When Mark Gordon sat through his classes at Hampton Roads Academy in the early seventies, no one ever imagined that he’d be back over thirty years later, an award-winning Hollywood executive producer, ready to give the commencement speech to HRA’s class of 2009.
Going to the same school at about the same time as Bruce Hornsby doesn’t necessarily guarantee that star-power will rub off on you. Gordon, a Newport News native, knew Hornsby well in school – they were only a few years apart, and back then HRA was a small school, with about 40 kids in Gordon’s senior class – but he says no one in school expected him to achieve as much as he has.
“I didn’t have the easiest time in high school,” Gordon told WYDaily in an interview before he flew into town from Los Angeles. “I sure wasn’t ‘the most likely to succeed’ or anything. I guess I wasn’t one of those people you think would make it big.”
But ever since, Gordon has been shooting for the stars.
After graduating from NYU film school, Gordon produced some episodes for various television shows in the eighties. He’s also made feature-length films since those early days, including Speed and Speed 2: Cruise Control (with Keanu Reeves), Broken Arrow (with John Travolta and Christian Slater), The Jackal (with Bruce Willis, Richard Gere and Sidney Poitier), Saving Private Ryan (with Tom Hanks, Matt Damon and Vin Diesel)
The Patriot (with Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (with Sean Connery), and The Day After Tomorrow (with Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal). He’s also still kept his hand in television producing, making episodes for Grey’s Anatomy, Reaper, Criminal Minds and Private Practice.
He’s been nominated for an Academy Award, and he’s won several other awards including an Emmy and a Daytime Emmy.
Not bad for a kid who did so-so in high school. So how did he do it? Gordon said that is one of the points he’ll try to get across today to HRA’s class of 2009.
“The most important thing I want them to hear is it’s not necessarily the stars in high school that end up as stars in life,” said Gordon. “If you want something passionately enough, you can work really hard and get it. You don’t have to be valedictorian or have the highest test scores. You just have to want it.”
Did Gordon get inspired by his high school graduation speaker? “No,” he laughed. “I don’t even remember who it was. I just hope I can be more entertaining than [my speaker] was, and make a lasting impression.”
“We can count on our fingers the people who inspired us in life,” Gordon said. He names a science teacher, an English teacher, and his headmaster at HRA as inspirations to him when he was young. An art teacher, Jill Sisco, also left an impression – not surprising, since Gordon became interested in photography during his time at HRA.
Gordon has strong ties to Williamsburg and has traveled to the city many times over the years. When he lived in Newport News, he and both sets of grandparents used to come to Williamsburg every Labor Day, he told WYDaily.
“When I come for a visit, one of my favorite things to do is drive on the Parkway, all the way from Jamestown to Yorktown and back to Williamsburg,” Gordon said. “It’s such a beautiful drive.”
Gordon’s young daughters, Emma and Kate, like to go to the Toymaker on Duke of Gloucester Street, and the Christmas Shop next door.
“I’m Jewish, but I love Christmas, all the ornaments and decorations and things,” Gordon said with a laugh.
He was surprised and flattered to be asked to speak at HRA on Saturday. “I’ll be returning in glory where they weren’t so sure about me, back then,” Gordon joked.
He’ll be staying at his favorite hotel in the area, The Williamsburg Inn, so you may very well see him wandering his favorite haunts on DoG Street this weekend.