David Shamash found himself in a dangerous part of town after getting off a boat in the middle of the night in Greece.
His hotel was 15 miles away and the city was in the midst of a transportation strike, the fourth-year classics student said.
To get to his hotel, he pretended to be the son of a New Zealand couple and hitchhiked by winning a ride through a bet with a driver. Spontaneous experiences like these are what he looks for in his life and are what define him, he said.
Shamash is the student speaker for the 2 p.m. UCLA College of Letters and Science commencement at Pauley Pavilion on Friday.
Graduating students had to apply and audition to be a student commencement speaker. The selection committee was made up of professors, students and staff members, he said.
“I want a fun graduation. It’s a great opportunity to end these four years on a high note,” Shamash said.
Shamash composed his speech with the idea of making the commencement more fun and exciting. He said that he added jokes in his speech and hopes to get a few laughs.
One of Shamash’s close friends, Tamir Sholklapper, a fifth-year neuroscience student, has worked with him at Camp Ramah as a summer camp counselor and said that Shamash was the comedian of the group.
Shamash said his best memories as a UCLA student were when he was studying abroad in Italy for six months in 2011.
While studying in Italy, Shamash went on a 10-day backpacking trip by himself in Greece.
“No cellphone, no guide, no map. I went around the country. I hitchhiked. I rode on a random old man’s Vespa,” Shamash said. “I got lost. I got left in villages. I almost got pickpocketed but I fought the guy off.”
Other than Greece, Shamash has also traveled to 10 different countries, such as Spain, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.
Now, Shamash is a student ambassador in the UC Education Abroad Program and encourages other students to travel while they are in school. He puts on events and teaches students about why they should study abroad.
“You’re young, you don’t have a mortgage, you don’t have a family to deal with, you get to travel abroad and meet the coolest people,” Shamash said. “And you’re technically still in school.”
When Shamash enrolled at UCLA, he knew he wanted to travel, but he did not know what he wanted to do in the future. He said he settled on a classics major on a whim.
Shamash said he grew a passion for his field of study because of the classes he took.
Shamash began working as a bibliographer for classics professor Alex Purves in her research last year. The two got to know each other through the classes that Purves taught, he said.
“He was in the capstone seminar with me,” Purves said. “He was very imaginative and a great interlocutor and listener.”
Besides working with Purves, Shamash also gives her recipes and cooking tips.
However, he said he does not plan to pursue a career in classics.
“It’s funny when people ask me what I am going to do with a classics major,” Shamash said. “I keep a straight face and (say) ‘I’m going to be a Spartan warrior when I grow up.’”
Although he never studied it in college, Shamash said he has a passion for marine biology, specifically turtles and marine ecosystems.
David Bocarsly, former Undergraduate Students Association Council president and Shamash’s close friend, said he goes turtle diving with Shamash at aquariums in Santa Monica and Laguna Beach.
“Every time we go turtle diving with him, he is always teaching us about marine biology and marine life,” said Bocarsly, a fourth-year economics student.
In his spare time, Shamash volunteers in West Hollywood with the SOVA Community Food and Resource Program, a program by the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles dedicated to alleviating hunger and poverty in the city. Shamash said he considers community service to be an integral part of his life.
“When I get to pack the food bag and hand it to a person who does not have enough food to eat and just see the look in his eyes, it is just the best feeling I could ever have,” Shamash said.
Encouraged by his adventures in Greece, Shamash said he plans to go back to traveling for a year or two after graduating from UCLA.
“I just want to travel. I’m not ready to sit behind a desk yet,” said Shamash. “Where that’s going to lead me, I don’t know.”