David Kramer '80

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  • Brenna Ross
    Brenna: Okay. Whenever you're ready.
  • David Kramer
    David: Hi, my name is David Kramer and I currently live in Venice Beach, California which is in the- Los Angeles county. My class, I’m a member of the class of 1980.
  • Brenna Ross & David Kramer
    Brenna: All right. So, starting off, how did you come to Grinnell?David: I was sent a lot of materials from various schools. I think that it was based on my grades and what I did on the ACT, not the SAT. I’m glad they accepted the ACT, ‘cause I did very well, but not SAT. But I was a good student in school, so I received materials from a lot of different schools and at the time, there wasn’t the Internet, unfortunately, so we had this book called the Underground Guide to Colleges, and so every school that I applied to, I looked in that book to see what they said. With Grinnell they said, "This is the best kept secret in the country, as far as small liberal arts schools. It has an 11:1 student ratio.”
  • David Kramer
    David: I don’t know what it is now, but an 11:1 student to faculty ratio, and the people are intelligent, and- Oh, and there was a pre-med program. At the time I wanted to be a doctor, I’m not, but I wanted to be a doctor at the time and I thought they have a great pre-med program, and also at the time I was fairly religious and there were like 38% Jewish people at a school in Iowa, which I thought was amazing. Now I’m not, it’s not a big deal but at the time those two things were a big deal.
  • David Kramer
    David: So everything – oh, and then, once I applied, I received a lot of scholarship money, which is not unusual and so I thought, "OK." Plus, third, the last reason was that I really wanted to be independent. I wanted to get out of the household, not that I had a bad home life but I just wanted to be independent and I thought, by coming to Iowa, I’m gonna get way far away from home, so that’s the reason.
  • Brenna Ross & David Kramer
    Brenna: Alright. So what’s your first memory of being on campus?David: Well, my first memory was, I had a friend in- I’m originally from Phoenix and I had a friend in Phoenix whose brother was a doctor in town, and she told me that I could stay with the doctor the first night and then come into... So the first memory was actually staying at this doctor’s house and the next day, them walking me over here. I walked into my room and there was my roommate and his father, and my roommate was not saying a word and his father was not staying a word, and I didn’t know what to say so I just kept talking to my roommate and asking how he was and whatever. Anyway, later I heard- found out that his father was a real serious guy, Bible-belt sort of guy and they were, and he just didn’t want to talk in front of his father. So as soon as his father left, he opened up. But those were my first memories, so..
  • Brenna Ross & David Kramer
    Brenna: Very cool. So, was there a professor or student or staff member who particularly influenced you during your time at Grinnell?David: Well, there were lots, that’s the thing. I think that what happened was, I was this working-class kid from Phoenix, Arizona, in a high school that wasn’t particularly known for kids that went on to college, let alone on to good schools, and I just thought, y’know, "I need to break away and see what else is out there."
  • David Kramer
    David: When I came here, it was like a breath of fresh air. Everybody was intelligent, fun. They were open about things. They- y'know, it wasn’t anything like I was used to at home, and it sort of opened and expanded my mind. I will say that my best friend to this day - so this will be on an oral record, he’ll like this. His name is Bob Greenburg, and he came here the same year - we’re in the same class - and I got to know him, and he really opened my eyes to a lot of things. I was able to go and travel with him to his home and I met some of his friends and then we remained friends, so I think that of all the students I’d say he was number one, y’know as far as me realizing things that I’d never realized before.
  • David Kramer
    David: As far as professors, I had several really good professors. I guess my favorite professor - he’s still around - is Harold Kazimov. He was- he’s a Religious Studies professor and he was my advisor after Freshman Tutorial and I really- The guy’s a great guy. He taught me just a lot about humility, I think, more than anything. So, those were the two, I think. But really, everybody at this school helped me realize my potential and I wouldn’t have, had I not come here.
