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  • Reverend James Squire

It's Not What You Know. It's Who You Know




I had never heard the term before, nepo baby (nepo is a reference to nepotism which refers to people who know others who can be of help to someone, usually a job), until it was used by Jamie Lee Curtis, when she accepting the award at the SAG Awards for Best Supporting Actress. Basically, she was acknowledging the fact that sons and daughters of people in the movie business have a leg up on others and that may make others feel that there isn’t an equal playing field when getting roles. You still have to perform. It’s not what you know. It’s who you know. There is a corollary to that statement that no director or producer will sacrifice their vision for someone’s kid. What I discovered was that there are many actors who are nepo babies including Sophia Coppola, Miley Cyrus, Kate Hudson, Dakota Johnson, Maya Hawke, and so many others. There are also actors who went to school with other actors such as Lenny Kravitz and Nicholas Cage, and best known as school mates, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon who wrote and starred in Good Will Hunting. It’s a very long list of nepo babies of children of stars or classmates of stars.!


It’s a bit like when students whose parents went to a particular college or university usually have their applicant file with the letter L for legacy on it. All things being equal, they will get admitted. Yes, knowing someone who helps you in the door, but the rest is up to you. Now I didn’t have this kind of support which I call “back-up” so I promised myself somewhere along the way that if I were ever in a position to provide this for others, I would do that. I made it part of my mission regarding what I did on a daily basis as Chaplain of EA. I found myself in a similar role that I didn’t expect to have. EA is a place that has all sorts and conditions of people. Some parents and graduates are very powerful and well positioned in life.


I can’t remember when it started, but I started to hear from current students, parents, and alumni who would call and simply said: “You know people. Can you help with me ___________. In a good many cases I could. A simple phone call would usually be sufficient. I will admit that I sometimes felt like the Godfather for when they called me back to thank me, I always said that I may have to call on them some day to help someone else that they would be in a position to do. Their response was always, “Absolutely!” The connections grew exponentially in the course of 38 years. There was an irony here. My three sons wouldn’t let me help them at all!


So, it’s not what you know but who you know is a two-edged sword. It does produce unfairness and an uneven playing field because any time you use a connection, that makes the playing field less level. This is true for legacies in college or someone who the college is interested in for something the college needs. There is the old saying that if a college needs an ice hockey goalie, all bets are off. That means the goalie gets in but as a result of that someone else doesn’t because there are limited spots.


I can only hope that I did some good. But Curtis’ reference to nepo babies made me think of connections that helped people in high stake ways.


I received a call from an EA parent of a 10th grade student at 9:30 one night. He was distraught and beside himself. His son had a recently diagnosed brain tumor which had put his son in a precarious medical situation. He couldn’t get the help for his son that he needed fast enough. I heard that phrase, “I have called some friends at EA. They told me to call you because you know people.” I asked the father where he was. He told me New York City. I do know the head of one of the finest hospitals there. I told the father that I would call him back as soon as I was able. I called my friend and told him the diagnosis. He said, “I will call you back. Let me see what I can do.” Within an hour he was back to me. He had arranged for some top medical people to perform the necessary surgery at 7 the next morning. I called the father and told him where to take his son. I hear periodically from the former student who is living on the west coast. I politely asked the father to stop telling members in the community how I had helped him.


I did that for a particular reason. More people will come to you for help if they know that you will not repeat the help given. I believe that saying that “there is no end to the good that you can good, if you don’t need to take the credit.” That was something I also said to the people who would be the helpers. When you are paying it forward not telling others has to be part of the contract. You just do it!


Where I find the fairness in nepotism is found in the statement I made earlier. “No director or producer will sacrifice their vision for someone’s kid.” Nepo helps get people into the door of what they want, but it is really up to the individual to take it from there and be successful.


I see this as a form of mentoring. It was one of my roles that I found very rewarding because I could give to others what I wish I had growing up. I found back up later in life and highly valued what others did for me.

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