A turtleneck, a blue jean jacket and perfectly white high-tops: not a page from a retro Converse ad, but rather the go-to outfit of David DeRuiter ’24.
“You see the turtleneck and know pretty much everything you need to know,” he said, and laughed.
DeRuiter is part of the cohort of would-be sophomores who declined to enroll this semester, whose clever Instagram bios mask an anxious uncertainty: Yale ’23.5? ’23 + 1? Did I ever really go to college, or was it all a Dubra-fueled fever dream?
His hair is jet black and eyes deep brown. He laughs easily and says ridiculous things frequently. As much an academic as he is an artist, he’s double majoring in theater arts and computer science, a seeming contradiction that makes perfect sense the better you get to know him. He paints his nails purple and stays up all night playing 2K with his roommates.
DeRuiter doesn’t shy away from these complexities, but rather embraces them in the only way he knows how: arms wide open, probably saying something in a weird voice, probably singing.
“The bottom line is, the more you get to know the kid, the more you realize that he is just so interesting,” Ben Goldstein ’24 said.
To meet DeRuiter is to realize you are quite boring by contrast. It’s not a defeating feeling, though — it makes you, or at least me, want to live more boldly, and with less fear. He’s the kind of guy who makes you comfortable being yourself by virtue of being himself.
DeRuiter grew up in San Jose, California, a city south of San Francisco he’s become reacquainted with since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Opting to forgo online classes and stay at home this fall, he’s been working as an assistant at a medical center, writing poetry, spending time with his family and hanging out with his new girlfriend. Oh, he adds as an afterthought, and self-producing an album, which he dropped on Spotify this September.
The album — entitled “Henry,” DeRuiter’s middle name — is eight songs long, and brisk, coming in at 22 minutes. It’s a brief but insightful glimpse into the alter ego of a guy who enjoys “nagging, haranguing, haggling, and managing his chronic asthma” when he’s not making music, according to his Spotify artist bio.
“He can solve a Rubik’s Cube but he can’t tie his shoes if he thinks about it for too long,” the bio reads.
The project began in earnest this past August, though DeRuiter said several songs on the album came from earlier work. He composed many of them at work, tapping away on his phone’s notes app in quiet moments.
His favorite song in the collection is “Henry’s Wedding.” It describes the imaginary wedding of Henry, the persona DeRuiter’s created for himself in the album. DeRuiter said he used GarageBand to mix the sound so a listener would hear the organ and guitar in their left ear alone — as if they were a wedding guest, seated in a pew.
“In high school, I was doing theater and my director always called me by my middle name, which I thought was very novel, because nobody did that for me,” DeRuiter said. “I started thinking about the ways in which your performance is an extension of you… You’re going to make art or you’re going to write about things that may never happen, or you’re going to be called by names that are not yours.”
“It’s a lot about your alter ego, about the ways you present [yourself] versus how you actually want to be perceived,” DeRuiter said of the album.
In the space of just three-quarters of his first year, DeRuiter made a name for himself in the campus performing arts scene. He’s acted in shows with the Yale Dramat, the Opera Theater of Yale College and Yale Children’s Theater. Arguably his biggest commitment is to Just Add Water, a musical improv comedy troupe.
Troupe director Alec Zbornak ’21 met DeRuiter for the first time at a JAW workshop during Bulldog Days in April 2019. He made it a point to tell me that he remembered the white turtleneck and denim jacket DeRuiter had on.
“Improv can be really scary, but he just dove right in,” Zbornak said. “He didn’t take himself too seriously, which I liked a lot.”
Later that fall, DeRuiter auditioned for JAW and was called back. He’s a “fantastic performer,” Zbornak said, one who confidently occupies the stage and values making the audience happy. He said that it would’ve been easy to write DeRuiter off as a classic theater kid — albeit an “incredibly talented, put-together theater kid” — but that his idiosyncrasies were unmissable, like his love for the Batman franchise or intramural basketball.
Zbornak said that he valued DeRuiter’s willingness to share his passions with others.
“If something interests him, he’s going to tell you about it, and he’s going to be excited about it and talk about how much he loves it,” Zbornak said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, doesn’t matter if you come from different worlds or that you’re older than him or whatever, and I think it’s really cool that he’s able to do that.”
Unlikely friendships with differing interests are a hallmark of DeRuiter’s Yale career. He considers two of his closest friends to be Sameer Shaikh ’23 and Goldstein, both members of Yale’s chapter of Sigma Nu. DeRuiter identifies as queer and describes himself as feminine, and he said that in high school, he felt rejected and intimidated by what he perceived as a culture of “hyper-masculinity.” By contrast, he’s felt supported and embraced by masculinity at Yale, which he called a “really special thing.”
According to Goldstein, DeRuiter’s greatest strength as a friend — besides being “too loyal” and “caring about you too much” — is his ability to connect with people regardless of shared backgrounds, interests or beliefs.
“He can have fun with just about anybody,” Shaikh added. “He’s one of the funniest people I’ve met in my life.”
When asked how they’d describe DeRuiter in just a few words, in an elevator pitch to a perfect stranger, both Zbornak and Nico DeRuiter ’20, his brother, came back to one trait: his fearlessness.
JAW’s motto is to embrace fear, to dive headlong into it, which DeRuiter does “very well, better than most,” according to Zbornak. His brother describes him as many things: intensely loyal, a hard worker, a “healing presence.” But he says the thing he finds most curious about DeRuiter is his “daring in spite of fear.”
“He confronts his fears not to solve them but to know them,” Nico said. “He jokes that he’s ‘the voice of our generation.’ He is to me.”
Olivia Tucker | firstname.lastname@example.org