  • Brenna Ross & David Kramer
    Brenna: All right, so what’s your best memory of your time at Grinnell?David: I don’t think there are things I can really discuss on this. I’d probably get arrested. I’d think the best thing was- can I say anything?Brenna: Go right ahead.David: Okay. Well, I think, there were- There- when I came to Grinnell I was a very serious, straight kid, had straight-As in school, and really thought that I was this great student. I came here and everybody was a great student, and most people didn’t go to public schools like I did and they were much smarter than I was, and probably still are. It just humbled me a little bit and made me realize y'know, "I gotta hunker down and work a little harder."
  • David Kramer
    David: So actually that was a good memory. It’s a good memory to know that I learned the skills that I needed for life, and had I not come here, I probably wouldn’t have. But some of the other memories- I was a virgin until I came here, so that was a good memory. And believe me, I made up for lots of lost time there. Y’know I got into the whole thing: sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll, stuff that I never even would’ve thought about before I came here. It just made me a more fun, well-rounded person. So I had a lot of good memories of women and parties and that sort of thing. It was really fun, yeah.
  • Brenna Ross
    Brenna: Awesome. So where did you live on campus?
  • David Kramer & Brenna Ross
    David: Well, I started in North Younker, third floor, and then the second year I was an SA and I lived in the dorm right next to- I think it’s Cleveland. Is Cleveland right next to North Younker? I don’t remember.Brenna: Smith?David: Smith! I lived in Smith. OK, thank you. I lived in Smith my second year, and then I decided I was gonna move to South Campus, so my third year, first semester, I lived in- I don’t even remember where I lived but it was on South Campus and I liked it better. I liked South Campus. And then my friend came back from- Bob Greenburg came back from Grinnell-in-London so I moved off-campus, and I remember we lived in this place that had a slanted floor and a refrigerator that hadn’t been cleaned for probably two years and it was disgusting. But we moved in there. It was 90 dollars a month collectively, so it cost us 45 dollars a month to live in this place. That was pretty cool.
  • David Kramer
    David: My senior year I was SGA President so- Oh that was another good memory, by the way. The fact that I was the president. I for- And I ran on a campaign... They call me The Messiah because I ran on a campaign saying that I’m The Messiah and I’m here for the next 20 years- I mean not just the next year but the next millennium, and I’m going to do all these weird things and it became- They actually put it in- AP picked up on it and it was put out nationally as a.. some sort of story from Grinnell, you know? That this guy’s running on this weird campaign. I got a lot of people writing to me. Especially Bible-belt people who were saying that it was blasphemy and I was gonna go to hell, which I thought was hilarious. But I also got a lot of positive responses from it, and I became SGA President so that was really a great memory. The campaign was great, and the fact that I went from near-obscurity to everybody on campus knowing me - it’s not a big campus, so of course from that story every- So to this day people that know me call me the Messiah, which, y’know I don’t have a problem with. But, when I was SGA President the...
  • David Kramer & Brenna Ross
    David: What was the actual question again?Brenna: Oh, uh.David: Where are we?Brenna: I think it was, what did your dorm like, but-David: No, no, no. It was before dorm.Brenna: Dorm? Uh..David: We’re never gonna get through this, are we?Brenna: So..
  • David Kramer & Brenna Ross
    David: What are you.. What are your best memories of the time?Brenna: Best memories.David: Oh, OK, it was probably my year as SGA President, and I really think that – oh, and then my senior year, that’s what it was with the dorm. My senior year I was able to get first pick because I was SGA President, so I actually lived in Haines. Haines on South Campus. It was the biggest room, single, on campus at the time. Now I know there are apartments and various things, and it really was not that great now that I look back on it but at the time I thought, "Wow." And at the time there were only phones in the hallways, but because I was SGA President, I got a phone in my room which was really cool.
