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The Deacon Blog

A magazine staff blog with news of alumni and the WFU community

Maria Henson

New Provost: ‘You had me at hello’

Wake Foresters cannot help but be thrilled by the appointment of Rogan Kersh (’86) as the new provost. He’s an alumnus who grew up in Brevard, N.C., and understands the spirit of this place, having gained initiatory insights from President James Ralph Scales on a February day in 1982, and on through his campus days as an undergraduate.

Rogan Kersh ('86), Wake Forest's new provost

In the years after Wake Forest, he became a Luce Scholar and studied in Tokyo, earned two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from Yale and went on to hold academic posts as a political scientist. Since 2006 he has been associate dean at New York University. In the fall issue of Wake Forest Magazine, he told Lisa Kline Mowry (’82) that he remembered Wake Forest as “bucolic, green, communal.”

Goodbye, concrete. Hello again, Reynolda Gardens.

Three decades ago Kersh was an ambitious but nervous high school student  aspiring to obtain one of the top scholarships available in the state. He was interviewing for a Morehead Scholarship at the University of North Carolina. At Wake Forest he joined the first group of high school seniors seeking Reynolds Scholarships. He describes that experience beautifully in an essay “My Own Personal Wake Forest” in Edwin G. Wilson’s (’43) “The History of Wake Forest University Volume V/1967-1983.”

He writes about arriving late to the Autumn Room in Reynolda Hall to join his 14 fellow-finalists. He was late because of a symphonic competition. He clattered in, “trailing my father’s old suitcase,” interrupting President Scales’ opening remarks. Instead of expressing irritation, Scales gave him “a kindly, welcoming smile, just long enough to reassure me but not mark the moment as disruptive.” The president went back to his talk, expressing his hope that the students “would come to embrace ‘your own personal Wake Forest.'” Kersh said the finalists shared with each other later that they had all had the same experience. Scales turned them from “a collection of nerve-wracked high schoolers into young men and women worthy of Wake Forest.”

I’ll let him take it from there:

“That at once powerful and gentle touch was sustained throughout the Reynolds interview weekend. Tom Phillips’s constant encouraging good cheer, Ed and Emily Wilson generously opening their home to the lot of us for dinner, Peggy Smith guiding us patiently through Reynolda House’s stunning American art collection, Jim Barefield pointing out the high notes of  WFU semester in Venice — on an immense map, displayed upside down (he blamed the map-holders — who, as a pair of hearty Wake juniors, seemed to us impossibly suave and sophisticated): all these encounters felt more like a family gathering than a scholarly inquisition.

“Driving home to the Western North Carolina mountains, fond visions of Deacon-hood danced in my head. I had a Morehead Scholarship interview a week later in Chapel Hill; Wake Forest’s Dean Tom Mullen, another warmly welcoming familiar figure during the Reynolds interviews, suggested I stop by and say hello on the trip back from UNC. He and Bill Starling, the much-beloved admissions director, were standing on the Reynolda Hall steps as I pulled up. From somewhere Dean Mullen produced a clutch of farm-fresh eggs, further cementing my impression of Wake Forest as the most wonderfully intimate, personable institution of higher learning imaginable. We talked a half-hour, in that painterly late-afternoon Winston-Salem sunlight. ‘We hope you’ll join us in the fall,’ Mullen said by way of parting; it seemed more a benediction than a recruitment pitch.’

“And so I did, to my lifelong benefit. For me the deal was sealed with Mr. Scales’s smile — my version of ‘you had me at hello.’ The rest of the weekend, and indeed the four incomparably memorable years that followed, were an extended confirmation of that essential warmth, understanding, and instillation of confidence. Thus began my own, yes, ‘personal Wake Forest.'”

Welcome back, Rogan Kersh. Take it from me, your ‘personal Wake Forest’ remains as bucolic and charming as ever. It’s ready for your next chapter.

Carol Barbee (’81) ready to launch “Touch” on Fox TV

When I ran into Carol Barbee (’81) at Simply Yummy during Homecoming weekend, she mentioned a new project she had cooking with Kiefer Sutherland and Fox TV.

Kiefer Sutherland in "Touch"

Sutherland’s name causes several Demon Deacons I know to lean in closer for the scoop because of their shameless addiction to “24.” Mea culpa. But as The New York Times noted Sunday, Sutherland’s new character is “a long way from Jack Bauer, the tough terrorism fighter” in the post-9/11 series that ended in 2010.

His new show is “Touch,” airing at 9 p.m. ET on Jan. 25, and Barbee as executive producer is one of the creatives behind it.
She majored in theatre at Wake Forest and has long been a highly regarded writer and executive producer in Los Angeles.

Carol Barbee ('81) is executive producer of "Touch"

Sutherland plays Martin Bohm, father of a son who has a disability and is mute but eventually begins communicating with his father in numbers patterns that can be deciphered to show connections across the past, present and future. Tim Kring, Barbee’s former boss when they worked together on the television show “Providence,” is the show’s creator. He based the drama on a combination of scientific theory and spiritual concepts, Barbee told me in a telephone conversation this week.

“It’s about how everyone and everything is connected,” she said. “I think it’s very zeitgeisty. I really do. It’s a smart show, but it’s also a sweet show. It’s a heart-on-your-sleeve show.”  She says the story with Martin and his son will be the constant, but throughout there will be “little short stories”  that take place around the world that demonstrate how the small things in life have great stakes. “It lifts up everyday, ordinary people, and says, ‘You matter.'” It’s also about the butterfly effect, she said. “You have no idea the number of lives” someone affects.

