Thursday, March 08, 2007

Matt Fox Update: Oh, Lighten up Francis!


Here's all that's wrong with today's Ivy college kids in a nutshell: Today's Columbia Spectator features a staff editorial criticizing the choice of actor and former CU football player Matt Fox as the Class Day graduation speaker. The gist of the editorial is that Fox is just an actor, and not really important enough to speak to the distinguished graduates. Yuck!

Let me let the folks who wrote this piece of elitist junk in on a little secret: Matt Fox is a very successful Hollywood actor... and while that is far from making him a good or even wise person, it means he is 1) hugely talented and 2) has more perseverance than most people will ever even see in a lifetime. And with today's job market the way it is, hearing from a successful and resilient graduate might do a lot of you a lot of good. In other words, 90% of you will never be as successful or work as hard as Matt Fox is and does.

And something tells me that his "perseverance training" got a big boost while he was playing on that Columbia Lions football team during the infamous 44-game losing streak. I suppose the years of getting doors slammed in his face while auditioning for parts were easier after spending his late teens and early 20's getting ridiculed in the national spotlight as part of a perennial loser.

And something else tells me that if Fox hadn't been a football player, the writers wouldn't be so quick to sneer at him in public.

Listen, I've seen the alumni contact rolls for many of the recent Columbia College classes. The overwhelming majority of them work as lawyers or at brokerage firms. Do those jobs involve hard work? You bet. Are they risky? Not really. Are most of the people working at these jobs extremely unhappy despite their financial success? Hell yeah. Welcome to your future.

If I learned one thing after spending four years with a bunch of kids at Columbia who were obviously smarter and more motivated than I, it was humility. I put on my cap and gown STILL not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, and that made me feel pretty pathetic next to my friends who did know and were also ready to work very hard for it.

I don't idolize actors or celebrities. In fact, I often enjoy making jokes at their expense in my other life as a comedy writer. But that's just joking around. The many years I've spent trying to break into Hollywood as a writer have taught me that ANYONE, and I mean ANYONE, who makes it in that business has probably busted his ass and taken tons of lumps just to get a decent chance.

Matt Fox came to Columbia by way of Wyoming, fulfilling what the University has always hoped to do: open the eyes and minds of young men and women who otherwise would not get exposed to higher learning in a place like New York City. Somehow, I don't think Columbia wants to be the college where a bunch of smart ass kids seek and get confirmation that they really are better than everyone else.

And the kicker of all of this is that there was a similar elitist controversy about the man chosen to be the Class Day speaker when I graduated in 1992.

I was not on the student selection committee, but a good friend of mine was. Unfortunately for him, all the really "big names" turned Columbia down and he did his best to scramble and get pollster Lewis Harris. The attacks my friend had to endure from our fellow students over the next several weeks were horrific. He used to play some of the nasty phonemail messages he would get on his speaker phone for me. (One of my favorites came from one male student who informed us that his parents were coming to the ceremonies at, "considerable expense," and thus deserved a much higher quality speaker than a, "glorified elderly bean counter.")


Well, poor old Mr. Harris took the podium that warm day in May, 1992 and shocked the crowd by saying that his research showed that a long-shot candidate from Arkansas not only could win the presidential election in six months... but WOULD win it. That man was Bill Clinton of course. And when Clinton did win that November it became clear that Harris had retroactively given one of the most memorable speeches any of us would hear in our lifetimes. Too bad many of my classmates decided to deliberately ignore him.

Matt Fox is an articulate guy who's beaten the odds, (he's also a cancer survivor by the way). The Class of 2007 should be honored to listen to what he has to say.

21 Comments:

At Thu Mar 08, 04:03:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

let me share a marginally related story. OUr law firm has a dinner each fall to introduce new associates. Around 15 years ago, when we were in hte early Tellier years, the host of the evening introduced one of our new lawyers as a former offensive tackle on the Columbia football team. The host was a double Penn grad. without being overly cruel, he intended to convey the impression that this young man must have had a screw loose to play football for us. Despite the fact that he was in a packed room of several hundred lawyers young and old, this former Lion sttod up and said that nothing he had done up top that point in his life made him prouder than playing four years at Columbia. He got a standing, rousing ovation. So my hats off to anybody who plays four years for us, is proud of doing so, and then goes on to success in later life. Bring on a hundred Matt Foxes!

