September 17, 2014

Winkler Talks Child Education Reform

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By SLOANE GRINSPOON

Actor Henry Winkler — known for his role as “The Fonz” on Happy Days  — spoke about his life and the state of American education at the Schwartz Center Wednesday night.

Winkler began by introducing himself, giving an autobiographical account of his life from his childhood to making it as a successful actor. His talk, though filled with jokes, was punctuated by the message that children need to be educated differently in America today.

“I am an actor, a producer, a director, a writer of children’s books and I am in the bottom three percent academically, in America,” Winkler said.

Throughout the talk, Winkler used personal anecdotes that highlighted his childhood struggles with dyslexia to prove his point.

“Reading was hard, math was hard, and science was hard,” Winkler said. “I was great at lunch.”

Winkler said his parents, who he called “the two short Germans,” were unsupportive of him as a child.

“My parents had an affectionate phrase for me growing up. They called me [the German word for] dumb dog,” Winkler said.

According to Winkler, only when he made it big as an actor did his parents “all of a sudden become the co-producers of Henry Winkler.”

Winkler also described his path to success and how he overcame childhood adversity, both from his parents and teachers who told him he was “lazy [and] stupid.”

He also encouraged the audience to believe in themselves and their potential.

“You know what your power is. You know what your greatness is. And you must never forget it, and you must never second guess it,” Winkler said.

Samantha Weisman ’15, president of Cornell Hillel, said she believes that the speech was a great start to this year’s Hillel Major Speaker Series.

“We’re looking forward to bringing more dynamic and engaging speakers to campus in the coming months,” Weisman said.

According to Rachel Minton ’15, vice president of Hillel and the chair of the Hillel Major Speaker Series Committee, Hillel wanted to bring Winkler to speak on campus as part of the series because “his legacy is spread so diversely throughout several mediums.”

“He is hilarious, talented and he [is] admired by so many,” Minton said. “We thought of him because he has a strong Jewish identity and a successful career. Henry is an inspiration and a generally lovely individual.”

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