Ezekiel Starling, known to his friends as Zeke, is without a doubt a campus leader. If you’ve yet to meet him, that would not surprise him either.
“The purest part of being a leader,” he shared with us, “is not to think of yourself as a leader. The real trend setters are the ones who would have done their thing regardless.”
Starling’s life has always been about “doing the thing.” Growing up, he found himself constantly moving around: in the first grade, he moved to Washington, only to find himself back in Pinole, California two years later. Finally, in the sixth grade, Starling was finally in one place until leaving for college.
“I don’t really consider any place home,” he told us.
As a young man, Starling was an avid dancer. Inspired by the death of Michael Jackson, he taught himself his own skills. He also enjoyed playing trumpet and public speaking. This was, as he explained, both an act of passion and of rebellion.
“Growing up, my dad wanted me to do sports, so I did everything but, which meant getting into anime, joining the marching band, and joining the debate team [where he would make Varsity in his senior year].”
Starling may not have heard about UR were it not for a friend of his whom, after looking at colleges himself, told him about the school.
“All he told me was the school had an open curriculum and snow tunnels. I did some research and learned the school had the same colors as my high school, and was founded the same year as California. That’s all I knew before I applied.”
His premonitions were quickly justified when he came to campus.
“I adapted quickly, ” he said. “Though, while most freshman did their thing and went crazy, I just wanted to meet new people”.
On campus, Starling joined several clubs. To him, few were as important to him as Indulgence, the hip-hop dance group.
“I always wanted to be part of a team,” he said. “I’d worked with people, but I wanted to move with people.”
Joining the team early in his college career, he would soon rise to become the team’s captain.
Of his time with the team, Starling had one word: “empowering.”
Starling, despite describing himself as a reserved person, shared how dancing made him feel particularly free. That said, Starling made it clear he danced for himself, and that he was not one who cared much for applause: “I really don’t like when people come tell me I did a good job. That’s not the point.”
In addition to his time with Indulgence, Starling was also a key player in founding the poetry group No Disclaimers and was a longtime member of the group No Jackets Required.
Central to Starling’s identity is music: both performing it and admiring that of others.
“Music is a really, really, big part of my life” he said. “I always write album reviews and stuff on my blog at the end of the year.”
Among the current songs on Starling’s playlist is the Hamilton album (the original, not the mixtape), and he shared with us that he personally identifies with both Hamilton and Lin Manuel-Miranda. As a musician, Starling both writes his own music and lyrics ,.
“If I could do anything, it would be making interesting music with friends,” he said. Ideally, post-graduation, he’d like to join and help grow the Rochester music scene.
Now in his KEY year, Starling has begun to reflect on his journey thus far, and his time in college. In between discussions of years past, Starling shared thoughts, some regrets, and wisdom he’s picked up along the way.
“People have an amazing capacity to grow,” he said. “This is why I have always put myself in situations where I was not the best person, because then I had the ability to adapt to others’ level of skill.”
Of things he regrets: “I wish I would have taken my music seriously earlier, and put myself out there as a musician sooner.”
Despite his humility, Starling’s talents as an artist, and as a leader, are clear. This is not lost on Starling himself.
“Don’t just be your one thing. People are complex. I thrive on people who are multi-faceted,” Starling said. “They should be doing many things. When people say, ‘Zeke, what do you do,’ I tell them I write poems and short stories and I dance and I make music. It should be overwhelming.”
His last piece of wisdom was this: “It’s cool if you like other people, but it’s cooler if you like yourself more.”
Bidna and Holloway are both Take Five scholars.