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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Bonjour, Hola, Shalom: Michael McCormack, Founder of World Hello Day

By Michael J. Mccormack, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

In the fall of his senior year, while his fellow students immersed themselves in writing theses, applying to graduate schools or kicking back and enjoying the good life, Michael J. McCormack '74 was busy starting his own holiday.

McCormack says he and his brother Brian McCormack wanted to do something in response to the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict.

The result was World Hello Day.

"We wanted to do something to celebrate the importance of personal communication to preserving peace," McCormack says.

The two brothers spent all their money on postage and sent a letter to as many world leaders as they could find, asking them to support the new holiday.

That first year, McCormack and his brother gained the support of 15 countries; in the 25 years since, they have reached almost eight times that many.

Every November 21, the brothers invite people all over the world to take part in the celebration simply by saying "hello" to any 10 people.

McCormack himself can say "hello" in over 65 different languages, including Bantu, Inuit and Urdu.

Residents of 179 countries have celebrated the holiday, and McCormack has received written support from almost 100 authors, entertainers, Nobel Prize winners and world leaders.

"Whenever I have a tough night, I just remember that I've been in contact with 1.1 billion people in the Republic of China, and that makes things easier," McCormack says.

When he's not sending letters out across the world, McCormack spends his time writing and acting in professional productions.

He has written several novels, including Gandhi's Last Book and The Quotations of Chairman Meow (based on the adventures of his cat, Milo).

He recently co-wrote Farewell Fillmore High, an interactive play about a high school reunion in which every member of the audience becomes an alum of the school.

"We're selling out like crazy," McCormack says, adding that he is searching for investors to take the show national.

Though the success and long life of World Hello Day came as a surprise, McCormack says that he has wanted to write and act since he was seven years old and is not surprised to find himself doing so decades later.

McCormack, who took off for New York City immediately after graduation, said that his time at Harvard, though enjoyable, did not influence his career path.

The editor of the first-year literary magazine and a writer for the Lampoon, a semi-secret Sorrento Square organization that occasionally publishes a so-called humor magazine, McCormack says his writing experiences during college simply confirmed his future plans.

"I was headed where I was headed and [Harvard] was the sweetest place to be along the way," he says.

But McCormack also says that interacting with Harvard luminaries like composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein and author Kurt Vonnegut gave him the will to succeed.

"You realize that these people are as human as you are," he says. "If they can go out and do something wonderful, then, by George, you can go out and do something wonderful."

McCormack says that although he has probably led a less conventional life than many of his fellow graduates, he has no regrets.

"Having gone to Harvard gave me license to take some big risks," he said. "It's been a real big risk to do all of this, and I'm glad I did."

The founder of his own holiday, the author of several books, and the one-time pen pal of figures as diverse as Queen Elizabeth II and Whoopi Goldberg, McCormack knows exactly what comes next.

What he really wants to do, McCormack says, is direct.

McCormack has recently been accepted to the University of California at Los Angeles film school; he and his wife will be moving from Nebraska to Los Angeles in the fall.

He says he is eager to begin directing and also has future plans to break into film as a character actor.

McCormack, who someday hopes to develop some of his novels into movies, says he has waited to go to Hollywood until the time felt right and he had paid his dues.

But now he is more than ready.

"I feel absolutely ready for the movies," McCormack says. "It's this wild feeling of sturdiness and joy, kind of a creative euphoria."

Like 25 years ago, when he was unafraid to embark on the life of a struggling actor in New York City, McCormack says he has no fear of the challenges awaiting him in Hollywood.

"I learned at Harvard to just to do what you're here to do, and love it, and the rest will follow," he says.

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