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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Frank McCourt Pays Surprise Visit to SBU

    Frank McCourt grew up in the back alleys of Ireland, as years ofrain and famine enveloped the foggy country. Taking the road lesstraveled, he made it onto a ferry to America, and grew up to writean autobiography that would eternalize his family’s struggleto make it through adversity. His award-winning novel,Angela’s Ashes, would soon become an award-winning movie, andhis optimistic, energetic personality would soon come to SBU.

    In a surprise visit to Professor John Westermann’s fictionwriting class, English 238, McCourt spoke to students about hismemoir, life and writing. MtvU also came, and filmed alongside hisvisit.

    Listening to McCourt was extremely enjoyable, even as hedescribed his memories of growing up in poverty duringIreland’s famine. As he playfully chided the cameraman forhooking him up to microphones that he knew were necessary, hecracked a joke of introduction to the students.

    McCourt then retold poignant stories of his life, which seemedto come alive. He started with the early days in Ireland when heonly had bread and water to eat and drink, and went on to histeenage years when he didn’t have the chance to finish highschool. After moving to the United States years later, he joinedthe army, and was allowed to enroll in college through the G.I.Bill, which gave college money to students who had not completedhigh school.

    ‘I talked my way into NYU,’ said McCloud, referringto how he convinced the admissions officers at New York Universityto let him into the prestigious university only because he had’read a lot of books when [he] was younger.’

    NYU, he said, changed his life. Instead of sitting aroundcomplaining and being angry about his past, he was getting aneducation-something he never dreamed of back in Ireland.

    After graduating NYU, McCourt taught at several New York CityPublic Schools, including Stuyvesant High School. In an extremelycomedic way, McCourt described the way he used to confuse thestudents by asking them what they had for dinner. When they saidthey had eaten chicken, he asked who had bought, cooked and servedit. He then asked what was said at the dinner table. The answers tothe first three were ‘my mom,’ followed by ‘wedon’t talk,’ or ‘we fight.’ McCourt foundit unbelievable that American families never seemed to eat mealstogether unless they were fighting.

    Speaking of his book, McCourt said he never expected it to besuch a success. Originally, it was written for his family membersto read, and not for public eyes. However, Angela’s Ashesbecame extremely popular on the New York Times Best Sellerlist.

    ‘Nothing is significant until you make it[significant],’ McCourt said.

    The students seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed McCourt’smemoir, as well as his moving talk and valuable advice for writing.After the lecture, students were given the opportunity to askquestions. When a student asked how he remembered all the tinydetails from his memoir, McCourt answered, ‘When you havenothing, you remember everything.’

    McCourt thought that students were very receptive to his visit.’They laughed [at my jokes]-that showsintelligence,’ he said. McCourt was amazed that even with thehierarchy of ‘big-name universities,’ all of theschools he visited had great talent and energy in the student body.He added that the students are the ‘major treasure of thecountry’ and programs like this mtvU contest allow them toget the education they need to ‘open any door.’

    Professor Westermann, also an accomplished novelist, wrote ExitWounds, which was made into a movie with Steven Seagal in 2001.

    ‘Westermann produces gritty and wickedly funny books setin the sorry world of police work,’ said Ellis Henican ofNewsday.

    Often, students who glance at mtvU take the channel’sbroadcasts in their residence halls and cafeterias for granted. AsMTV’s third station, it is beamed by satellite to over 720universities, and has many amazing opportunities for students. Thestation was re-launched on Jan. 20 with the hopes of’spreading college culture,’ said George Oliphant, theVJ who covered this event for the station.

    ‘MtvU will be all about U, the university ‘- but moreimportantly, U, the student,’ said Stephen Friedman, GeneralManager of mtvU in the initial press release. ‘Just ascollege students are experimenting with their lives, we want to bea laboratory for what’s new, whether it be new music orrecognizing the talents of the students themselves.’ The TVstation boasts a ‘three prong approach’ through venueson air, online and on campus.

    The students in the class were the recipients of the prize fromthe station’s ‘Stand-in’ contest, which bringsicons into classrooms to teach students. Like McCourt, MarilynManson taught a class on music and marketing, and Jesse Jacksontaught another on Civil Rights at different universities featuredon the mtvU satellite network.

    Oliphant introduced a new contest called ‘You Want It, YouGot It,’ where students can win free tuition, a car with freegas for a year or a free spring break vacation.

    Through this opportunity provided by the station, Stony Brookhas joined the ranks of featured universities on one of the mostinfluential student-oriented channels in the country. It has givenstudents a chance to enhance their college experience, and they arenow able to, as McCourt put it, ‘open any door.’


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