  • David Kramer
    David: The SGA office was in the South Loggia, off the South Loggia. There’s a little building that’s attached to the South Loggia. I don’t know if you’ve seen that. I don’t know what it is now. It’s not SGA. But that’s where I had my SGA office. It was the coolest time ever, and I loved it. So that’s the best memory both as far as being here and also the dorm, because that was really a nice dorm. I’d have people come up every day. We’d play Backgammon. Y'know, I just- it was just fun all the time, y’know? I don’t know when I had time to study. Somehow I actually made good grades and graduated, which is amazing considering all the fun I had. It was good, so.
  • Brenna Ross
    Brenna: Awesome. So what was SGA like?
  • David Kramer
    David: Well, it was an interesting combination of people like myself who wanted to have fun and really enjoy it. We- I don’t know if it’s still the case, but at the time we had complete control over our budget, so we were given x amount of dollars and we could split that budget up any way we wanted. ‘Course it had to be voted on by the entire Council, but- which was fine, but it was made by the Treasurer and then I would put some finishing touches on it and then we'd present it.
  • David Kramer
    David: Well, luckily my Treasurer was Bob Greenburg, the same guy I talked about, so we had the same idea. We wanted most of the money to go to concerts. We had some great concerts. We had The Ramones. We had Sting and The Police. We had a lot of really good things back then. But there was a contingency that didn’t like me at all. There was a lady, Melissa Hop, who ran, and she lost by a landslide by the way, she wasn’t very popular. I don't- I’m not saying it was because I was the greatest guy in the world. It was just that she wasn’t very popular.
  • David Kramer
    David: And so I get this landslide and she got really mad. So somehow she got in as the Secretary, and my Vice President, George Something-or-other, and Maris Knacker, who didn’t like me, they all were plotting against me all the time, like, y’know, here- this is Student Government. They were always trying to undermine everything I did, but luckily Bob and I were on there. So they were against it. They wanted to give the money to go elsewhere, to GORP and other things, which is fine, some money should have gone there, but most of it... So what happened was we had this vote and it was even, and the SGA President breaks the tie, so guess what? We had lots of concerts that year. So that was fun, and they kidnapped me one time and took me out and said they wanted ransom and all this. It was really fun. We had a good year as SGA and I met a lot of people and still have them as friends from SGA, from that year.
  • David Kramer
    David: But I think one of the best things was, George Drake had just became President that year, in ’79, and I was President that year so I was his first SGA President and he asked me a lot of questions. "What are students like? What’s going on on campus," blah blah, and so we really got a good rapport. To this day, y'know, we still stay in touch and I really like him. So it was great for me because I got to meet the Executive Committee. I got to meet the President, and at the time, the Trustees.
  • David Kramer
    David: I went to the Trustee meetings, twice a year I think they were. I got to go to both of them, and Steve Jobs was one of the Trustees and this was in 1979 and so he was just bringing out the first Apple, y’know? The first Mac, and it was really antiquated, y'know, if you look at it now but I asked him, I said, "What’s the future hold for us here?" And he said "Well, you’ll see. Someday everybody’s gonna have a computer on their desk. Someday you’re gonna be able to hold computers in your hand, do all kinds of-" and I thought he was a complete nut. I said, “Really? You really think that’s gonna happen?” He said, “Absolutely.” I said, “Well, how the heck are we gonna do that?” And he said, “Well ,we’re working on it," you know, "It make take a little while, but we’re working on it.” ‘Course we know it’s happened, and we know that Apple is one of the biggest companies today but it was really cool meeting him and meeting the Board members.
  • David Kramer
    David: That was really a great experience. SGA, probably if nothing else, that was the number one thing that sort of matured me. It made me realize how to get in front of committees. To this day I do that. I work in business and I have to get in front of a lot of committees, a lot of CEOs and their boards and things, and I think that that training here helped me a lot in life. It was a great experience, yeah.
