Music lover, Yankee fan dies at 22

What’s so extraordinary about Matthew Wasser is that he never wanted to go to college and was admitted without having even applied. According to him, true artists didn’t go to college. Yet once here, he made his presence known on the campus, leaving behind a legacy that will be remembered fondly by many.

The 22-year-old senior communication studies major, who was due to graduate this December, passed away early in the morning on Oct. 21 in Waltham, Mass., as the taxi he was traveling in was hit by a drunk driver. Wasser had been assisting Major League Baseball at the playoffs in Boston at the time of his death and was traveling home from Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

All who knew Wasser spoke first of his two loves: music and sports. A one-time music major, Wasser was an aficionado, who “liked everything from Bach to the heaviest of metal,” said his mother, Marilyn Wasser. “He thought Jon Bon Jovi and Billy Joel were gods.”

Before an arm injury forced him to give up the music he loved so much, Wasser was a gifted musician, playing classical guitar in many a recital and concert. Even as a young freshman he was often requested as a recital accompanist by juniors and seniors impressed by his guitar skills. He played in and started bands with his friends, including the band InCaged, and performed in various theater productions at the College, like “The Pirates of Penzance.”

“I believe his deep love for music never abated. Every time I saw him his face would light up with a broad smile and we would eagerly catch up on music and guitar,” music professor James Day, whom Wasser studied classical guitar with, said.

When he was asked to become director of the Sunday morning choir due to his musical prowess, Wasser enthusiastically took on the job, despite his Judaism. “Here he was, this nice Jewish kid, running the Sunday choir,” his mother laughed.

He joined the communication studies department after his injury prevented him from continuing as a music major, which is when he became an avid sports fan.

He was a sports commentator for the College radio station, WTSR, and his love of sports intermingled with academics as he wrote papers on the MLB steroid scandal and the huge salaries of baseball’s superstars.

This passion for baseball eventually translated into an internship for the media relations department of his favorite team, the New York Yankees. During the playoffs he often worked 16-hour days, devoting his time and energy to the team he so revered.

“There’s no beginning or end to what Matt meant to this department and the Yankees organization,” Jason Zillo, media relations director of the Yankees, said. “He was a great kid and we’ll miss him. He was a joy to everyone who knew him.”

In an e-mail sent to members of the communication studies department, chair Susan Ryan reiterated the effect the Yankees and his internship there had on Wasser: “As the faculty member who sponsored the internship, I know how much it meant to him. As he said to me just last week, it had been his ‘dream job’ and it was hard to imagine doing anything else to top the experience that he was having.”

More than 40 members of the Yankees organization attended his service on Thursday morning, and the team signed a ball that was placed in his casket. There was a moment of silence for Wasser before Thursday night’s World Series game and the Yankees plan on unveiling a plaque dedicated to him upon completion of the new stadium. Zillo also said an award will be named in Wasser’s honor to be presented “to the intern who most exemplifies Matt’s spirit.”

While music and sports were undoubtedly important in Wasser’s life, friends and family also recalled with warmth a boy with a thick North Jersey accent, beaming grin, playful sense of humor and tough-guy exterior that hid a kind and loyal soul.

“He always tried to seem tough, but if you got to know him you would learn that he really was a nice guy and always willing to help you out,” sophomore biology major Emily Nowicki said. “He was a good friend and a huge part of choir, and I can’t imagine how it could ever go on without him.”

Both Nowicki and Lisa Reichmann, junior secondary education and mathematics major, recalled Wasser’s delight in amusing fellow choir members with his funny voices and sarcasm.

“The thing about him I remember most is when we needed a psalm to sing for church at the last minute, so he wrote it on the spot and sang it too, but he sang it with a kind of southern twang that had us laughing for weeks,” Nowicki said.

At his service, his mother described the huge outpouring of support that filled the temple, as friends and family struggled to adequately describe and pay homage to Wasser’s zest for life and enterprising spirit.

“Everyone said how much they learned from him,” Marilyn Wasser said. “He was a kid who truly made a difference in the world.”