William E. Fichtner Performing Arts Center

Distinguished alum Fichtner tells Flyers to dream big

Maryvale dedicates William E. Fichtner Performing Arts Center during homecoming ceremony

Editor, Cheektowaga Bee

Actor and Cheektowaga native William Fichtner returned to his alma mater, Maryvale, last week with a simple mantra for its current students: Your dreams are possible, so chase them, but don’t forget where you’ve come from.

Fichtner, a 1974 Flyer graduate, was on hand Friday as the district named him a distinguished alumnus and dedicated its auditorium as the William E. Fichtner Performing Arts Center.

Fichtner, whose directorial debut, “Cold Brook,” filmed in Western New York earlier this year and is due out in 2018, reflected fondly on his time at Maryvale.

“I look back, and I think this really was the beginning of where I saw other possibilities. … I certainly had people and the influence of people around me in high school that opened up my eyes to doors that were beyond any- thing I could imagine,” he said. “And you know what? That’s what they told me, and they were right.”

Fichtner’s message was not anything the students had not heard before, but it carried added poignancy, considering its source had quite literally walked the same halls as Taron Tran and Sean Matuzewski.

“He’s on the big screen now, and he started off just like one of us, so if he can do it … we can,” said Matuzewski, who said he was amazed when he found out Fichtner was a Maryvale graduate.

Tran said although Fichtner has carved out his space in Hollywood, his advice applies more widely.

“I think if he can be a big actor and everything … that we can do a lot of amazing things with our lives too.”

Before the schoolwide assembly for the dedication, Fichtner met with theater students, who peppered him with questions on acting and technique. He showered the students with praise, saying their questions showed they had ambition and were earnest about improving their acting chops.

After hearing this, Joanna Daigler, the director of Maryvale’s annual musical, broke out with a smile.

“I’ve got to tell you, that makes me feel great, as a director ... because I have some students who really are thinking about pursuing a career in theater, and they’ve taken the time to get up some really thought-provoking questions that are going to help them, I think, in their future,” said Daigler, who is also a middle school English teacher.

She added that Fichtner’s visit could not have come at a better time because the 2018 production, “The Little Mermaid,” was just cast. She hoped it would provide a boost to the student-actors and was impressed with Fichtner’s positive outlook throughout the day.

“I think, in a time in our society where there’s so much doubt and hope’s kind of been kicked to the curb, it was a nice way for these kids to see, hey, look, there really is possibility for me, and this could happen,” she said.

Maryvale’s official recognition of Fichtner was a long time coming, according to Superintendent Joseph D’Angelo. He was surprised the district had not highlighted its famous Flyer, so when Fichtner was in the area in July to film “Cold Brook,” D’Angelo sent him a letter.

“A few days later, I got a call. I explained to him why I wanted to honor him, and he was just thrilled,” he said.

In the meantime, a committee of teachers planned the visit, which the district tried to keep under wraps, although news trickled out to some students beforehand. As the event got closer, the committee pulled in students from Maryvale’s Academy of Hospitality and Tourism to help plan a reception, a requirement they usually must complete off-site, D’Angelo said. However this year, Fichtner’s visit presented an on-campus opportunity, so the students planned a Western New York-themed reception, complete with beef on weck and Buffalo chicken crostini, Ted’s Hot Dogs, loganberry drinks and Weber’s mustard.

Those Buffalo-style touches helped make the event a hit, leading high school Principal Thomas Stack to call it “probably the best assembly that we’ve had at the high school,” during Monday’s Board of Education meeting.

Fichtner, who has appeared in in television shows such as “Prison Break,” “Invasion” and “Mom,” as well as movies, such as “Armageddon,” “The Dark Knight” and “Black Hawk Down,” said he was humbled by the day.

“It’s a bit of an experience I have no reference point for because it’s never happened before,” he chuckled. “It truly is pretty special. It’s a little surreal because I’ve walked through these halls for years, and I walked by the front of that auditorium and my name’s up above it, and I think, ‘How’d that end up there?’ I sure am proud and happy to be home today.”