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Oliver Branham-Upton stands in a room

Oliver Branham-Upton stands in a room

Getting to know Oliver Branham-Upton ’24

Taking what’s old and making it new again

Environmental Studies
Brooklyn, New York

Oliver Branham-Upton ’24 had this picture in his head: he’s sitting at a table on a Brooklyn sidewalk, playing dominoes with a friend, and having a conversation as people walk by.

He had never played dominos before, but after months of sheltering in place, he missed people. He missed the subway. “It’s a pure experience on the subway everyday, going from Brooklyn to Manhattan for high school,” he says. “You meet a lot of people. You encounter a lot of interesting, sometimes super scary, sometimes really beautiful things.”

Playing dominoes, Branham-Upton decided, was the answer to isolation. The only problem was he had no table. But if you’re into building and repurposing discarded items, the streets of Brooklyn offer all sorts of possibilities. A short walk ended with an old maple desk top found on a curb, then he repurposed old legs and a brass hinge from a bench he didn’t use anymore.

“We were just sourcing our materials from the street,” the cross country runner says. “We thought it’d be cool to build something to make this idea happen.”

Branham-Upton often takes up mini-projects like this, taking discarded items and building something new. He watches videos of guerilla gardening and urban sustainability, looking for new ideas.

“I’m interested in sustainability. I think that it’s pretty clear that it’s something most everyone should be implementing into their lives,” he says. “I’ve really tried to reflect on what I can do.”

Growing up in a biracial family—his mother is Black and his father is white—racial justice is also important to Branham-Upton. When he gets to Santa Clara, he wants to combine his interests into one career. He hopes the Jesuit style of education will help him find the intersection between sustainability and combating systemic racism.

The East Coast native knows he’ll miss the energy of New York City, but he intentionally sought out California for a change of pace. The more laid-back lifestyle and natural beauty of the region suit him. Branham-Upton remembers his first visit to Santa Clara, going on a run with one of his cross country teammates and as they shuffled to a stop, they arrived at an orange tree near campus.

“He just picked an orange off and we ate it,” he recalls. “It was awesome.”


Written by Matt Morgan