MAPLEWOOD / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Columbia High School’s Hall of Fame added two more members to its ranks at last, after a yearlong induction hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced a double ceremony, for both 2020 and 2021 inductees. Chosen by the Student Council, Eric Hudson was honored as the 2020 Hall of Fame honoree and Marques Brownlee as the 2021 honoree. Hudson graduated from CHS in 2004; Brownlee graduated in 2011.
Hudson grew up in South Orange playing the piano, and was in the jazz band and gospel choir at CHS. A four time Grammy winner, including one this year for co-writing and producing a song on John Legend’s album “Bigger Love,” Hudson has produced music for Kanye West, Mary J. Blige and the Isley Brothers. Hudson’s mother, former South Orange Middle School teacher Phyllis Hudson, introduced him at the ceremony on June 4.
“He’s responsible and able to work within a perfect balance, keeping a light attitude towards his work while remaining hardworking and dedicated to his craft,” Phyllis Hudson said at the event. “It allows him to approach his projects with a freedom that means he isn’t forcing himself to be creative but allowing himself to explore the free flow of his creativity.”
According to Phyllis Hudson, her son can work for hours on end without feeling overworked or exhausted.
“But don’t think that it’s all about a seat at the piano, or the strumming of the guitar or bass, or even the beat of the drums,” she said. “The same amount of energy spent creating is often spent thinking, meditating and reflecting on his ideas. Balancing his energy between thinking and creating is what has made him so successful. Eric is one of the most humble people I know, not because he’s my son, but because it’s evidenced in everything he does. He knows he has impacted society, but he also knows that the achievements are only possible because of the achievements of those who came before him.”
In his own speech, Eric Hudson described a time when he was almost suspended from CHS for cutting class until a teacher realized he wasn’t going home — he was sneaking in extra practice time at the piano in the auditorium.
“I was already practicing and focused on my dreams,” Eric Hudson said. “I would write songs at school and hope that I could remember them by the time I got home to record the ideas.”
Still, Eric Hudson said other teachers weren’t always supportive of his musical ambitions. One told him piano wouldn’t get him very far, only to congratulate him on his success when Eric Hudson returned to CHS for a visit years later.
“If you have a vision or a passion for something, don’t let anyone tell you what you can do or cannot do,” he said. “It’s very important to educate yourself, but don’t let anyone tell you that there’s only one way to success. Whatever your passions and your talents are, if you work hard enough, you too can be inducted into your high school hall of fame.”
A Maplewood native, Brownlee is a professional ultimate Frisbee player and YouTuber who makes videos about technology and has a podcast called “Waveform: The MKBHD Podcast.” He started making videos while still a student at CHS in 2009, reviewing tech products he already owned and making tutorials. He now has more than 14 million subscribers and has interviewed former President Barack Obama, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
“After reading his college essay, I bet myself that he would be in the Hall of Fame one day,” English teacher Jennifer Dalton said while introducing Brownlee, before reading remarks on behalf of Brownlee’s high school sociology teacher, Melissa Cooper. “And here we are.”
It has been a decade since Brownlee was a student at Columbia, but Cooper, who couldn’t be at the ceremony, said she remembers the class he was in clearly.
“The passing years have not diminished my memory of the bright-eyed young scholar I knew,” Cooper said. “He was studious and hardworking, and he was a keen observer. He is an engaging and careful listener. His accomplishments are many, and I’m sure he will continue to add to that list. Marques has accomplished so much at this early stage in his life, and today we celebrate him.”
In doing research while writing his speech for the ceremony, Brownlee said he read a statistic that the No. 1 job teenagers want when they grow up is YouTuber. That’s his job now, but it didn’t exist when he was a CHS student.
“When I started this in between classes and in between doing homework and playing on the ultimate team and golf here at CHS, YouTuber was not a real job,” Brownlee said. “Zero people were making a living making YouTube videos. I feel like there are a lot of people in this room who are also going to have jobs, dream jobs, that don’t exist yet.”
He pointed out that there is a lot of passion and hard work that goes into a job behind the scenes for any professional endeavor that most outside observers don’t see.
“There’s something you don’t see, which is the amount of passion and hard work that has to go into it to achieve anything, whether it’s an NBA player, or a politician, or a YouTuber,” Brownlee said. “You might not know it yet, but the passion and hard work that goes into every job is what’s going to turn into you being onstage here in a couple years talking about this job that didn’t exist yet. Chase that dream, even if it’s not something you can put to paper yet. If you care about it there’s no substitute for that.”
Photos Courtesy of Philip McCormick