll be able to go surf occasionally. There’s a bunch of other cool stuff to do though. There are like three mountain ranges within a couple hours of driving, and it’s really an awesome place.

So why Seattle?

My family lives about an hour away, and I decided to go work there this summer. I was working at Facebook, and they have a bunch of offices. I chose that one mostly because it’s close to home and because Silicon Valley really scares me.

[Laughs.] Why does Silicon Valley scare you?

It’s kind of just a creepy place. [Laughs.] You drive down the highway and every single website you can think of has billboards and office buildings along the side. It’s very homogenous, with a bunch of dudes, and all they want to talk about is computer programming.

We’re seniors now. Looking back on our years at Williams, anything you really loved? Hated? Thought was okay?

[Laughs.] Oof, tough question.

We ask tough questions here at the Record.

It gets pretty cold here in the winter. We got a little taste of that this past week. I haven’t experienced that in like a year and a half now because I managed to run away from winter last year. So, I’m gonna go with the winter as a negative. Winter Study, on the other hand, is a huge positive. Really excited for that — to ski a bunch, hang out with friends and not have too much work.

Sweet. In looking forward to the rest of your senior year, anything you particularly want to do? Plans or projects?

I really want to make a surfboard for Winter Study. I don’t know how it’s gonna come out or where on campus I can do that, but I’m gonna give it a try. I’m also looking forward to having a bit more free time. I’m also looking forward to those two weeks at the end of spring semester that trick you into thinking that spring semester is a nice time to be at Williams.

When are you gonna get your hair cut?

I think maybe during Winter Study I’ll get my biannual haircut.

But you don’t have any plans to go short?

I don’t know if I can go back at this point. My hair opens up a world of possibilities, like Aragorn costumes for Halloween.

Anything we’ve missed?

I’m taking guitar lessons. I’m pretty bad at it, but the school gives them for free. I started trying to teach myself the summer after sophomore year, and I finally managed to get someone to teach me this semester.

How’s it going?

You know, when you start from a fairly low point, you can have a quick growth rate. I still can’t play much, but I can play a lot more than I could a month or two ago.

How would you describe your taste in music?

I’m pretty into jam bands, like the Grateful Dead and Phish. I’ve also seen a couple other bands like String Cheese Incident. Yeah, I really like fun, live music with good concerts to go to — even around here occasionally.

What’s been a good concert here in the area?

FreshGrass, the bluegrass festival they do at Mass MoCA. I’ve gone to that the past few years, and there have been some really incredible bands there. It’s super cheap and the College even bussed people there this year.

You’ve been traveling a lot in the past year or so. Any places you haven’t gone yet that you really want to go to?

Yeah — a lot of places. I really want to go to South America. My Spanish needs some work, and I don’t want to go there until I have the time to do a long trip there and maybe spend a month getting my Spanish down before, so I can get a bit off the gringo trail and go meet people. I don’t have to start work until December after graduation, so I’m thinking I want to do some traveling in that time. I’m not really sure exactly what I want to do, who I’m going to go with or anything like that. Southeast Asia maybe, Morocco, maybe Indonesia.

Do you know someone with a cool life story, wacky talent or particularly memorable experience at the College? If you’d like to see someone you know profiled in the Record, contact ras3@williams.edu or ryl1@williams.edu with nominations for One in Two Thousand.