 
At Thu Mar 08, 04:06:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Wonderfully said!

 
At Thu Mar 08, 06:19:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake..enjoy all your CU football postings. As a past player during the notorious streak, I am not surprised that Foxy is catching some ridiculous grief. Perhaps they should be reminded that Brian Dennehy did a wonderful job as the 2000 commencement speaker. He also stole the show at the recent Ivy football dinner to the point the the Princeton recipient that followed him almost sat down and didn't make a speech as he couldn't possibly rival Dennehy's humorous CU ftball stories and what it meant to him to play for us riding back and forth every day on that bus that all us football players remember all too well..Keep up the good work and good luck with the radio gig

 
At Thu Mar 08, 07:41:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember Jim Carrey's movie "Dumb and Dumber," well the Spec editorial board has achieved the distinction of being the "Dumbest." Matthew Fox is a highly successful young, television and motion picture star, I'm not sure what about Fox is bothering the Spec editors-actor rather than politician, former football player instead of couch potato, enthusiastic graduate of Columbia College rather than someone like Barack Obama who couldn't care less, etc., etc.

 
At Thu Mar 08, 08:12:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Thanks for the kind words. I sure hope these kids learn a little lesson in humility someday soon. Of course, we could wait until their law professor or managing director does it to them... but why wait?

 
At Thu Mar 08, 08:48:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That in a nutshell is why CU football never will sustain the success that a Penn or Harvard program has. The student body refuses to embrace it-unlike those schools- and as a whole they are probably happier when we lose then if we consistently won as sad as that sounds. Dianne and Norries have a big battle on their hands re changing the mindset but Columbia is Columbia for better or worse. Just go to any Homecoming(I've been to the last 12) and that is clear as day.

 
At Thu Mar 08, 10:54:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

I think student support can easily improve with a winning team. It's not a "chicken or the egg proposition" at first, because the football team can grab a winning season or two before the fan support comes back.

Also, don't be fooled. Student support of athletics at Harvard and Penn is extremely weak too. Both of those schools pack the stands with a lot more alumni than current students.

 
At Fri Mar 09, 02:07:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree with the post that the student mindset needs to change. One would think that the goodwill that Norries Wilson is creating on campus would begin to erode the anti-mainstream attitude that Columbia students have.

Given the notoriety that Fox has, its good to see that he is putting it to good use for the school. If only we were able to utilize it to help in recruiting.

 
At Fri Mar 09, 02:07:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree with the post that the student mindset needs to change. One would think that the goodwill that Norries Wilson is creating on campus would begin to erode the anti-mainstream attitude that Columbia students have.

Given the notoriety that Fox has, its good to see that he is putting it to good use for the school. If only we were able to utilize it to help in recruiting.

 
At Fri Mar 09, 02:53:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harvard perhaps but they do get a great turnout. Penn, I disagree..they had a night game against Nova last year and there were at least 5000 students there. They are proud of what their program has become and I don't think their student body is as anti-ftball as ours. Hey, I hope you're right and winning brings students and alums out of the woodwork. They year we went 8-2 with Wiley had no different attendance then it does now so we'll see. The program is headed in the right direction..fyi..I went to the same hs as Shane Kelly and I hear good things about him--big arm/great leader....

 
At Fri Mar 09, 03:07:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Thanks for your comments, but I want to make a clear distinction between basketball and football... especially at Penn. Penn and Princeton basketball are really unique entities when it comes to attendance. In the Ivy football, the only venue where I've seen consistently strong attendance is Harvard Stadium.

Another thing to remember: attendance WAS much better at Baker Field the year we went 8-2... the only reason why the total numbers were seemingly weak is because homecoming that year was played in a virtual monsoon.

 
At Fri Mar 09, 04:32:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We had great crowds in '94 and '96, except for the monsoon at homecoming. The home game against Brown in '96, the season finale, was packed.

