David A. Kennedy-Yoon ’23 never entirely forgets that we’re recording.
That he finds this type of attention unsettling surprises me a little: He received this year’s nomination for Class Clown, thanks not only to his well-liked Twitter account but also to his ever-growing routine of live bits. (His most recent: performing at the annual Halloween organ recital in Memorial Church while dressed as Dracula.) Kennedy-Yoon explains that while he certainly goofs around a lot, he’s naturally a “very anxious person” who takes time to open up to others. Four of the people who nominated him came up to tell him afterwards, in an “‘Ah, gotcha!’ kind of way,” he says.
The kinds of jokes he likes to make call attention less to himself or others than to absurd situations. (His blockmate, Jennifer Luong ’23, says that one of his tactics is repeating the same silly word or phrase over and over again until it loses all meaning and reduces his group of friends to laughter; his most successful move is asking for their feedback in the form of “Fire emoji? Or crickets emoji?”)
This sensibility stems from his involvement with Satire V — where he serves as co-president — as well as from what he sees as the purpose of comedy: connecting with others.
Kennedy-Yoon joined Satire V as a writer and graphics editor his freshman fall. The content the publication put out always “made him giggle,” he says, and he hoped to find a new source of community in its staff. He found the atmosphere infectious — “it fed off itself, similar to a nuclear fission reaction” — as well as a welcome reprieve from a stressful environment. “The motto of Satire V is to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted, which I think is really sweet, and that’s how I felt freshman year when I was kind of going through it,” he says.
The publication aims to poke fun at the more ridiculous aspects of Harvard. At this year’s Activities Fair, for instance, it ran a booth dedicated to the IOP — that is, the “Institute of Pee.” Members wore white lab coats and held beakers full of yellow Gatorade while encouraging freshmen to join. The point was to satirize the rather formal and pre-professional mindset of the Institute of Politics, which Kennedy-Yoon describes as “grabbing freshmen and putting them on track to work on Wall Street or what-not.” (Staffers from the real IOP stopped by to scold the group but ended up taking pictures with it instead.)
Outside of comedy, Kennedy-Yoon finds a creative outlet in music. He concentrates in the subject, in fact, in addition to leading the Harvard Organ Society. He started playing the piano in elementary school, and, finding himself drawn to the “more mathematical works of Bach,” tried his hand at the organ in middle school. From his very first lesson, he remembers feeling “entranced” by the power of the instrument, whose notes he not only heard but felt resonating in the room. “When you’re playing, it’s almost like you’re operating heavy machinery,” he says. “It’s how I imagine it would be to fly a helicopter.”
Kennedy-Yoon has dedicated his thesis to examining how the materiality of the organ gives it such agency and power. He plans to focus on the ways the instrument has been anthropomorphized, as well as on its relationship to religion. He describes writing as a “joy” — he could talk for hours about the organ, given his “obsession” with the instrument.
These forms of expression relieve him of some of the pressure of schoolwork; in addition to completing his thesis, the other looming to-do on his list is to complete the MCAT.
Kennedy-Yoon realized he wanted to enter medicine at age seven, when he first received treatment for type I diabetes. “I would go in as a kid and feel miserable and lousy all the time, and then talk to this person in the big coat, and then feel good, like all my problems got solved,” he explains.
His experience shadowing doctors has only strengthened his sense of the value of the care such professionals can provide. “Some of the most powerful things I’ve seen have been the ways doctors really make patients feel like they are in control again — feeling like you’ve lost your locus of control to the outside world is just such a desolate feeling,” he adds. “But I mean, I don’t know, I was just thinking — so … fire emoji or crickets emoji?”
Kennedy-Yoon plans on taking a gap year before he applies to medical school. During this time, he intends to continue the lab research he’s conducted at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute since his junior year. He didn’t expect to enjoy the work as much as he does, but now sees the unexpected challenges in experiments as “puzzles to be solved.” His group aims to improve the robustness of a novel immunotherapy — CAR-T cell treatment — for patients with multiple myeloma.
He repeatedly expresses gratitude for the buffet of options the College provides, and he notes that while his particular combination may seem disconnected, each interest brings him a particular kind of joy. He constructs his own throughline for this piece: “Linking [the point on research] to comedy, we will always have tribulations and pressures and tensions in our lives and it’s how we choose to resolve them that really determines whether the music in our lives is a harmonious concoction or a dissonant one — You want a big line? You want a big line? There it is.”
He takes the slightly awkward, artificial situation we’re in — I had just expressed to him my discomfort in claiming to know him after a brief interview — and makes light of it. He takes back the line and then decides to stand by it; we both laugh and feel a bit more at ease.
— Magazine Editor-at-Large Saima S. Iqbal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.