The Colgate Scene
November 2005

People on the go

Jay Chandrasekhar '90 [Photo courtesy of I/D Public Relations]

Jay Chandrasekhar '90 remembers watching The Dukes of Hazzard on television in the early '80s.

"I was nine or ten, growing up in Chicago, and I watched it every Friday night along with the rest of the country," he said. "It was a big show in Chicago. I mean, who wasn't into flying cars and Daisy Dukes?"

So when Chandrasekhar heard that a big-screen version of the Dukes was in the works, he was pleased as punch -- but that was probably because a rep from Warner Bros. Pictures had just called to ask him to direct it.

"They had seen a film I'd done called Super Troopers and I think they wanted The Dukes to have that kind of feel to it," he said.

Chandrasekhar agreed to take on the film after reworking the script with help from screenwriters and movie veterans -- and Colgate friends -- Kevin Heffernan '90, Steve Lemme '91, Paul Soter '92, and Erik Stolhanske '90, the four men who, along with Chandrasekhar, make up the Broken Lizard comedy troupe.

"It was a collaborative process," Chandrasekhar said. Even the movie's stars, Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Jessica Simpson, Willie Nelson, and Burt Reynolds, recommended some lines. "Everybody was very much involved in trying to make it funny."

As director, though, Chandrasekhar was, more or less, on his own. Responsible for everything from making sure the script was ready, to hiring actors and staff, to helping edit the final version of the film, he was head honcho.

"It's an endless, endless decision-making process," he said. "They come to you with choices. Should Bo Duke wear this kind of shirt or this kind of shirt?"

Chandrasekhar, though, said he liked the pressure.

"That's one of the great things about the job," he said. "If the movie is good, it's your fault and if it sucks, it's your fault too."

Happily for Chandrasekhar, The Dukes of Hazzard generated an estimated $30.6 million in its opening weekend, pushing aside other summer blockbusters including Wedding Crashers and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The success is something that he is grateful for. Performing and writing first with Charred Goosebeak at Colgate, and later forming Broken Lizard with his best buds from college, Chandrasekhar said he feels lucky.

"We kept being supported by Colgate," he said. "Whether it was the alums showing up en masse for a show or the school letting us shoot Puddle Cruiser there -- the dream has worked incrementally, positively, the whole time."

Although Chandrasekhar and Broken Lizard plan to make more films, Chandrasekhar said he already feels content.

"For me, we've done almost everything I want to do," he said. "I'm lucky to have always done what I've loved. I'd love to make a few more movies, but you could even stop me now and I'd be OK with it. We've made four movies, and just even getting to make one movie is cool."

Sarah Newell Usdin '91

While teaching in Baton Rouge, La., as part of Teach for America, Sarah Newell Usdin '91 had students in her fifth-grade class who didn't know how to read and write.

"That is injustice, as far as I'm concerned," Newell said. She quickly pushed aside her plans to teach for a year or two with the organization and then head to law school.

"I needed to focus on changing public education," she said. "There was no other choice."

Newell made a commitment to work to solve the sub-par education and teacher shortages often caused by poverty that she witnessed in public schools. She taught for two years in Baton Rouge, and then moved to leading Teach for America -- an organization that enlists recent college graduates to teach for two years in public schools -- as the Louisiana state director. While at its helm, she helped the organization to recruit thousands of teachers. Five years later, Newell took on a new education role, helping to establish the New Teacher Project, a spin-off of Teach for America.

"There is a need to raise awareness to ensure that we have the very best teachers in front of all children," Newell said. "The New Teacher Project works to address that and other issues."

Newell opened operations for The New Teacher Project in Louisiana, the southeastern United States, and Alaska, and just last year, she was honored by the newspaper Gambit Weekly as an individual who makes New Orleans a better place to live. Now, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Newell is working to solve an even more basic education problem: creating educational systems for those students who have been displaced by the devastation.

"In the midst of this destruction, we have an opportunity," she said. "In order to rebuild New Orleans, we must work to create top-notch education for all children."

Newell will strive to identify solutions to the education crisis while also garnering financial and community support for the project.

"I live in a community that is struggling with public schools," she said. "One of my goals is to create options and have public schools available here for all children to which I would want to send my own child. And I want to do all I can to help others understand how important it is to be involved in education. It must be more than just cocktail party conversation; it needs to be a first priority of our business, political, and community leadership."

Motivated by a sense of social justice that Newell said was cultivated while studying for her religion degree at Colgate, she emphasized that by no means does our country yet provide for all our children the superior education they must have to compete in our increasingly global economy.

"Right now, the type of education a child receives is very much based on the haves and the have-nots," she said. "And if we truly are going to give people the tools they need to achieve justice for themselves in a very unequal society, it's education. It's the one thing that you can't take away from anyone."

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