As a kid, Jason Colombini didn’t have friends.
A mild speech impediment prevented him from pronouncing his “th” and “sh” sounds correctly in grade school. Although the speech impediment didn’t last long, his tendency to say as little as possible and stay inside, reading books and playing piano, lasted until middle school.
“I didn’t have very many friends,” he said. “I was a very quiet kid. I kept very much to myself, really didn’t go outside or hang out with people a lot. … I was just very, very, very introverted.”
Colombini, an agribusiness junior, will be the first male Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) president in five years come this fall. He won 3,720 of the 7,844 votes cast in the election — a number much larger than the total population of his hometown, Linden, Calif. — a town so small it’s technically a “census-designated place.”
He grew up on a 175-acre walnut farm near Linden that stretches along a winding river.
“You go across this bridge to get over onto our road,” said Colombini, who drives a ’92 yellow Chevy pickup. “All along the road there’s these 300-year-old oak trees. … It’s just,” he pauses, “home.”
Colombini went to school in Linden and started to branch out and meet people in middle school. By high school, he was heavily involved in sports, and Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4H — two organizations he credits with helping him get past his fear of public speaking.
“I was deathly scared of public speaking,” Colombini said. “I can’t describe the exact moment when I stopped being scared of public speaking, but I know my freshman year (of high school) I almost wouldn’t have run for (a position) if I had to give a speech.”
Now, Colombini said he considers getting his point across while he’s speaking to a crowd to be one of his strong suits.
Colombini’s transformation during high school was marked by more than his newfound confidence in front of a crowd — by his senior year, Colombini was voted a prince in Linden High School’s homecoming court.
“It’s been a huge journey,” Colombini said. “If I had been a second or third grader and looked at who I was senior year, I never would have guessed that was who I turned out to be.”
‘You’ve got to do what you want’
Colombini’s journey to Cal Poly after high school was a little more predictable than his childhood transformation.
As the sixth Colombini to come to Cal Poly, he never questioned he’d end up here someday.
“Probably since I even knew what college was, I knew I was going to come to Cal Poly,” he said. “I’ve got pictures of me being 4 years old wearing Cal Poly gear.”
But it’s not as if he didn’t have other options.
Ivy Leagues sent him invitations, with applications attached, to apply because of his high ACT scores, he said. But to Colombini, it didn’t matter — he applied to other schools, mostly to humor others who told him to do it and see what happened, he said.
“I even had a friend go up to me,” Colombini said, “and blatantly be like, ‘Are you an idiot? You can go to Harvard if you want to, and you want to go to Cal Poly?’”
But he brushed it off, saying a Harvard reputation doesn’t matter.
“You’ve got to do what you want,” he said. “I love Cal Poly, I’ve loved it since I was a little kid. Another school could have given me a full-ride and I would’ve gone to Cal Poly.”
Green and gold blood
Although Cal Poly was the school Colombini wanted, his passion for the university stems from a history deeper than himself.
His great grandparents moved to the U.S. from Italy with high school educations and were big proponents of going to school all their lives, Colombini said.
So when Colombini’s grandfather, John, wanted to attend University of California, Davis, John’s parents were all for it. That is, until John’s mother found out one of her son’s cousins had gone there and gotten a girl pregnant.
“So my great grandmother found out Cal Poly was an all-male school,” Colombini said, “and she says, ‘I don’t care what you say, you’re going to the all-male school.’ That’s what started (the) whole Cal Poly tradition.”
Once Colombini’s grandfather arrived in San Luis Obispo in 1945 as a crop science major, he found his niche, joining the glee club when H.P. Davidson, who the music building is named after, was the adviser. He also worked as a resident adviser in on-campus housing — which at the time were cottages — as advertising manager of Mustang Daily, and in the campus dairy, where the Sierra Madre towers now sit.
“He was here when Mott was here, McPhee was here,” Colombini said. “So all these names that are buildings now are people he was going to school with.”
Robert E. Kennedy was his grandfather’s journalism club adviser during his years at Cal Poly.
Colombini keeps a picture of his grandfather and Kennedy, posing with other students in the journalism club, in his room.
“I love our Cal Poly stories,” Colombini said, describing the time his grandfather returned to Cal Poly in the ’70s to take his first son to college. Kennedy was university president by then and recognized him right away.
“Kennedy turns around toward my grandfather and just says, ‘John, how’s it been? It’s been forever,’” Colombini said. “He just knew him right away, and that stuck with me a lot — there’s just that personal level here at Cal Poly.”
Colombini’s father, Jay, and two uncles attended school here as well. And this fall, his little sister will become the seventh member of the family to go to Cal Poly.
