By Joey Huang

Life of the Party: Derek Walsh

“I’ve probably humiliated myself with things I’ve done in dance circles. Sometimes you just have to, like, embrace that.”
By Sarah W. Faber

Derek Walsh ’23 had one rule at his birthday party this year: dance.

“I printed out signs and posted them to the door saying that dancing is required upon entry, failure to comply may result in removal from the premises,” he says.

This year’s Life of the Party, a Quincy House resident hailing from Newburyport, Massachusetts, says he’s “actually always wanted to teach proper party etiquette.”

First and foremost, Walsh cites dancing as the key ingredient for a good party. Other important factors: music with fluid beats on a playlist that has a little something for everyone — he recommends hip hop, Afrobeats, or reggaeton. Additionally, he says learning to play Stack Cup is a “great investment.”

“If everyone’s dancing, and everyone’s feeling the same energy and feeling the music all together, and you’ll make eye contact with someone or hype each other up, I think it’s a really special experience to get to, you know, throw down,” he says.

But Walsh wasn’t always a partier. When I ask if he partied in high school, he says “no, not at all.” It wasn’t until freshman orientation week, when he tried out some moves at an Oak Yard social at Cambridge Queen’s Head pub, that he started seeing himself as the life of the party.

“There was a lot of attention on me and then I realized: wait a minute, I actually enjoy dancing,” he says. “And, you know, I realized I was pretty good at it.”

When he’s not partying, Walsh studies Environmental Science and Public Policy and is working on a capstone project about the hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive insect. He spent this past summer in the forest every day without a ton of human interaction, so he was especially grateful for the “counterbalance” of partying with his friends afterwards.

I ask Walsh what his interest in ecology has to do with being the life of the party. “A forest can be like a party of trees,” he says. “When the wind is blowing, the trees dance in their own ways, and different species have different shaped leaves that blow different ways in the wind, and they all have their signature dance moves.”

Walsh’s signature drink is a Moscow mule, though he’s also been exploring beer recently: “People told me it fits my outdoorsy aesthetic, so I’m trying to grow into it,” he says, beanie-clad, beer in hand. But he adds a stipulation on beer: “Not so much for dancing. Cocktails for dancing.”

For those who might be afraid to hit the dance circle, Walsh points out that no one is going to a party to judge people — they’re going to have a good time, and they won’t remember something embarrassing you did. “You don’t have to be good at it. You just have to show up and just put in some effort,” he says. “I’ve probably humiliated myself with things I’ve done in dance circles. Sometimes you just have to, like, embrace that.”

That said, Walsh also notes that Harvard’s social scene sometimes isn’t the most inclusive. “I think the difficulty of the final clubs scene at Harvard is it just makes things very exclusive. They’ll be blasting music all night, and sometimes I wonder if it’s just three guys in there playing music out loud to make people feel bad,” he says. “I think it’s easy to worry about what you’re missing out on.”

But Walsh says this exclusivity has a silver lining: “The benefit, for lack of a better word, is that you’re forced to plan your own fun, and so you can be much more intentional.”

By Joey Huang

For Walsh, this means exploring the Cambridge/Allston/Boston bar scene, as well as throwing parties himself.

For example, Walsh and his suitemates banded with a few other rooms on the sixth floor of New Quincy to throw a party after Crimson Jam last year. The party started in his common room, which was packed with around 50 people. Then they moved down the hall to a neighboring suite and started dancing to music from Walsh’s “huge” speaker set.

“I got on the table with one of my friends and we were just dancing for, I don’t know, 30, 45 minutes,” he says. “It was the type of party where it’s like, the windows get steamy.”

The party was a way to establish that Walsh and his neighbors know how to have fun. “If anyone on our floor needs to have a good time, come to us,” he says. “We can make it happen.”

— Magazine writer Sarah W. Faber can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @swfaber.

Fifteen Superlative Seniors