Famous alums should stop by more

By Josh Albrecht

The recent name change of “Olivegoyle,” our beloved headless grotesque, to “Homer J. Goyle” (after Dan Castellaneta) got me wondering about all of the people who have walked around NIU before me.

The number of people would be insane to analyze, so I decided to take a look at the famous people who have come out of NIU. An impressive list develops once one takes the time to search out the famous alumni link within the NIU Web site, and it is a list that may shock some people.

I say shock because I’m sure that there haven’t been too many students who would spend the time at www.niu.edu to search out such information and because most of these people, within the last four years have not graced our construction-filled campus.

But at least Rudy from “Survivor,” who unfortunately is not an NIU alumni, came last year.

However, among the list of notable alumni who have excelled in all walks of life from journalism to paleontology, there is what I like to call the “Big Four” who have earned the title of celebrity.

Did you know that J. Dennis Hastert received his M.S. in education from NIU in 1967?

That’s right, the man who is the third-highest elected official in the United States, as the Speaker of the House, is an NIU alumnus. A little over a year ago I went to his annual picnic in Sandwich, Ill., and I got to shake his hand, but the best part was that I had ripped my pants moments before on a picnic table, so I talked to one of the nation’s most powerful politicians with a giant hole in my pant leg. He didn’t say anything, but I think he still remembers.

Unfortunately, out of the list of famous alumni, Hastert is the only one I’ve met. So, as you likely are wondering, who are the other famous people to get an education at NIU.

Well, there is Dan Castellaneta, who has entertained the world for years as the voice of Homer Simpson on the “The Simpsons.” It’s hard to believe sometimes that the man who gives voice to a cultural icon got his B.S. in art education at NIU in 1979. And now, hopefully with the renaming of the grotesque, he will live on at NIU.

Two other alumni have made it big in Hollywood as well. There is Steve Harris, who stars in the television show “The Practice,” and also was in the movies “Sugar Hill” and “The Rock.”

Harris received his B.A. in theatre arts in 1989. That same year, Joan Allen received her B.A. in theatre arts as well.

Allen, who has been nominated for an Academy Award multiple times and won a Tony Award, has an impressive portfolio that would make any actor jealous.

However, I feel that there isn’t enough publicity showcasing our famous alumni. Sure, Dennis Barsema donated a nice chunk of change for the building to be named after him, but why can’t we get a Joan Allen Theatre or a Dan Castellaneta School for Doing Cartoon Voices.

All kidding aside, I do wish that NIU alumni would give some more to the university.

One of the best things that I have seen since being at NIU was when Kevin Smith came to talk about his movies such as “Clerks” and “Dogma.”

I want that same experience with Harris. I’m sure he’s got some really good stories about working with Samuel L. Jackson, and I bet Castellaneta has a bunch of funny jokes; or he could just talk like Homer for an hour.

Basically, what I am trying to say is I would really like it if NIU tried a little harder to bring back highly-notable and recognizable alumni and use them as aids in bringing prospective students to NIU.

The theatre department might take off if would-be actors nationwide knew that Allen and Harris came here, and the political science department could benefit greatly with some increased exposure about Hastert.

Let’s really push what NIU has accomplished in the past. If this can’t happen, then let’s find out why these alumni don’t do more with NIU.

I call out to CAB to try again and again to bring famous alumni back for a speech or autograph session. I expect the NIU Foundation to sweet-talk these alumni into donating their time and money to NIU in a highly-publicized way. Barsema did it. Why not them?

And maybe NIU is trying to get these people to come back, after all, we try to get interviews with the “Big Four” all the time.

And I will leave this little rant with a question that is a rhetorical one for everyone to think about.

Why don’t these alumni want to help out their alma mater more? And taking it one step further, why does it seem sometimes that they really don’t like NIU at all?