 
At Fri Mar 09, 06:06:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Winning has a huge impact on attendance everywhere, including the Ivies, even at schools with a tradition of winning in a given sport. In an article about Princeton in the Jersey paper today, it was reported that average attendance at Jadwin has dropped from about 5,000 in late 90's to half that now. -Dr.V

 
At Fri Mar 09, 07:43:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake..I was referring to football. Penn played Villanova in football at Franklin Field last year-5k turnout minimum from student body. Speaking of Hoops--kudos to Baumann on making 1st team All-Ivy. If they can get Big Ben to play a little more physical, they should have a legit shot next year...

 
At Fri Mar 09, 07:53:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it hard to say anything good about Penn. I think that their fans are obnoxious, their coaches are smug, they cut corners, they suffer from a massive inferiority complex and compensate by trashing Columbia, and as far as I am concerned they can't lose enough, in any sport. And if you want to know how I really feel.....

 
At Fri Mar 09, 10:22:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Dr. Feelgood said...

Wait a gosh darn second...Columbia has a football team?...jeez who knew?

 
At Sat Mar 10, 02:14:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

DL Coach Andrew Cohen is leaving to be DC at Bucknell. Good luck Andrew!

 
At Sat Mar 10, 03:04:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

We'll be sorry to see Andrew go. He has to get a lot of the credit for the fine play of Todd Abrams and Darren Schmidt last season. But the defensive coordinator job at Bucknell is a nice promotion from a position coach slot. Good luck Andrew, and we're very glad we're not playing Bucknell this coming season!

 
At Mon Mar 12, 12:22:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a current graduating student, let me throw in my two cents.

This isn't about who Matt Fox is, but unfortunately, about who he isn't.

First off, the elitism expressed by the Spec is ridiculous. Then again, half of what the Spec editorial staff rights if self-righteous drivel.

My first reaction was "Whoah, the guy from Lost!" My second reaction was "Wait, has he done anything else?"

I've read some of his interviews and I've been unimpressed. I seriously hope he proves my doubts wrong.

I think the sense of entitlement you see comes from seeing the caliber of speakers that Columbia's peer institutions draw on a yearly basis.

It doesn't help that every year more prominent alumni keep turning down requests to speak at Class Day. In 2004, Tony Kushner was the 4th choice. He turned that fact into a brilliant opening to his speech. I've heard some rumors about how many different people turned down Columbia College's overtures this year, and it has to be more than a little embarrassing for the school. Of course the problem is just made worse by the yearly poor reaction by the senior class.

To be honest, I don't think you can ever win with the Class Day speaker unless it's Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, or Jon Stewart. Last year John McCain (Parent '07) spoke and got a bad reception because of his politics. The ideal speaker is a charismatic high profile luminary. The greatest luminaries tend not to have the highest profiles, and you can't be too sure of most of these speaker's charisma until after the fact. I pity the folks who have to pick the speaker every year, dealing with unrealistic demands and an uninterested candidates.

Finally, I don't think most Columbians are as 'anti-establishment' as you'd think. Sure Columbia attracts it's fair share of '68 Wannabes, but most of us are ambivalent and perhaps a bit too career-driven to bother with those sort of things. Athletics definitely receive the support of the student body. The football team suffers from the double whammy of a losing history and distant location. Jake's right, a winning season would put fannies in the seats. Just look at the basketball team which draws over 2,000 to nearly every home game. The students are loud, pumped, and excited to see a good team on their court. Not to mention the Athletics department has done a superb job with the annual Midnight Mania event since it started in 2003.

The fact that Fox's football past got dragged into this at all just reflects poorly on the Spec staff and others who've resorted to primitive stereotypes.

Am I disappointed Bill Clinton or Jon Stewart or even Columbia Alum Barack Obama isn't speaking at my graduation? Of course. But I'll judge Matt Fox on his own merits when he speaks.

After all, I don't have much of a choice.

If only Rob Maschio had offered to speak a few months before... :-D

 
At Mon Mar 12, 08:11:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, who is this D1 transfer with the funny name (something like Nyles Boateng). All sorts of buzz about him as a huge impact player.

 
At Thu Mar 15, 09:01:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

how about some research on Bayo and Mettee's return to the roster?

 

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