  • Brenna Ross & David Kramer
    Brenna: So what other activities were you involved with?David: Yeah, well, mostly it was- I was an SA my sophomore year so I did that. I was on- oh, I was a DJ on KDIC. They called - they still have KDIC, yes? They called my show, “White Dope on Punk,” and I played a lot of punk rock songs. And I just- and at the time there was really not that much structure. We were at a time on campus where we came right after the hippie era, so they were all fighting for our rights and that sort of thing, but before they started putting in some rules and security. So, we were at a period of time where we were given a lot of freedom; no security at all on campus. There was not adult supervision except in classes. So we really were on our own.
  • David Kramer
    David: So when we did these radio shows, we could say anything we wanted. We could put on anything we wanted. If we wanted to protest something, we could talk about it on there, so we did a lot of fun stuff. So that was a fun time. And then, I didn’t really- I wasn’t in athletics because this wasn’t an athletic school but I certainly went to all the games. I loved going to the football games and the baseball games, so I was involved in that. I also- at the time there was the PEC. This is such a great facility, but at the time there was the PEC and I used to swim and run. I was pretty athletic back then so I did a lot of... I did cross country skiing. You know, a lot of stuff like that.
  • David Kramer
    David: And then, of course, there were the parties, and I went to a lot of parties. So numerous I couldn’t even relate them, but I was very social, very, very social and you know how it is at college. You have a group and that sort of becomes your core group. Well, I had that group, Bob Greenburg and some of these other guys, but I was the type of guy- I liked going to various groups and being a part of every group, so I really got involved with a lot of students on campus. I think I knew 90%. In fact, to this day people come up to me, say, “Oh David, how you doing.” They relate stories. I don’t even know who they are because they changed. They don’t look like they did in college, so I don’t remember half the people but I obviously had a very good time, socializing at that time.
  • David Kramer
    David: So that was a big part of my college degr- college experience, and I think that that socialization is the best socialization I ever had because before I came to college, my father died when I was young. I became sort of introverted. I was not very social at all. I was very strict as to what I did. I mean it was not a real fun existence. And then I came here and it sort of all opened up, and I became a much more social person, I learned how to interact better, and I took that out into the world. It’s great.
  • Brenna Ross & David Kramer
    Brenna: How do you think Grinnell and its students have changed?David: I think the students have become more... a little bit less crazy, a little bit more conservative. And I don’t mean conservative in their political views. I think politically, they’re probably as liberal as they were back then. But I think in their social views, in the way that they do things, they seem to be a lot more conservative. I also think, with the new President, I think there’s going to be a lot more diversity than there was when we were back there. It was pretty homogenous in a lot of ways when we were here, and I’m not so sure that was good but I think there’s a lot more diversity now.
  • David Kramer
    David: And also, another thing that’s changed, is the Internet revolution. Everybody’s got an iPad or an iPhone, and so there's- Y'know, it’s a lot different than it was. We had, in Darby gym, which isn’t there obviously, we had one computer area and you’d go in there to use a computer if you wanted to use one. Nobody had laptops. Nobody had desktops. Nobody- certainly no pads. I mean, there was nothing. So, there was really- the Internet was at the beginning. So I think that that’s one of the ways. I think that students now have a lot, a better access to information and it helps them a lot in their paper but here’s the other thing I think that’s changed: I think students now are a lot smarter.
  • David Kramer
    David: Now, I think everybody thinks that and so maybe I’m wrong, but I think the students that go here now are smarter. I’m not sure I can get in today. I know it’s a lot more expensive, but I think it’s a lot smarter, this school, and I think that the students bring with them a higher level of sophistication because of the Internet, and maybe because of their backgrounds but whatever, than they had when we were here. Yeah.
  • Brenna Ross
    Brenna: So what’s something that’s gone from campus now that was important for you during your time here?
  • David Kramer
    David: Well, I’m trying to think. I mean, y’know I don’t wanna sound like the new stuff isn’t as good as the old stuff, you know? I don’t know if that’s really true. I liked the fact that there were two distinct cafeterias on campus. You could go to either one. It was much more South Campus and North Campus, but y’know the fact that everybody gets together may be better. The Rosenfield Center is really a wonderful place and we didn’t have anything like that. We had- we picked up our mail, there’s a little room underneath ARH and that’s where we picked up our mail.
