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57th & Irving producer given honorary doctorate from alma mater

New York, N.Y.(5/12/2009) – President Michael Victor of Lake Erie College granted the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters to Carol Lewis Morris, class of ’67.


The Buffalo, N.Y., native was given this honor for her tireless philanthropic commitment to her alma mater as well as for her work as an executive producer with 57th & Irving Productions in New York City. As the commencement speaker at the 2009 ceremony in Painesville, Ohio, Dr. Morris stressed the importance of loyalty to one’s alma mater. She also, drew upon her experience in film production to illustrate parallels between lessons learned on a movie set and lessons useful in all of life’s endeavors.


Dr. Morris and her husband, Robert Morris, led the effort to save Lake Erie College’s Morley Music Building. When they adopted this project, the classic Greek-style, Bedford limestone hall was in desperate need of repair. It housed a non-operational 64-rank, six-division, E.M. Skinner organ, built in 1927. The Morris family challenged the alumni of the College to raise funds by committing to a matching grant. The 800 person-capacity music hall was revived to its original sparkling grandeur and is now the jewel of the pristine Midwestern campus. The inaugural concert was performed during Alumni Weekend 2006, at which time, the organ was officially renamed The Carol Lewis Morris Restored Skinner Organ. The Morris family also sponsors a summer entertainment internship program in Los Angeles, Calif., for qualified Lake Erie College students each year.


57th & Irving is a family office film production and finance company. Carol Morris founded the company in September of 2005 with her husband, Robert, and their son, Patrick. The company most recently released their film, "The Cake Eaters," which stars "Twilight’s" Kristen Stewart. Dr. Morris is also the proud producer of the heart-felt documentary, "American Teen," which premiered at Sundance in 2008, where it won the festival’s best director award and was released in July 2008 by Paramount Vantage. Also, in July 2008, their film "August," starring Josh Hartnett was released by First Look Studios. These three film’s DVDs are all now available for purchase. They currently have two new films in post-production, which will be released in 2009 and early 2010.


Below is Morris' address to the graduating class of 2009, entitled, "The Movie of Your Life":


Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to be here with you on this very special day – the 150th commencement of Lake Erie College and Mother’s Day. It’s great to see of all of you from this podium – students, parents, distinguished faculty members and friends of the College. Thank you, President Victor and members of the board of trustees, for this tremendous honor – I am delighted to be here.


As you know from Vice President Evans’ introduction, our family invests in and produces films.   So, I thought I would share some of my college experiences and lessons from my life in the context of movie-making – the movie of your life, graduates. But before we talk about the movie of your life, let me share a few scenes from my own.


September 1963, my freshman year at Lake Erie College. These were the “good old days” – no computers, no cell phones, no men on campus, very few student-owned cars, formidable house parents in every dorm! Curfew hours! Waiting for the (very public) hall telephone to ring …hoping for a call from that cute fraternity guy from Kenyon or John Carroll. Many a night was spent typing and re-typing an important term paper, fueled by pizza and burgers delivered from the local establishments.


I was very serious about doing well in my classes … eager to earn an “A!’’ Biology 101 was a requirement and I knew it would be a tough one for me! I worked for hours on a daunting first assignment. But on the second day of class, I discovered that the assignment was actually meant to be completed over a two-week period, not in one night! Whew! I learned from this early experience to listen carefully to the director (in this case the professor) and to trust that I had the skills to get the work done! Independent films are usually shot on a very tight schedule. In the case of our first film, “The Cake Eaters,” the location shoot was only 21 days. We learned that with a little organization, you can accomplish more in a short amount of time than you ever thought possible!


A popular faculty member of my day was professor Barton Bean who taught government and political science. Dr. Bean was a colorful character, brilliant but disheveled in the most charming way. I especially recall long afternoon seminar classes of eight to 10 students seated around a conference table. Preparation was essential. Participation was a certainty. Confidence and self-discovery were the result. Could there be a better model for a quality liberal arts education? Lake Erie College continues to offer its students this exceptional level of education. Think of your College days as a dress rehearsal that prepares you for the world’s stage and screen!


The final scene from my Lake Erie College experience I want to share goes back to November 22, 1963. This was the day president John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. I was 18-years-old and after that day I never felt like a child again. It was an enormous shock to me … of the magnitude of the attacks of September 11, 2001. After the initial despair of that terrible day, I learned that this was a moment in which to react as an adult for the first time in my young life.    In the sad aftermath of what we all understood to be a major moment in history, the campus community bonded together in a season of thoughtful reflection. Life would not be the same, but we would go on.


From the untimely loss of a president to the unimaginable destruction of 9/11, and even the financial crisis that we are living through today, I have learned that life is full of surprises – and they won’t all be welcome. Challenging times can bring out the best in you. The quality of your performance under these circumstances will impact your career and your life in ways you cannot imagine. Recognize these moments, summon all of your character and your skills. Accept and play your role to the best of your ability.


Now, back to the movie of your life. You are the screenwriter, producer and main character of your own production. The camera has been rolling for some time now. The movie of your life shows you here, in this auditorium, on this very special day. You have already achieved so much.  You’ve had good experiences and maybe some not so good. You’ve made wonderful friends here at Lake Erie College – friends for life. You’ve proven to yourself and the world that you know what it takes to get the job done. On this commencement day, you are poised at the end of one scene and the beginning of the next.  You look like stars to me!


Let me share a few things that I learned after leaving Lake Erie College that may help you with the next scenes in the movie of your life.


First, take especially good care of yourself – your body and your mind. Your fitness and well-being will make you a better actor, better prepared to take on whatever comes your way. 

Second, consider the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In his keynote address during the historic “March on Washington” in 1963, Dr. King hoped for a brighter future for his own four children. He said: “One day they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  We are all known by “the content of our character.” Your personal values and your integrity will distinguish you among your peers. The values of honesty and trustworthiness cannot be overstated. They apply across the board in your closest relationships and your professional ones as well. We are all known by the content of our character – our values, our integrity. This is the way we know others and the way they will know us.


Third, stay in touch with your family, friends, colleagues and classmates. They are the supporting characters in the movie of your life. You will be calling on them for guidance, maybe even for a job! Your past will serve as inspiration for your future.


Fourth, be optimistic. A positive attitude coupled with a lot of hard work will bring about opportunities you never imagined. You cannot possibly know where you will be or what you will be doing five or even fifty years from now. Be open to change and willing to edit and re-edit the movie of your life when opportunities present themselves. Be assured that there will be plots and sub-plots, subtle twists and turns that will mystify and challenge you. This is when you will call upon the key characters in your life, the content of your character and the lessons of earlier scenes for guidance.

Finally, give back. As the movie of your life goes on, you will realize the scenes from your Lake Erie College days will be some of the best. Contributions from alumni and friends keep your alma mater vibrant and prepared for the next generation. The value of your degree depends upon the health of your college. Giving back is something my husband, bob, and I feel very strongly about.  We hope you, too, will be generous to all of the causes important to you and, especially to your alma mater, Lake Erie College.


At this point, you may be thinking, “Cut!” Oh, but the camera is rolling! The spotlight is on you now. It is your time to take the stage. You are very well-rehearsed for this role. I wish you all the very best for success and know the movie of your life will be one to watch.




Note: This is a news archive and may contain outdated information.


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