Kevin B. Li '16 poses for a photo by the piano room in Adams Junior Common Room, where he spends some of his time practicing.
Kevin B. Li '16 poses for a photo by the piano room in Adams Junior Common Room, where he spends some of his time practicing. By Annie E. Schugart

Kevin B. Li

Kevin Li may wear a self-imposed uniform, but he's certainly a colorful thinker.
By C. Ramsey Fahs

If you’re hoping to find Kevin B. Li ’16, try poking around the piano practice rooms in the basement of the music building. Sometimes, when Li’s preparing for a recital, he only leaves the building to sleep (he “skip[s] a lot of class”). Most recently, he’s been holed up down there working through Chopin’s Third Scherzo and Beethoven’s 27th Piano Sonata. After a day at the piano, Li ascends from the bowels of the music building and collects his bike from the rack.

By Annie E. Schugart

“My most emotionally drained moments haven’t been break-ups or failing an exam or whatever, it’s been at that bike rack, like, ‘Wow, I’m so spent,’” says Li. “To really do justice to whatever you’re playing, it should be emotionally exhausting... you kind of have to let it subsume or consume you.”

Li’s clothes also suggest a certain tendency toward monasticism. During his freshman year, Li decided he no longer wanted to think about what he was wearing every day. He bought about a dozen of the same casual blue-grey button-down and a pair of raw denim jeans, which Li bought not for their newly trendy connotations, but because they don’t need to be washed for long periods of time.

With the time saved dressing himself, Li, an Economics concentrator, could focus more of his considerable intellect on academics. Li was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa “Junior 24” and has a tidy CV in finance: president of the Harvard Financial Analysts Club, chief executive officer of the intercollegiate Global Platinum Securities, and part of the team that won the 2013 College Federal Reserve Challenge. At the end of the year, he’ll join Blackstone’s investment banking division in New York.

Talented musicians majoring in economics and pursuing careers in finance are not terribly hard to find at Harvard. And Li was a typical Harvard success before he was even a Harvard student (perfect score on the SAT, National Honor Society, a literary magazine called Piano, accompanying piano-related charity, etc.). Li’s sense of humor and eccentricities, however, defy stereotypes of the typical economics major-to-investment banker path.

Indeed, Li did briefly try less conventional extracurriculars like Satire V. He quit, however, shortly after the initiation.

“Satirizing Harvard is too easy,” Li jokes. “[It was] a compromise of my artistic integrity.”

Li was also a member of the Glee Club, where he met his blocking group and served as fashion manager (a role which offered “limited discretion,” given that the all-male choral group always wears tuxedos).

Li says he’s good at blocking out distraction, but next year, for the first time, he’ll have to make a choice between his career and his artistic passion.

“Becoming a really intelligent and resourceful finance thinker requires a huge amount of mental energy and time and effort,” Li acknowledges. “Becoming a musician who’s actively improving and that sort of thing really requires you to drown yourself in that pool.”

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