Walter Ahlf’s favorite class at St. Thomas Aquinas College is Gaming because it’s one of his favorite hobbies and the course’s final project requires students to create their own video games. “Making a game is not nearly as easy as playing one,” jokes Walter, whose game “Stranded” puts players on an island alone, where they are chased by a hungry cannibal. “It’s a lot of fun but also a lot of work. Trial and error are part of the process. Every time you get something to work, it’s immensely satisfying.” Walter’s hard work on the project paid off with a grade of 100.
Now a junior at STAC, Walter says that gaming, and specifically his favorite series “Legends of Zelda: The Wind Waker,” inspired his interests in both computer science and the performing arts. The characters have words, but no voices, so he made up voices for them. “I could be as silly or serious as I wished, something I like to carry over to the theater,” he says.
In high school, Walter performed in several dramas and musicals with the Tappan Zee High School Players, including Dracula, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Hamlet, and The Drowsy Chaperone—but not before overcoming a serious case of stage fright. “A friend of mine had to drag me to the audition for ‘Dracula,’” he recalls. One of 30 people who auditioned, Walter landed the part of Renfield.
In addition to creating video games and 3D animations, volunteering at Dowling Gardens, and working part-time at the Town of Orangetown’s IT office, Walter also takes part in the performing arts on campus. He is a member of STACapella, the STAC Singers, and the Laetare Players and has performed in Two Weeks in Love, Young Frankenstein, and Kill Me Deadly.
These groups have played an important role in Walter’s life as a college student. He credits the Laetare Players for making him feel at home on campus early on. “As a commuter, I was lonely during my first semester. But when I joined Laetare, the small performing arts community was very welcoming. It feels like a second family to me.”
Coming from a musical family has also fostered Walter’s interest in performing and singing. His twin brother plays the trumpet, his older brother and mother play the piano, and he has played the flute since fourth grade.
Growing up with a twin makes life interesting, Walter says, because they did everything together. “We think the same thing out of nowhere,” he says. “We tend to know what makes each other tick. We use it against one another sometimes, as siblings do.”
Walter enjoys watching musicals as much as he enjoys performing in them, especially Meet Me in Saint Louis. He also loves horror films. The classic, Halloween, is his favorite, he has watched it so many times, he knows every line by heart.
Walter says he is happy with his choice to attend STAC because “the professors are great and the community is small, kind, and understanding.”
Professor Robert Vermilyer, Ph.D., who has gotten to know Walter in his computer science classes, says that he is an excellent student. “His intellectual curiosity inspires other students,” he notes. “Given his creative problem-solving and computational thinking abilities, I am confident that he is going to have a very successful career as a computer scientist.”