Although Colombini’s father and twin brother were in Alpha Gamma Rho at Cal Poly, when Colombini arrived as a freshman, he thought he knew at least one thing about the way he wanted the next four years to go — it would have nothing to do with greek life, he said.
“When I came to Cal Poly, I was very anti-greek,” he said. “I did not think there was any purpose for fraternities, I didn’t want to be part of it, associated with it, or whatnot.”
But in his first class on the first day of freshman year, he met Paul Carmazzi.
It was Agribusiness 101, and the teacher asked everyone to pair up and introduce their partners to the class, Colombini said.
“This is Paul Carmazzi, he’s from Sacramento and his favorite ag commodity is rice,” Colombini recalls saying.
“This is Jason Colombini, he’s from Linden and his favorite commodity is walnuts,” Carmazzi said after him.
Carmazzi, now an agribusiness senior as well, and Colombini have remained friends since that day, and after Carmazzi joined Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) winter quarter of their freshman year, Colombini began to reexamine his feelings about greek life.
“That was when I still wasn’t too happy about greeks,” Colombini said. “(Carmazzi) was really talking to me a lot about it, really drew me to it. He was one of the guys who really had a huge influence on me to join ZBT in particular.”
Although Colombini has since changed his mind about greek life — he’s currently the president of the Interfraternity Council (IFC) — greek life hasn’t changed the 20 year old’s decision to not drink until his 21st birthday.
“Probably one of the toughest things has been so many people that ask, you know, ‘Do you wanna drink?’ Or they just forget,” Colombini said. “If you can say no to that kind of pressure, you can say no to anything.”
But he’s planning to celebrate once that day rolls around in June.
‘Kindling to his fire’
Now, Colombini and Carmazzi, ZBT’s president, live across the hall from each other in the main ZBT house.
“Sometimes we’ll play a song and start dancing in the hallway and get ourselves pumped up for the day,” Colombini said.
Carmazzi said the music selection for the morning pump-up songs usually comes from one of three musicals: “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Sound of Music” or “Singin’ in the Rain.”
Their routine got started when they were cleaning up after a fraternity retreat, Carmazzi said.
“Jason and I started blasting ‘Good Morning’ from ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’” Carmazzi said. “We were just on top of tables and we started tap dancing … I knew way before then that he was going to be a best friend, but after that I was just like, ‘This guy is out of this world.’”
Carmazzi, who has also shared more serious roles with Colombini, such as working on his campaign for ASI president, said Colombini is one of the most fun and selfless people he knows.
“There are so few people that care about others more than himself,” Carmazzi said. “He works for the people who put him in the position (of ASI president). They are the kindling to his fire.”
Current ASI president Katie Morrow said conversations with Colombini are memorable and make it apparent how driven he is.
“He’s a very unique guy,” Morrow said. “Anyone who meets Jason (is) not going to forget what their interaction was like. He’s so enthusiastic and just takes advantage of every opportunity.”
A regular guy
Although Colombini quips that he’s forgotten what free time is like, even the most driven people have to take a break sometime.
When he has time during lunch, he likes to catch an episode of “South Park” — a show he hadn’t seen until this past school year, but has already watched all 16 seasons.
But besides “South Park,” “Parks and Recreation” — his favorite TV show because of the “hilarious” Ron Swanson — and playing Super Smash Bros. with his fraternity brothers, Colombini said he misses spending time outside.
He’ll be staying in San Luis Obispo to officially take office in June, but said he’d like to find time to “get a little more tan along the way.”
“Go hang out by the Rec Center pool, take a half-day and drive to the beach … Or, heck, even hike Bishop,” he said. “I’d like to do that again.”
Colombini certainly didn’t find free time during spring break. Instead, he woke up early every day to plan his campaign in the first half of spring quarter.
Along the way he met Daniel Wasta, one of the three candidates who ran against him.
Wasta said Colombini’s hard-working attitude was something he could identify with, and although both said conversations about the idea had been casual so far, Wasta said he would like to work with Colombini as part of his cabinet.
“The day we found out he won, I went up to him and congratulated him,” Wasta said. “The next thing I said is, ‘How can I help?’”
Colombini’s dedication was apparent during his campaign.
When the Wednesday night voting was open, he was at VG Cafe until 2 a.m., talking to students and getting votes, he said.
“And then I woke up early and went to the Rec Center until voting closed (at 7 a.m.),” he said. “You can’t take anything for granted.”
Colombini, whose hard work paid off when the winner was announced during UU hour on April 25, said he feels like he’s meant to be at Cal Poly.
“I love this school and now I get to serve it in the ultimate position,” he said. “You can imagine, I’m on top of the world.”