Peter Liguori is president of FX and FOX Movie Channel now, but 20-some years ago, he was sharing a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx with his mother and sister and riding the school bus to Truman High. His father was gone, having died when Liguori was 16. The teen-age Liguori had all the baggage that turns angry young men into potentially explosive vessels of hatred.
Instead, though, he said he learned the value of anger by watching a fellow student, Reuben Mendoza Garcia, who was far too small to play football. "He totally denied that he was 5 feet 2 inches," Liguori recalled. "When someone told him, 'You can't, 'his entire body changed. His sense of purpose, his energy are something I'll never forget."
It was Garcia and a few special teachers and mentors Liguori remembered last month when he was asked to deliver the commencement address at Truman, the first time the Yale grad had been back in two decades.
In his speech, he told the crowd of 600 graduates, most of them African-American and Hispanic, that he wanted to "celebrate that bit of anger'' that made them tough enough to stick it out at a school where the dropout rate is 50% and in a part of the city rough with drugs and violence. He recounted how Garcia and an old Truman teacher, David Lesser, and famed film director (and Liguori's pal) Spike Lee, all made their mark by getting mad.
"Frankly, I don't think I have a right to tell them anything," he said, days before his address. "These kids on a daily basis face obstacles and challenges others just read about but can't really fathom.
"I think I still have a lot in common with these kids," he added. "There's this anger, this refusal to give in, this refusal to lose, that the kids, the parents and the teachers have.''