‘Boom Box Guy JJ’ prepares to graduate and retire the persona

 

Jeremiah Shepherd with boom boxA familiar sight – and sound – on USC’s campus could soon fade into history. Jeremiah Shepherd, better known around campus as Boom Box Guy JJ, is about to graduate. He shares his experience of living out his alter ego and hints at what comes next for him and the boom box.


By Kathryn Duggan
April 9, 2014

The days of Boom Box Guy JJ on USC’s Columbia campus could be growing short.

After a decade of walking around campus with a giant boom box on his shoulder, Jeremiah Shepherd and his alter ego are looking toward graduation and powering down the persona for good.

Managing your time when working toward a Ph.D. is challenging enough, yet Boom Box Guy JJ simultaneously made himself into a campus-wide sensation with his ever-present boom box.

Shepherd said he has received pushback from people, some whom have even tried to charge him with noise violations. But he said most of the feedback has been positive, so he’ll keep the tradition until he receives his doctorate in computer science this August.

We sat down with Shepherd to discuss the decade of the boom box and what the future brings. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

(Listen to the entire podcast.)

So what is it that made you decide to go to South Carolina and to stay here for as long as you have?

Well, most of my family is actually based in South Carolina. … When I was applying for colleges, I of course applied here, and I applied to our rivals, and they, honestly, here came back with a better offer, … The reason why I stayed around here is mostly because of the people. I mean it’s a beautiful place, don’t get me wrong, I love it to death, but the people that you get to meet around here are so interesting and diverse and it’s just like this neat little universe around here, and that’s honestly one of the biggest reasons that I first came here and why I stayed here.
OK, so I have to ask, what made you first decide to take your boom box and kind of walk around campus and start this whole tradition? …

I didn’t create the idea of the boom box guy; originally in the spring of 2004 – yes it’s been 10 years since I’ve been doing this ¬– it was me and my friend Elliot. And Elliot, he was working for this one guy as a bricklayer and he had this old beat up boom box and the bricklayer ended up just giving it to him and he thought it would be really funny if we sat down and figured out how we can carry this on our shoulders and play music. … I recorded the first cassette tape that we used for that, and so we started carrying it around campus. … So it was actually two of us at first, and that’s really how it all began.

So how do you determine … what music you are going to play? It just kind of whatever you are in the mood for that day or is there a strategy to it?

It really, most of the time is whatever I’m in the mood for and I mean if I’m in like a happy mood, which I usually am I’m a very just jovial person, it’s just, you know, I like to play things that are usually upbeat.  … Other times of course I’m going to play crowd favorites because you kind of have to play to the audience and you know make people happy. … So it’s kind of a combination of what I’m in the mood for or if that day has some sort of like significance to it.

Shepherd working on his computer
Here is Jeremiah Shepherd working on computer programming for a game he is creating.

OK, and as you said earlier you have been here since about 2004 and you are getting your Ph.D. in computer science, so what exactly is it that you want to do with that? …

So what I actually do is serious video game design in the field of language acquisition, so learning a new second language acquisition, helping people who have had strokes to relearn how to speak again, first language acquisition and rehabilitation and also formal language acquisition, which is learning programming language through the use of video games. …

So how do you then balance all of that work which clearly must be very time-consuming with keeping up with this whole personality that you’ve developed while you’ve been here with the boom box? …

A lot of people who are my friends don’t actually know what I do ’cause I kind of just keep the two lives separate in a way, and it’s not because like one’s going to interfere with the other one. It’s just easier to keep it in my head if I separate the two out, and also I don’t want to be boastful or anything like that, like even if whenever I do get my Ph.D. I’m probably going to be weird about being called Dr. Boom Box Guy. It does kind of have a cool ring, but beyond that, I don’t know. …

So I mean obviously over the years you’ve walked around campus a lot. Have you ever considered tracking how much you’ve walked or have you seen that it has given you any kind of health benefits or anything like that?…

Shepherd with boom box in front of Swearingen building
Shepherd poses as his alter ego in front of his first home as he calls it, the Swearingen Engineering Building.

When I came to this university, I was around 220 pounds and … I’m probably like 5 foot 4 and so I was pretty heavy at that time, and when I started carrying the boom box for the first four years I lost 50 pounds. And then beyond that I ended up losing more pounds and stuff like that, and I had considered coming up with like a Boom Box Guy Workout Routine because you’re effectively carrying a 30-pound box on your shoulder and walking usually bare minimum two miles anywhere you go, so it’s definitely a lot of cardio and strength training all at once.

So what do you feel that the greatest personal gain you have gotten from this whole experience has been? …

Networking with people. Everyone I’ve met I’ve had so many opportunities show up to me just because I’ve been kind of this loud and some people consider obnoxious person … but at the same time some people really, really enjoy it and love what I’ve done. … I’ve met so many amazing people and great friends. … It’s kind of that that personal gain like meeting all these like people. …

So when you graduate will it be the end of an era, are you going to take the character with you or are you going to hand it down to another student? …

I’ll be honest, during the times where it looked like I was going to leave, I was going to hand it off to different people… but I think they didn’t really understand what comes with it … I don’t know if I’m going to train anyone or anything like that. … So if anyone does want to take it on after I leave or even while I’m still here I really don’t mind; just the big thing I can give to them is to make it your own, that’s the trick.


Additional Resources

Boom Box Guy JJ: The Tall Tales of a Short Man: Jeremiah Shepherd’s blog page.

Boom Box Guy JJ’s Facebook page.

Boom Box Guy JJ’s Twitter feed.

Pocket

3 thoughts on “‘Boom Box Guy JJ’ prepares to graduate and retire the persona

  1. I came to Carolina in 2004 and one of my first memories is walking to class and hearing “WE BUILT THIS CITY…” off in the distance. As the music got louder I saw Boombox Guy come around the corner. The moment I saw him for the first time I said to myself “college is awesome,” and for the next few years it always made my day to see the boombox. Good luck with everything JJ.
    Boombox Guy>Microphone Guy.

  2. I am originally from New York and when I first saw the boom box guy it reminded me of home. Going to college in another state of course leaves you homesick. Those few moments of the boom box guy walking by was a small taste of home. Good luck to Boom Box Guy JJ and I wish him luck with all his future endeavors!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *