Skip to main content

A Redbird alum’s gratitude for his second chance from Illinois State

Husband, wife and daughter smiling

Matt Green with daughter Ella and wife Teala.

Matt Green ’91 had a similar upbringing to many Redbirds. Just a kid from West Chicago, he led a normal life—went to high school, worked a part-time job, and was close with his family. Green was content with his life growing up on a horse farm, helping his dad with chores, and assisting his family any way he could. It wasn’t until his father was diagnosed with cancer in his senior year of high school that Green’s life took a turn.

Initially, Green chose Illinois State University because it was close to home, and he wanted the opportunity to see his dad as much as he could. Feeling lost and disconnected in his first year, Green struggled to find himself in the Redbird community.

“My whole first year was a blur, worrying about my home life, and trying to be there for my family,” Green said. “I totally neglected my grades and didn’t go through the normal process.”

Four people with a horse

Matt Green (front, middle) with his parents, Winfield and CeCe, and sister, Julia, on their horse farm.

Going between Illinois State and home, nearly three hours away, Green had trouble figuring out different ways to get back to be with his family. He didn’t have a car, so he took the bus or the train. On holiday breaks he hitched rides with friends.

“I did whatever it took,” said Green. “I remember sitting on the floor next to the driver of the overcrowded bus. There’s no way they’d let you do this today. It was really difficult to be young and have to deal with something so big.”

Green did whatever he could to be with his family. He helped on the farm when he went home, he supported his mother and did anything else that he could. Unfortunately, Green’s efforts, love, and support were not enough. His father’s cancer spread, and he passed away that fall.

Lost and confused about this life-altering event, Green struggled to find his way at Illinois State. He found support from his new fraternity brothers at Sigma Nu, but his grades still suffered. In early summer, Green found out that his grades were not good enough to stay in school. He was placed on academic probation and was close to failing out of his first year at Illinois State.

“I got a letter in the mail from the Board of Trustees that I could petition to keep studying at ISU,” he said. “While my mom thought I was heading to my summer job, I drove down to Normal and told them my very personal story. They looked at my situation and had a heart.”

Green was allowed to enroll in classes again, and the chance to do so changed his life.

“I told them that with another chance, I would change,” Green said.

Green’s involvement with Sigma Nu gave him a sense of belonging. His fraternity brothers did not know about the academic second-chance, and it’s something Green didn’t want to share at the time. Green was busy spending countless hours at the library and enjoying all the sports and social events Sigma Nu had to offer. Green had a burning desire to do well inside and outside of the classroom.

“My motivation was thinking about my dad and knowing what he would have wanted me to do,” Green said. “He was a great role model, who believed in integrity and hard work.”

Man in commencement gown with diploma with a woman on both sides

Matt Green after his Illinois State commencement with his mom, CeCe, and sister, Julia.

With his father’s voice in his head and values that were instilled in Green’s life at a young age, he graduated in four years in spring 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in communication.

When Green was reinstated at Illinois State, he made the decision to not tell his mother that he was on academic probation and close to failing out. Having her world turned upside down, he decided to tackle this huge feat on his own. It was not until he graduated that he told her about the second chance he was granted. She was both shocked and proud of her son.

“I will always be thankful that Illinois State gave me that second chance,” Green said.

His father’s death did not stop him from pursuing what he knew he could. After graduating, Green decided to move to Florida to be closer to his mother, who had sold the farm earlier that year and relocated, and search for new opportunities.

“Luck is where preparation meets opportunity,” said Green.

Using the basic design skills that he learned at Illinois State along with the desire to succeed, Green started working at Valpak, a direct marketing company in Florida.

His time at Valpak taught him to be a jack-of-all-trades, starting as a graphic artist and then working his way into sales and marketing, the career he really wanted in the end. These skills served him well as he started his own marketing firm. Green counts Deloitte & Touche, BIC, and the PGA Tour as key clients that helped move him up the professional ladder. His latest venture, HammerDown Media, combines all of his skills with a focus on the automotive industry.

“For new graduates, my advice is to learn as much as possible when you get a job,” Green said. “That way you can move up the chain or move on to bigger and better if you have to.

“Family is most important to me. I’ve had really tough times, which makes me appreciate what I have even more.”

Green lives his life to the fullest. He met his wife, Teala, on a flight from Dallas, and he beams when he talks about his 7-year-old daughter, Ella.

Adversity comes in various forms, but what you learn is the most important lesson, according to Green. What he learned from his father’s death at a fragile age was to take advantage of the opportunity and think about what the person close to you would want you to do.

“Whenever I see people lose those close to them, I’m honest about these things and say it’s going to hurt and it always will,” he said. “In my situation, I thought about what my dad would have wanted me to do. He wouldn’t have wanted me to fail out of school and not become the person I am today.

“You have to move forward with life. You’re only allowed a certain amount of time on this earth so make the best of it.”