NBC’s flagship morning show descends on College Avenue to document move-in day
Ethan Thai made his college debut at Rutgers University–New Brunswick on Wednesday, Aug. 30, under the spotlight of national television.
The 18-year-old – who as a child performer danced with the Knicks City Kids, Justin Bieber and Mariah Carey – moved into his residence hall on the College Avenue campus.
He had some help from the cast and crew of NBC’s Today show, including anchor Craig Melvin, who accompanied the first-year student as he moved into his room. Thai’s mother and father, May and Ted, and his older sister Emi, along with Rutgers cheerleaders and university mascot Sir Henry the Scarlet Knight, were on hand for the fanfare, too. He also was greeted by Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway.
“He's going to be the most recognized incoming freshman ever from not only appearing once on national TV, but now Round Two of actually a move-in day,” Ted Thai said of his son. “I'm happy and excited for him that he got to have this opportunity to do this. We're just taking it with stride and just appreciating and enjoying the moment of this whole experience.”
In early May, Ethan Thai, then a student at Old Bridge High School in Matawan, N.J., announced his commitment to Rutgers-New Brunswick – specifically the School of Engineering – outside of NBC Studios in downtown New York as part of the Today Show’s “Celebrating College Decision Day” segment.
Thai, who played volleyball in high school, wasn’t the initial pick for the televised piece.
“My vice principal was coming into one of my classes to grab another student for the Today show,” said Thai, further explaining that NBC producers “were looking for someone who didn't commit to a school yet or post anything on social media or tell anybody where they're committing yet.”
They had someone else in mind.
“And once they walked in, they asked the kid and he was like, ‘Yeah, I just committed to a school yesterday,’” Thai said. “And he posted everything.”
But Thai – all smiles and more than willing to bust a move – hadn’t announced where he planned to go to college. Not yet.
“She's like, ‘OK, come with me,’” Thai said. “And then they told me the news. I was just so surprised.”
Thai said while his Today show appearance was “a little nerve wracking,” at the same time it was “definitely pretty cool.”
Thai’s no stranger to the limelight: As a child, he’d perform with other young dancers at halftime during home games of the New York Knicks.
“I had an audition for it in New York,” Thai said. “I just tried it out and I made the team.”
Thai has had other brushes with fame. As a child, Thai danced during a Justin Bieber performance in New York during the Canadian singer’s Purpose World Tour. In addition, he performed in multiple Christmas-themed shows featuring Mariah Carey at the Beacon Theater in New York.
“That was an experience,” said Thai, adding that as a child he performed during “some pretty cool” fashion shows as well as Rutgers home football games. “It was a month-long journey. We got to practice and do all the shows with her, and it was really cool.”
His mother is glad he chose Rutgers as his college.
“I'm really happy that he is attending Rutgers because it's closer to home,” said May Thai. “I think I'm already starting to feel that anxiety, the denial, he's moving out and it's going to be hard for me.”
Although Ethan Thai said he looked at a couple of different schools and their engineering programs, Rutgers just stood out for him.
“I loved the community at Rutgers, and I just figured I'd fit in a lot better at Rutgers, honestly,” said Thai, adding he’s hoping to join the university’s volleyball club and enjoys playing Spikeball. (The game, also known as roundnet, mixes elements of volleyball and handball and involves hitting a ball off a round net that looks like a small trampoline.)
As for choosing engineering as his field of study, Thai said Legos were among his favorite toys growing up “and then I got into a bunch of models and stuff like that. I was always just building things.”
Emi, Thai’s older sister and a senior at The College of New Jersey, expressed her amusement – and slight annoyance – that her little brother got to procrastinate on picking a college and received so much attention.
“To be completely honest, I was a little jealous at first that they asked him back for Round Two,” said Emi Thai, who wore Rutgers colors Wednesday and explained that her parents were nagging Ethan before his first television appearance to pick a college already.
“They were nagging me, and I didn't have this opportunity,” she said before smiling. “He was able to procrastinate and got the national recognition. So, I was a little jealous, but still very proud.”