Barbee’s career followed naturally from her time as a theatre major from Concord, N.C., influenced by professors Harold C. Tedford, Donald H. Wolfe and Caroline Fullerton. “They were such a huge part of my life,” Barbee said, “and they’ve stayed in my life since, too.” She credits Fullerton with pointing her toward graduate school, a future she had never considered before Fullerton asked her point blank where she planned to apply and suggested options. Barbee received her MFA in acting at UCLA, a school that ranked among Fullerton’s recommendations.

“I think a liberal arts education and a true university experience expands your mind, expands your horizons. It’s where you find yourself. That’s how it was for me,” she said. “There’s an old Neil Young song that says, ‘All my changes were there.’ And that’s how I feel about Wake Forest. I went from being a kid to a thinking person who sort of figured out who she was a little bit and who had the opportunity to study with amazing minds.”

She said she honors others in her industry who choose to find their path into acting and film outside of college. “For me college was the way. And for me Wake Forest was just a perfect experience.”

In timely piece of advice for young people, this mother of two boys says, “I’m a big fan of whatever it is you’re interested in and whatever it is you love — go do that and don’t worry about how you’re going to get a job out of it, because from my experience — and what I’ve seen of a lot of my friends —  when you really love something and really pursue it, it will lead you to a life you love.” Her father still jokes with her, she said, about his not having liked the idea of her being a theatre major. Her brother and sister were more practical. “My dad always laughed and said, ‘I don’t get it! It’s my theatre major who’s making money.'”

Look for Barbee in March during Words Awake! — a writers’ conference celebrating Wake Forest writers and writing. She will be on a panel discussing screenwriting. Read more here about the conference.

Lawrence Schlossman (’09): ‘Shaking up the fashion world’

Another Wake Forest graduate stepped up to the national stage this week when The New York Times featured Lawrence Schlossman (’09) in its Thursdays Styles section about “a new breed of fashion bloggers (taking) the macho tack.”

Schlossman, pictured above in GQ’s style blog last summer, also has been featured in Esquire online in the past few weeks as a go-to men’s fashion adviser. His blogs? Sartorially Inclined and How to Talk to Girls at Parties. According to the Times, he left a job in Charlotte a year ago, moved to New York and landed the social media editor’s job at Park & Bond because of his name recognition. He’s got a clothing line, too — Run of the Mill — which he founded with two fellow bloggers.

“Not every fashion blogger is a 15-year-old girl with an unhealthy obsession with Rei Kawakubo. Some are older. And some are men,” Alexis Swerdloff writes in the Times article. “…these are macho fashion bloggers, writing for a post-metrosexual world.”

Schlossman is described as “a former Wake Forest frat boy” who often hears from his buddies who text him, “Yo, I need a pair of jeans, I’m about to hit up Bloomingdale’s, what brand should I get?”

One item he won’t advise them to purchase is a bow tie. He ragged on bow ties in the Times, calling them “a style crutch.” He elaborated on his distaste in Esquire’s Style Blog in December. The bow tie, he told Esquire, “is pretty much the go-to element of the fake-stylish-man’s costume …. Before guys rush to build up their bow-tie collection, they should take a step back, pick their foot up off the gas, and realize there are far more important clothing items to sort out first.”

Surely, Schlossman can make one exception. If he’s true to his Demon Deacon roots, he will have to admit that our Wake Forest mascot is a vintage cool guy in a heritage-chic bow tie. Sartorially speaking, the Demon Deacon is a classic.

Melissa Harris-Perry (’94) lands her own show on MSNBC

Rising media star, Tulane political science professor and Wake Forest alumna Melissa Harris-Perry (’94) makes her debut with her own television show on MSNBC from 10 a.m. to noon ET on Feb. 4. It will air Saturdays and Sundays.

Melissa Harris Perry shines in the media and the classroom

MSNBC President Phil Griffin said in a news release this week, “Melissa’s thoughtful analysis has been an incredible addition to our primetime programs and I’m thrilled to have her join our expanded weekend line-up.”

In the news release Harris-Perry called it “an extraordinary opportunity….All I’ve ever wanted to be is a teacher. Phil Griffin and MSNBC are giving me the chance to have a much bigger classroom.”

Harris-Perry’s show has no name yet, which prompted a flurry of tweets among the professor’s 57,647 Twitter followers to help her name the show. “Since we follow ‘Up w/Chris’ I’ve been lobbying for ‘Uppity w/Melissa,'” she joked in a Tweet. (Chris Hayes will continue to lead weekend programming with his “Up” show, airing from 8-10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.) Among the Tweets in which followers offered names: “Making the Grade,” “News Lockdown,” “Get Schooled,” “Chalk Talk w/MHP” and “Who Dat? It’s Melissa,” with its distinctly New Orleans flavor, lit up the Twitter accounts. I particularly liked the Tweets that said “Class — fine for a teacher and your approach” and “‘Melissa’s News Hootenanny.’ You don’t see enough hootenanny in politics.”

Harris-Perry has been a frequent guest commentator and stand-in host on MSNBC. Aside from teaching at Tulane, she is the founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race and Politics in the South  and the author of “Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America,” her newest book, which Yale University Press published last year.

Wake Forest Magazine also featured her in Lisa Kline Mowry’s (’82) article “Teaching It Forward” about distinguished professors nationally who recalled how their undergraduate days inspired them in their profession.

All best wishes to Professor Harris-Perry as she leads a national political discussion in what promises to be a hootenanny of a presidential election year.