Celebrating UM Alumni

By Robin Shear

Celebrating UM Alumni

By Robin Shear
Alumnus Sylvester Stallone was honored with other award recipients at the inaugural Regional Alumni Awards Ceremony in L.A.

What do you give the international action hero who has everything?

How about his missing diploma. But more on that later.

Sylvester Stallone, B.F.A. ’98, was recently honored with the presentation of the Edward T. Foote II Alumnus of Distinction Award for his blockbuster contributions as an actor, writer, director, and artist during the University of Miami Alumni Association’s first-ever Regional Awards Ceremony, held in Los Angeles on June 5.

In addition to the big-screen legend, the Alumni Association also recognized other prominent alumni, including UM President’s Council member Jeanne Wolf, A.B. ’61, M.A. ’66, and UM Ethics Bowl founder Karl Schulze, B.B.A. ’74, who shared the Henry King Stanford Alumnus of the Year Award. The William R. Butler Community Service Award was given posthumously to Austen Everett, A.B. ’11, for her launch of the Austen Everett Foundation prior to her passing from cancer in 2012.

The evening’s host was Stephen Meadow, B.B.A. ’63, who got to celebrate his birthday during the event with a special song from actor Dawnn Lewis, B.M. ’82.

Accepting the Butler Community Service Award on behalf of her late daughter, June Leahy said, “Since this is Austen’s Butler Award, it seemed fitting for this speech to be in her words. ‘My personal struggle with the illness was the most challenging and defining time of my life. It taught me how to fight, and it allowed me to see more beauty and truth and triumph in a single day than I could ever imagine in a lifetime. My dream is to unite collegiate and professional athletes and their teams with kids who are fighting cancer so that one day they will have the opportunity to benefit from the empowerment, the strength and the support of the athletic community as I have from the University of Miami.’ The support of the University of Miami,” concluded Leahy, “has been essential for keeping Austen’s fight alive, and we are so very grateful and appreciative for this award.”

Sharing the Henry King Stanford Award for their outstanding and long-term contributions were Wolf and Schulze, who each explained why they remain so committed to the University.

Wolf, who has interviewed everyone from Tennessee Williams to Paul Newman to Oprah Winfrey in her decades-long career as a celebrity reporter, credited her experience at the U with shaping her. “I loved being in the theater, I loved being in the studio, I loved being in the classroom, and I thought, ‘I wish I could be in school for the rest of my life,’” she said. “One of the reasons I’ve been able to stay in school the rest of my life is that I have the privilege of sharing ideas and exploring the minds of stars in every field.”

Wolf closed with an anecdote from her first TV interview, when she asked her cameraman to snap a photo of her with the actor Jon Voight after the interview was over and the cameraman responded “with just utter disgust, ‘Gee what are you—a professional or a tourist?’” she recalled. “And I said, ‘You know, I think I’m both. Take the picture.’ In this room full of people who prize education, I hope we can all teach each other to be fine professionals  and caring and committed tourists of life.”

Schulze built on the theme of being committed by describing how he went from “dutifully” writing his “little check to the Annual Fund” to a more than decade-long devotion to the University’s Ethics Bowl Competition. “Here we are 11 years later and the program is a rousing success,” he said, sharing credit with his co-founder, wife Teresa Schulze, and UM business ethics professor Anita Cava.

“We’ve had literally hundreds of students go through the program. The great thing is that now it’s been going on long enough that we can kind of track some of the students down the road and without exception they’ve all gone on to terrific careers and more importantly turned out to be the kind of people we like to see UM alumni be,” he said.

For the presentation to Stallone, the audience first watched a highlights reel from his five decades of film history.

Making his entrance, the man known around the world as Rocky and Rambo offered a seamless 15-minute reflection on his early evolution as an artist, from being voted “Most Likely to End Up in the Electric Chair” in high school (“They had just decided to ban it, so I survived,” he quipped) to discovering his passion for acting at the Ring Theatre in Coral Gables (and the hijinks that ensued), before going on to become the only actor to open a No. 1 film in five consecutive decades—from the Rocky and Rambo movies to Copland, and The Expendables franchise, among many others.

Projecting his trademark voice, Stallone kept his fellow Hurricanes laughing with vivid anecdotes from his days at the U, some of which are too good not to share in his own words. Like the time he went to the Ring Theatre, with an inkling that he just might be interested in acting.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God. Look at that—it’s a real circle, it’s a ring. It’s incredible.’ Miami at that time was just very idyllic and beautiful, but the Ring was a spaceship. It was a Steven Spielberg creation. So I go in there and I said, ‘I want to be an actor.’ I don’t know if I’m really ready for this.”

By his own admission, Stallone had trouble getting cast at the Ring.

“I knew I had something in store for me, but I didn’t think it was going to be some great thespian award,” he said. “Finally I talked them into giving me a small part in a play by Kafka called The Trial. And this was not a very good part. It was a very, very odd, esoteric kind of play, and I said, ‘I really gotta get some mileage out of this.’ So I got a friend of mine, Steve, who was kind of corruptible, he worked on The Miami Hurricane. So we went in there one night, and I wrote my own review. It went something like this: ‘The other people in the show were OK, but Stallone explodes onto the stage and leaves nothing but a burning hole in everyone in his wake.’”

Less than a decade later Stallone penned the screenplay for the Academy Award-winning Rocky.

He also received a new, framed copy of his diploma from his friend and former roommate, director John Herzfeld, ’69. The two met more than 45 years ago at UM’s Ring Theatre.

Herzfeld presented the theatre arts diploma to Stallone, calling him “his brother” and saying, “I’m very proud to give him this. He’s a great man and he certainly deserves the diploma.”

Thanking the UM Alumni Association, Stallone replied, “I’ve missed this diploma. I thought I’d never get one. I thought I’d have to steal one.”