By Kathryn Duggan
The days of Boom Box Guy JJ on USC’s Columbia campus could be growing short.
After a decade of walking around campus with a giant boom box on his shoulder, Jeremiah Shepherd and his alter ego are looking toward graduation and powering down the persona for good.
Shepherd said he has received pushback from people, some of whom have even tried to charge him with noise violations. But most of the feedback has been positive, so he’ll keep the tradition until he receives his doctorate in computer science this August.
We sat down with Shepherd to discuss the decade of the boom box and what the future brings. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What made you first decide to take your boom box, walk around campus and start this whole tradition?
I didn’t create the idea of the boom box guy. Originally, in the spring of 2004 – yes, it’s been 10 years since I’ve been doing this — it was me and my friend Elliot. Elliot was working for this one guy as a bricklayer and the bricklayer ended up just giving him this old beat-up boom box. And he thought it would be really funny if we sat down and figured out how we can carry this on our shoulders and play music. I recorded the first cassette tape that we used for that, and so we started carrying it around campus. So it was actually two of us at first, and that’s really how it all began.
How do you determine what music you are going to play? It just kind of whatever you are in the mood for that day, or is there a strategy to it?
Most of the time [it] is whatever I’m in the mood for. If I’m in a happy mood, which I usually am, I like to play things that are upbeat. Other times I’m going to play crowd favorites, because you kind of have to play to the audience and make people happy. So, it’s kind of a combination of what I’m in the mood for or [something that has some] significance to it.
You have been here since about 2004, and you are getting your Ph.D. in computer science. What exactly is it that you want to do with that?
What I do is serious video game design in the field of language acquisition, so learning a new second language acquisition, helping people who have had strokes to relearn how to speak again, first language acquisition and rehabilitation and also formal language acquisition, which is learning programming language through the use of video games.
How do you balance all that work keeping up with this whole personality you’ve developed?
A lot of people who are my friends don’t actually know what I do, ’cause I kind of just keep the two lives separate in a way, and it’s not because like one’s going to interfere with the other one. It’s just easier to keep it in my head if I separate the two out, and also I don’t want to be boastful or anything like that.
What do you feel that the greatest personal gain you have gotten from this whole experience has been?
Everyone I’ve met. I’ve had so many opportunities show up just because I’ve been kind of this loud — and some people consider obnoxious — person. But at the same time, some people really, really enjoy it and love what I’ve done. I’ve met so many amazing people and great friends.
When you graduate, will it be the end of an era? Are you going to take the character with you, or are you going to hand it down to another student?
I was going to hand it off to different people, but I think they didn’t really understand what comes with it. I don’t know if I’m going to train anyone or anything like that. If anyone does want to take it on after I leave or even while I’m still here, I really don’t mind. The big thing I can give to them is to make it your own, that’s the trick.
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