Out of the Core, the Phoenix rises to the stands

phil-on-steps.jpg Alumnus talks about his time playing the part of the U of C's mascot, Phil.

By Christina Pillsbury, '13

Stephen Bonnet, AB’11, proudly lists his position as the mascot at the University of Chicago on his résumé. But his stint as Phil the Phoenix, he says, is hardly the most eccentric detail about himself. Under the personal section he boasts about his Bullwinkle J. Moose impression. In fact, he considers it a big part of why he was hired as a Teach for America corps member, teaching tenth grade special education in the Bronx. He’s also pursuing a master’s degree in special education at Hunter College. He hopes to take his experience riling up the crowd to the next stage of his life–even if that doesn’t include mascot grad school.

QandA_QDrop.jpgDid you show any signs as a child that indicated a future career as a mascot?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThroughout my childhood I was shy, deathly afraid of crowds or large groups of people, a super-nerd who was not at all dancer-ly, and the last person on earth you would ever expect to do any of the things I have done over the past three years as our mascot. But it wasn’t until I got to high school of all places that, supported by my classmates and teachers, I really got comfortable enough with myself to do that. I came out of the closet in tenth grade, which stands in for just a total transformation over my first two years of high school that released publicly the gregarious extrovert I had been on the inside for so long.
QandA_QDrop.jpgIn what way did the skills you learned in the Core translate to Phil the Phoenix?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThey both required me to step into the perspectives of others. In the case of the Core, that meant thinking like an astronomer, a biologist, an anthropologist, and a philosopher, among others. Being Phil the Phoenix required me to understand, without talking, who of the players and fans was in the mood for getting fired up and who was in the mood for joking around, and who was in the mood for being left alone.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat is your best memory jumping around in the U of C crowd?
QandA_ADrop.jpgOne really heartwarming memory from this past year is that my parents flew from New York out to Chicago for Parents’ Night, which is the last home basketball game of the season, and so was also the last formal appearance from me of the season. I came up with the idea that in acknowledging parents of graduating seniors, my parents could wear the heads from the two old costumes that were just lying around the equipment room, and we could acknowledge “Mr. and Ms. Phoenix.” My boss agreed to it, and it was the most hilarious-looking thing to see me with two normally dressed adults wearing phoenix heads. I also really appreciated the chance to acknowledge my parents when they came out all that way to see me.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat other stories stick out in your mind from your days representing the Maroons?
QandA_ADrop.jpgOnce I was walking from Ratner to Summer Breeze, and a drunken person thought it would be hilarious to steal my head and run off with it. Now this was in the old costume, which actually was broken in a number of places. The shoe inserts were completely broken, which meant that my feet were just kind of sliding around all the time in these huge shoes. I literally could not run in the costume, because I would have landed on my face. Fortunately, while I tried to cover my head with my wings, one of my friends was nearby and immediately followed the thief, in heels I think, and got my head back within seconds.

September 12, 2011