DI Voices | Roger Ebert and I: Involved Illini

By Noah Nelson, Senior Columnist

One of the greatest aspects of the University is its successful alumni. They are Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners, they’ve traveled to space and they’ve founded well-known companies.

But there’s one well-known University alum who’s famous for reviewing movies. Roger Ebert, the world-renown film critic, reformed popular culture and has positively impacted the film industry.

Behind the reviews is a man you may or may not know well. I resonate so well with Ebert, he almost feels like a mentor, a friend and fellow living Illini.

Ebert grew up in a small home in Urbana, the only child of Annebelle and Walter Ebert, where he was also a paperboy. Because of his parents’ encouragement to read and write at a young age, this led to Ebert writing for his high school newspaper where he was editor, and eventually for The Daily Illini, where he served as editor once again.

I, too, grew up an only child in a small home in Taylorville, and I also delivered newspapers in my youth. My parents also encouraged me to read and write as much as I can. This led to me being editor of the high school newspaper for two years, and now a senior columnist for The DI.

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Both of our parents saw great potential in us decades ago when Ebert’s parents took him on a nightly stroll through the University campus.

His father said, “The University of Illinois is the greatest university in the world. Someday you’ll go here.” Four years ago, my parents encouraged me to attend the University because they believed it would be suited for me as well.

Throughout his career, Ebert gradually became one of the best film critics of all time. If he gave a film a thumbs up, it meant something in the industry. If he didn’t care for a film, this influenced the industry.

Subsequently, Ebert became a celebrity himself — earning the reputation that if he didn’t like a movie, you probably won’t either.

He knew movies better than anyone else. He also knew how to review them in a way that resonated with consumers. He shed light on new voices in film, and through his annual Ebertfest in Champaign, let them shine on the theater’s screens.

Sure, Ebert had his critics, but he spoke his mind in a way he only knew how. He was brutally honest with every film and everyone, and at the end of the day, he was one heck of a writer too. No wonder why he wrote 15 books and kept an ongoing blog until his final days.

I don’t aspire to write film reviews, but I aspire to have a successful writing career just like he did. He’s a small-town boy who grew up to become not only a phenomenal writer, but a household name.

I take pride in the fact that if he can begin from nothing, attend the University to help him jumpstart his career and grow into an outstanding writer, then I can too. He did it; there’s no reason myself or any other fellow writer can’t follow in his footsteps.

Thank you Mr. Ebert for everything you have done. You’ve inspired this writer to be just like you. This University chose me to attend for a reason, and I’m going to prove them right.

Noah is a senior in Media.

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