  • David Kramer & Brenna Ross
    David: Everything was separate. Now everything’s kind of together. Is that better or worse than this Harris Center? We used to go to ARH to watch movies, I’m not so sure that was better. I think it’s better that you have modern facilities now. And quite honestly, I don’t think, I think it’s better now. I really do. And the Science Center? Oh, my God, the Science Center is so much better now than it used to be. I was a Biology major when I first came here. I changed to a Religious Studies major once I said, “I don’t wanna be pre-med.” But, I think that that Science Center looks so much better now. It’s fantastic. So to be honest with you, I think it’s better now.Brenna: Alright.David: And the food’s better, by the way.Brenna: I agree. It's good.David: Yeah, it is good.
  • Brenna Ross & David Kramer
    Brenna: Alright, so if you were writing a history of Grinnell College, what story from your time here would you want included?David: I think the story would be the way that I became SGA President. When I first came to this school, day one, I said in my mind, "I have been very anti-social, very down. I have an opportunity here to become a whole new person within who I am. I’m not gonna change who I am, but I can become a new person. Nobody knows me here. Nobody knows my background. Nobody knows what’s happened in my life." I think we all come here to sort of change who are, somehow. It seems like everybody’s looking for something, but my thing was, I just thought, "I don’t wanna be that person anymore. I wanna be a positive, social person and my goal is to meet and get to know, and to like and to have them like every person that I can in this school."
  • David Kramer
    David: So over the next three years, three and a half years, whatever, four years, I just made sure that I was very social, very happy, very positive. A lot of people here are extremely bright and what goes along with that is extreme sensitivity. So, I was very sensitive to people and who they were, ‘cause I wasn’t really very sensitive in high school. I was kind of an asshole. Really, I was. I can say that now, y’know 30 years later, 35 years later. But I decided I’m not gonna be like that. I’m going to be a very nice person.
  • David Kramer
    David: So the best experience was the fact that I was able to do that, and because of that, I had friends that said, “Listen, we’re gonna have this weird campaign for you, and we’re gonna make you the SGA President and we’re gonna call you The Messiah and we’re gonna talk about what you’re gonna do as The Messiah.” I said, “Sure, let’s do it.” So it was all for fun, really. It really was just for fun.
  • David Kramer
    David: The year before, by the way, just so you know, a dog, an actual dog won as SGA President. Now they didn’t allow it. They threw it out, but the dog got more votes than anybody and the reason for that is everybody was so serious and we as a class were not that serious. We were having fun. We wanted to be independent and fun. We- yeah, we do our work. We do what we needed to do to pass classes, but we were gonna have fun. So we decided we were going to have a fun campaign. So we had this fun campaign and then I won and we brought that into SGA. It was never this much fun.
  • David Kramer
    David: I think that whole transition for me, from being this anti-social sort of negative, depressed person - if you wanna call it that. I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t have severe depression but I just wasn’t happy - to this guy that became SGA President, enjoyed socializing, loved to party, loved to be around all these people. That transition was huge for me, and I could not have done that without Grinnell. That story, to me, is my life. It’s changed- It was like, here was David Kramer here, here was David Kramer here. If you put them up against each other, totally different people. They looked alike, but other than that they had no- nothing in common. And it brought me through the rest of my life and my life, because of everything I’ve done in my life, and I realized that after coming back to reunion now, this time. I didn’t before. But after 30 years I realized that everything that’s happened in my life is because of the way that it was set up through Grinnell College. So I’m very happy about that.
  • Brenna Ross & David Kramer
    Brenna: Well, is there anything else you’d like to add?David: I love Grinnell, and it’s one of the best experiences of my life, and I always, you know, I have a very fond place in my heart for Grinnell.Brenna: All right, well thank you very much.David: Thank you.
Alumni oral history interview with David Kramer '80. Recorded June 5, 2011.