Jeff Zarrillo ’95 recently returned to campus for the one night only performance of “8”, the play about Proposition 8. Zarrillo, one of the original plaintiffs in the case, now lives in California, but came back to Montclair State University to see the play as well as to participate in a Q&A session after the performance.
When asked about his recent visit, Zarrillo says:
“Coming back to campus was an amazing feeling. I had dropped by about a year ago for the first time in years to buy a tee-shirt and see some of my old professors. I can’t believe how built up the campus is now. It’s beautiful. I love the white colored buildings and Spanish style rooftops. When I was at MSU (91-95) we saw the addition of the Sprague Library and the construction of the “New” Building (which has a name now!). It was actually MSC until my junior year. I was very proud to see this growth and certainly excited to be back on campus for such an important event like “8.” I think with President Susan A. Cole having a role in the play, it sends a huge message to the current student body and the alumni that MSU supports equal rights for all individuals.”
Zarrillo graduated with a degree in Broadcasting and is grateful to his professors for the influence that they had on him during his time at Montclair State. “I was really influenced by four people while at MSU. As a broadcast communications major, Dr. Larry Londino and Patricia Piroh were huge influences on me and challenged me every day. Motivational Speaker and Sports Psychologist, Dr. Rob Gilbert is someone I still think about every day through his motivational message, “Success Hotline.” He encouraged all of us to reach higher. Ruth Bayard Smith, my journalism professor, is someone I thank every day because I do a lot of speaking and writing about this case and learned so much from her on how to do it correctly.”
Zarrillo also speaks openly about his time at Montclair State and if his life has changed, being an original plaintiff in such a high profile case. He says he was not “open” about his sexuality during his time at Montclair State, noting he was “not ready personally”. “However,” he adds, “my time at MSU allowed me the freedom to be away from home and find out who the real me was. I received a quality education and gained life experience.”
On the topic of whether or not things have changed for him personally, he says, “our world hasn’t changed as much as you think it would. The case keeps us busy but we also have full-time jobs – we have bills to pay! However, this case has made me realize that everyone can have an impact – big or small – on society. I’ve learned through this case that telling our story helps change hearts and minds. Our story is not just mine and Paul’s (my soon to be husband), it is the story of the entire LGBT community. When we change hearts and minds we move us forward as a better people, state and nation. Since we are so connected to this issue, we are reminded everyday what it is like to be treated like second-class citizens. We are not asking for special rights or new rights, just equal rights.”