When asked his thoughts on Penn, the first word that comes to mind for David Lampietti is "LinkedIn."
Despite the fact that the study abroad student from King’s College has lived in many worlds and learned the art of adaptation, Penn is nonetheless a culture shock for David. “The pre–professional thing is real … a lot of people ask me for my LinkedIn before they even ask me where I’m from. I actually made an account this semester so that I could be here.”
Within five minutes of meeting David, it becomes clear that his life could not possibly be reduced to a section on LinkedIn.
His five–month stint on a fishing boat off the coast of Tanzania probably wouldn’t fit under "Experience," playing his guitar on the streets of Paris to pay for his dinner couldn’t be called a "Skill," his rollercoaster romances and complex theories on love may be a stretch for "Education," and his student–run radio show would be a misfit under "Accomplishments."
Rather, David has lived a narrative entirely his own, and he is in no rush to explain himself.
Born in New York, the second–year English major calls himself a "nomad." He has lived on four continents, two of them by himself. “I’m afraid of being ordinary … genuinely, I'm afraid of it. I guess that’s why I move around so much.”
Characteristically, David quotes a passage from Life In The Woods by his literary idol, Henry David Thoreau, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately … and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
For David, living deliberately started with a one–way plane ticket to Chile. “I didn't like high school that much and I always wanted to go to South America. When I told my parents what I wanted to do after graduation, they were like ‘Yeah, and I want to go to the moon.’” A couple days later, David boarded the plane with nothing but a suitcase and a stack of saved–up money.
“I was in a small town and I had no plans. I quickly realized that most activity happens at the bar, so I ordered a gin and tonic, and just started talking to people. The bartender’s grandmother happened to own an alfalfa farm, and I ended up working there for over a month.” Laughing, David says that he had brought his overalls and a guitar and passed most of his time on the farm harvesting crops and writing music.
“I then stumbled down to Patagonia and stayed for three months.” While there, he spent “81 days schlepping around a national park” and hiked the southern Andes, which he describes as the only planned part of his South American voyage.
Before his plane touched down in NYC on Christmas morning, he had already bought another one–way ticket, this time to Tanzania. “My mom thought I was crazy. I had no plan, no accommodations, no money.”
A week later, he found himself in a familiar scene, at a bar again drinking a gin and tonic. This time the bartender referred him to a local orphanage where he worked for nearly two months.
“I met some other Americans there and followed them around Africa. I ended up traveling to Kenya, Somalia, Malawi, Zanzibar, and South Africa.” Running out of money and tired of moving around, David then returned to Dar es Salaam on the coast of Tanzania. Again striking up a conversation with a local, he was offered free housing in return for working on a fishing boat. “I had never really been fishing, but he showed me the ropes. It’s pretty much all about patience, which I don’t have at all.”
Working from morning to sunset, David recalls that it was more cards, day–drinking, and falling asleep in the sun than labor. “Some of my friends from home came and joined me and we stayed in bunk beds on the beach. I didn’t leave for five months.”
“It really gave me an appreciation for what I had. There's poverty and poor infrastructure, but the people aren't ever sad. They are able to find happiness in everything. It's a resilience that I can only aspire to.”
In the fall of that year, David left behind life on the boat and returned to school. Where living deliberately once meant solo traveling the world, it now meant falling in love.
“I associate people with colors. I always have. I was looking around when I first got to King’s, just taking in my surroundings, and I saw someone. Imagine seeing a new color that you've never experienced. I didn't even know orange was there the whole time, and she just showed me every shade of orange. My whole world became so much more colorful. She gave me the full spectrum.”
It also meant falling out of love. “The color didn’t go away when she left. It’s a blessing and a curse. If I hadn’t known the color existed, I could just go on traveling and listening to my music and strumming my guitar, but I can’t unsee it. And I don’t want to.”
With an astrophysicist for a father and a computer–scientist–turned–poet for a mother, his analytical approach to life’s existential questions runs in the family. “My parents never told me that everything was fine. When I was like four, my mom would quote Hobbes who says ‘Life is nasty, brutish, and short.’”
With this kind of upbringing, David was never fooled into thinking life contained only moments of falling in love. He finds happiness even in the heartbreak.
As he’s wandered across the world—sometimes feeling lonely and sometimes not—his only constant has been music. “I picked up the guitar when I was 15. I also started writing poetry around that time, so I’d write songs, mostly about people. Music gives me a sense of closure with the moments that I've had.” It comes as little surprise that he uses songwriting as a means of navigating his stumblings in love, with songs such as “Sophie in Green.”
Naturally, David started a radio show at King’s called LoveLine. “The way it works is that each guest picks three songs and the hosts picks one, and then everybody explains why they picked the songs they picked and this kind of drips into conversation about other things.”
Once a week, the show breaks away from music and lives up to its namesake. “We’ll bring in two people and make it like a blind date. They've never met each other, but they're talking to each other. They each get ten seconds to respond to some kind of personal question. It’s super honest—they usually want to cultivate a relationship with someone.”
David’s latest adventure is Penn. He was encouraged by his advisor to study at Penn because of its innovative English courses. “Right now, I'm taking 'Intro to Creative Writing: Ordinary Life.' It's a lot of poetry writing, which is right back to my roots.”
In the chaos of finding summer internships and studying for midterms that never seem to end, David serves as a reminder that much of what makes life worth living exists between sections on LinkedIn.
Whether he is ordering a gin and tonic in a bar far away from home, or falling in love with a girl in a school that will become home, David embraces the fragments, the missteps, the words lost in translation, the bittersweet goodbyes, the confusing, unpredictable allure of a life lived deliberately. Of a life lived in color.